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PaulAsaran


Technical Writer from the U.S.A.'s Deep South. Writes horsewords, and reviews both independently and for Seattle's Angels. New reviews posted every Thursday! Writing Motto: "Go Big or Go Home!"

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Nov
10th
2016

Paul's Thursday Reviews LV · 11:41pm Nov 10th, 2016

Let me get this out of the way: yes, I have admitted to being a conservative in the past. No, I don't want to talk about the election results right now. Why? Because this is the review blog, so it should be about reviews or things peripheral to them. Maybe on Sunday, but not today.

What I do want to talk about is the growing difficulty I'm having with my review schedule. I've got Project Horizons taking up 70,000 words of my weekly 210,000-word-limit, and I have another 500,000+ word story coming along to take up another 70,000-per-week. This leaves me with a mere 70,000 words left to deal with whatever is left for well over a month, and that's just not enough when I keep getting stories in my queue with over 100,000 words in them. I'm trying to switch things around so that I won't have to skip extra weeks, but I can't just ignore the big stories, so it's starting to look like I'll have no choice.

I've implemented a new 'Bibliophile" week every 5-6 weeks, in which I read an extra 70,000 words (upping the total for that week to 280,000), but it doesn't look like it'll be enough. As much as I've been looking forward to reading some of these stories, I really regret that I chose to read two huge ones side-by-side like this. Oh well, lesson learned I suppose.

Enough of that. To the reviews! Got some interesting selections this time around, folks.

Stories for This Week:

80 Days Under the Waves by Sharp Spark
Eyes Without a Face by theycallmejub
We Live in a Kind World by shortskirtsandexplosions
Therapist Visit: Princess Twilight Sparkle by ABagOVicodin
The Good, the Bad, and the Ponies by Sharp Spark
Why Do Apples Taste So Sweet? by Wellspring
Total Word Count: 180,562

Rating System

Why Haven't You Read These Yet?: 2
Pretty Good: 3
Worth It: 0
Needs Work: 1
None: 0


Ah, the old “choose your own adventure” story. I was a bit miffed and annoyed when horizon suggested I read this one, if only because setting it into a schedule is impossible by the normal means. Still, I recalled when I was younger and trying books like this. I was particularly fond of the Carmen Sandiego and Goosebumps ones. But I also remember thinking at the time that I could do so much better, and once even tried to write one inspired by the Myst franchise that I loved so dearly.

Based on the game 80 Days (which I’d never heard of), the story stars one Porter Stout, the valet of the wealthy Lady Flash Fog. Lady Fog has accepted a bet to travel across the entire world in 80 days, but their journey is sidetracked when a race of ‘sharkponies’ kidnap them right off the ship and deliver them to an underwater city. Now it’s up to Porter – that’s you – to find a way to escape and continue their journey.

80 Days Under the Waves doesn’t approach anything even remotely close to the complexity I’ve always longed for in a “choose your own adventure” story, but I won’t hold that against it; no story ever has. What it does possess is far better than any other I’ve tried, with a wide range of branching paths and no small number of interesting things to learn. It ultimately comes down to three primary routes that deviate into smaller branches, but even then it will take time to traverse all the possibilities.

What really makes this story shine is that every branch teaches you something that goes beyond just “did this happen or that?” Culture, both for the sharkponies and the world as a whole, is brought to the fore, including such widespread topics as griffon creation mythology and humorous mistranslations of the word “princess.” It was this special spice that kept me clicking through the assorted paths, wondering what I might discover next.

And yet there is the curious problem that the one thing you want to know more than anything is what the heck happened? No matter what ending you go for, there is always one underlying result, and you will never know anything about it. Given my ignorance of the story type, I’m willing to grant that this kind of thing may be common for it, but that doesn’t leave me any less frustrated. There’s a massive mystery staring us in the face, a mystery dying to be resolved, and there is literally no solution. Excuse me while I tear my hair out.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the story, even if I was left unsatisfied in the end. It kept me clicking for solutions over a three day period, although I’ll admit that I finally cheated when it came down to five chapters I couldn’t figure out how to get to (hint: two of them are impossible to reach by conventional means). It’s creative in its premise and worldbuilding, but the frustration it leaves behind harmed it in the overall. Still, a fun ‘game’ was had. I find myself interested in the real thing.

Bookshelf: Pretty Good


Eyes Without a Face

117,831 Words
By theycallmejub
Re-Read

When I saw that this was coming up, I became more than a little excited. Eyes Without a Face is the first ‘dark’ story I read on this site, and it left a big impression on me. To get a chance to review it made me a little giddy.

Eyes applies a few basic Batman concepts to what is a gritty take on the superhero origin story. It stars Roseluck who, after witnessing the murder of her fellow flower ponies Lily and Daisy, moves to Manehattan. She goes there to get away from the painful memories, but in her bitterness, hatred and desire for revenge begins training for a way to fight back against the criminal underworld. Supported by Nurse Redheart and a few locals, she turns to vigilantism. But when her first attempt to save a life goes horribly wrong, Rose soon finds herself consumed with vicious needs that lead her down a path of self destruction.

To call this story dark would be an understatement; it is set in a crapsack world that is unrelenting. Yet, somehow, all the violence and blood comes out beautiful. This is largely due to theycallmejub’s choice of writing style. It applies regular repetition that makes certain moments feel lost in time, wields effective metaphors that recur to great effect, and takes the time to vividly detail the scenes and the action. The end result is an all out assault on the senses, making a story that is ugly in content but beautiful on the surface.

This only further accentuates the intent of the story and one of the principal characters of our tale: Manehattan. The city is a character in and of itself, so much so that Rose regularly looks to and speaks to her as if she were a living, breathing entity that reacts to her actions. And, like the narrative style, Manehattan is an ugly mess hiding itself within a coat of beauty.

This metaphor extends into every facet of Eyes. The characters Rose meets all share in the painting, each having beauty and hideousness in equal parts. The broken Sparkle, the luscious Blondie, the arrogant Primary, the mad Pie twins. Especially Rose, who is trying her hardest to be good even as her mind steadily descends into anarchy, violence and psychopathy. What makes this story so fantastic is the thoroughness of the author in ensuring that every moment, every scene and every character melds with a constant, bitter and unyielding theme.

Yet, as always, some downsides need to be pointed out. The most obvious is the crapsack world in and of itself, which I’m sure certain people won’t be capable of accepting. Many will look upon the events of this story and call it nothing but a constant ball of pain for pain’s sake. They’d be wrong, but I know better than to try reasoning with them. Suffice to say, if you want something bright, look elsewhere.

Far more objective is the lack of editing. Eyes is covered from head to hoof in typos, mostly in the form of missing words, but occasionally as incorrect words. The problem is worse in some parts than others, but it never really goes away, and it’s an eyesore every time it pops up.

And of course, there’s the repetition. It’s clear that theycallmejub is going for an atmospheric effect, and in most cases that effect is achieved wonderfully. However, there are a few instances in the story where I got the feeling that the repetition used wasn’t intended. This mostly occurred at the beginning of the story and went away fairly quickly, but I can see them being one more nail driving potential readers away.

But none of these issues have hurt the story so much that I can’t appreciate it. I’m still very fond of Eyes Without a Face for its wonderful narrative style and capable directing. I consider it an exceptional piece of dark literature. Even if you can’t take the content, there’s no denying that the manner of its delivery is solid.

But damn it, Jub, why the heck didn’t you finish Pagliacci? Come on!

Bookshelf: Why Haven’t You Read These Yet?


This story is certainly interesting, and another curious addition to SS&E’s panorama of subjects. In the story, we learn of Red Oats, an earth pony living on the edge of Ponyville who is just about the biggest ass in Equestria. He’s old, he’s bitter, and he’s more than happy to insult your very existence with the most profane and crude declarations imaginable on contact. From accusing Celestia of war crimes to insisting to Applejack’s face that Apple Bloom is the product of incest, there are no boundaries this pony won’t cross.

And amidst all the negativity and hate and disharmony, Fluttershy watches.

It’s hard to place this story. In a way, it can be viewed as a character study of Fluttershy, but that’s not accurate since the story focuses very little on her (despite it being from her perspective). It’s also not accurate in that the story, which takes place not long after Twilight’s Kingdom, seems to ignore Fluttershy’s character development for all of the first three seasons. Her inability to communicate her feelings on the matter most of the time is used as a tool for keeping the plot going, but I can’t help but think a better solution could have been found.

It’s also hard to justify her treatment of Red Oats. I suppose she can do that given her Element, but many of the things he said – particularly to Applejack and Rainbow – are such that it’s hard for me to accept the curious turn suggested at the end of the story. I suppose that just makes Fluttershy a better individual than yours truly, but I just can’t see even her putting up with it.

But I do like the story. I like how it represents Fluttershy on the whole, even if she seems as timid as she was in Episode 1 most of the time. I like the pacing, which seems just right even if we don’t get the opportunity to see how Pinkie would have fared against Red Oats. I like the tone and the way the story’s focus shifts subtly near the end in ways hinted at from the beginning.

About the only thing that really bothered me was in the writing, particularly the weird phrases used; how the heck does a pony “gallop at a trembling pace”?

The story is unquestionably interesting and definitely worth a read, but I can see it giving some people pause. It seems like a good story for sparking off a debate on the nature of Kindness in general, and how deserving some might really be of it.

Bookshelf: Pretty Good


And we’re back to the strange therapy sessions started by Princess Luna in Therapist Visit. But as the title suggests, this time our voiceless therapist has been summoned by Twilight Sparkle on the night after her coronation (presumably recommended by Luna), and she unloads onto him all her fears and hesitations regarding her newfound status.

Vicodin uses the same style in this story as they did in the previous one, with similar advantages and pitfalls. On the one hand, I am pleased with how thoroughly the author went through the gamut of things that could potentially bother a newly crowned Princess of Friendship, from a sudden questioning of her mentor’s ‘perfection’ to the fear of not living up to her new responsibilities, and even touching briefly upon the possibility of outliving her friends.

On the other, the strength of the story wanes due to the nature of the visit. Princess Luna got months of sessions in with the therapist, giving us time to really see her grow and learn and improve. Twilight goes through her entire list of issues in one night, and at the end abruptly decides that everything is going to be fine. It is a jarring turnaround that makes little realistic sense consider she’s spent the entire session going over all of her fears without any solutions. Maybe if we had a better vision of the scene or what the therapist is telling her, but the only aid we have is her words. Literally.

Of course, Twilight could have just been saying things will be fine, with an intention of further exploring and improving later. But we aren’t given any indication of this, so the scene lends itself to the most unlikely scenario. On the other hand, the odd nature of the ending could have been intentional, a kind of subtle criticism on the nature of Twilight's ascension in the first place. We just don't know.

What I think it comes down to is that this writing style doesn’t lend itself well to a short story format. Had Vicodin expanded this into multiple sessions as they did for Princess Luna, I can see it having a greater impact. As it is, it feels like little more than a soapbox oration on everything potentially wrong about Twilight’s ascension. I’m reasonably sure that’s not what the author was going for, which only accentuates the issue.

I still have mixed feelings about this series as a whole. Even so, I would really like to see the Chrysalis part of it finished some day.

Bookshelf: Needs Work


And only now, while I’m setting this review up in my template, do I realize that I’m reviewing two stories by Sharp Spark in one blog. Huh. Oh well, scheduling coincidences will be scheduling coincidences.

This story takes place, as one would expect, in a Wild West setting – which calls to question why I haven’t seen this done more often. Anyway, our beloved Mane 6, sans their purple leader, are bandits in this rendition of Equestria, and they all work solo. When rumor of a huge score spreads across the desert, the five ponies converge to rob the same train. Turns out that Twilight Sparkle, special assistant to Governor Celestia, has other plans for them.

This is a story filled with gunfire, excitement, strained relationships and disappointment. Let’s take that in order, shall we?

First, the guns. There are plenty of those, and the specified weapons match the characters so well I’d almost call it predictable, although I’m not complaining; some things were just meant to be. The matching cover art helps. Besides, it’s a Wild West story, so guns are obligatory.

The problem: how are they using them? Thanks to a blatant lack of description, we can’t see these guns as anything but what we know. So… how are ponies without hooves pulling those little triggers? I would have appreciated some clarification on that, even if it were just a subtle statement regarding metaphysical appendages on hooves.

Still, I’m willing to let that slide as subjective. After all, I imagine half the people reading this are rolling their eyes and going “don’t question it!” Which is fine, really. It’s not like we bother to question how ponies made an entire civilized society with modern conveniences, so why get hung up on guns? (Coco Pommel sewing. Just saying.)

So, obvious issue out of the way, how about excitement? Yeah, we’ve got that. We’ve got a lot of that. If this story is nothing else, it’s a fun ride. Rapidly switching allegiances, nonstop fighting, double-crosses, explosions, and of course you can’t have a Wild West story without a train barreling towards a recently-destroyed bridge over an unnervingly deep canyon.

But what I liked best about the action is that it feels real – insomuch as a story of this sort can. This isn’t a story where a bunch of OP gunslingers take out the trash. Each character is shown to have limitations, weaknesses and dependencies, such as Rainbow constantly lamenting getting into fights that her six shooter is inadequate for, or Pinkie being relegated to the sidelines half the time because her only source of combat involves things that make really big booms. Rarity was my favorite, being an all-around superb gunslinger compared to the others but regularly hampered by distractions such as locked safes.

And the realism is solidified when, as we eventually learn, their bodies don’t take to kindly to bullets. Welcome to a western story where being shot means as much to the good (er, sorta) guys as the bad.

Next is the characters. It’s not hard to tell that something is a little off for all of them, but I took that in stride given the unusual setting. This proved fortunate, because by the end of the first chapter we are shown that their strange behavior might actually have a reason behind it beyond mere setting (this is proven in the last chapter). There’s not enough room for six characters to enjoy a lot of character growth, but there’s enough to keep me satisfied and the story interesting for things other than gunfights. It helps that there’s a lot of mystery going on in the background.

However, while I got more than I bargained for in the Mane 6, the rest of the characters bring about problems. Specifically, there’s way too many of them. The second chapter runs like a veritable villain’s who’s who, with cameos running rampant. Most of them are entirely unnecessary, from Iron Will’s crummy math to Flim and Flam’s blatant greed. The absolute worst was, and I quote, “Sombra de Diablo”. I mean, really? Am I supposed to take Sombra in a poncho and sombrero seriously?

Probably not, but that’s part of the problem: this story is dead serious 90% of the time, and dumb stuff like this does a great job of ruining the mood. I’m alright with a little comedy now and then in my serious stories, but it’s another matter entirely when said comedy doesn't fit with the style of the rest of the story. I half-expected Chrysalis to show up as a femme fatale Flamenco dancer (as much as I thank Luna that didn’t happen, it's a cool image in my head).

Last but not least, we get to the disappointing bit. When this story starts off, it has all the seedlings of a desert-spanning, gun-toting, action-packed epic. About a third through the second chapter, I came to realize that this would not be the case. Instead, we’re offered only a brief glimpse into something that could have been amazing. Don’t get me wrong, what is in the story is solid, but that’s just the thing: this is all we get. It is unsatisfying in the extreme, especially since the ending strongly suggests that there’s more to come.

This is a concept that deserves a lot more than what it has been given. Worse, Sharp Spark proves throughout most of this story that they have what it takes to make this story everything that it should be. There is no excuse for stopping here, but stop it does, and that is simply unacceptable.

In summation, The Good, the Bad, and the Ponies is a brief, exciting and generally strong showing of a story that should have been, but which was aborted right after launch. If the author had pulled this out into the length the concept warrants, treated those cameos with the respect they deserved and actually given the story a proper conclusion this could have bloomed into something spectacular. Instead, we get a brief but tantalizing look at an awesome alternative not to be. I praise the author for what little we got, but I can only heave a disparaging sigh of disappointment in their failure to commit.

Bookshelf: Pretty Good


In this story by Wellspring, things take a turn for the visual. Why Do Apples Taste So Sweet? begins with Rarity paying a visit to Sweet Apple Acres so that she can ask Applejack a very curious favor: to get a whiff of her scent. After all, rumor has it that earth ponies all carry specific, individual smells, and Rarity would like to confirm this. For, uh, fashion purposes. Obviously.

Depending upon your viewpoint, this story is either beautifully stylized or grotesquely overdone. I can see people accusing the author of succumbing to purple prose, especially in the opening paragraphs. Anyone reading a sentence like “The infinitesimal crystal droplets wink with a flash of prismatic scintilla, aglitter with delicate sparkle.” is bound to start second guessing, and who can blame them?

Fortunately, the authors turns it down a notch fairly quickly, but never stops the steady stream of flowery prose. It rapidly shifts to a form of writing that is evocative, slow and delightfully visual. Wellspring manages to take a simple walk and a swim and turn it into a gorgeous piece of art, with Rarity’s elegant voice setting the colors and tone. Once the author settles into their stride, Apples becomes a worthwhile ride.

And then we get to the shipper’s candy. When the simple act of describing Applejack’s bucking technique seems so vivid, how do you think the moment of (certainly not!) intimacy is going to feel? Romance fans will be all atwitter over that magical moment of unsteady emotions and self-denial.

There’s nothing much to the plot of this story unless you’re a shipper. However, the writing style more than makes up for the vast amount of nothing that goes on, because it takes that nothing and makes it feel like something. I wholeheartedly approve of this one just for its ability to make the mundane magical.

Bookshelf: Why Haven’t You Read These Yet?


Liked these reviews? Check out some others:

Paul's Thursday Reviews XLV
Paul's Thursday Reviews XLVI
Paul's Thursday Reviews XLVII
Paul's Thursday Reviews XLVIII
Paul's Thursday Reviews XLIX
Paul's Thursday Reviews L
Paul's Thursday Reviews LI
Paul's Thursday Reviews LII
Paul's Thursday Reviews LIII
Paul's Thursday Reviews LIV

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Comments ( 14 )

Your dilemma with that CYOA reminds me of one I read decades ago. It was called "UFO: <some latitude/longitude coordinates which I forget>." It has you zapped onto a UFO, and while there, you find out the ship is trying to find its way to some paradise planet. There are other possible endings, of course, and as I read through it more and more, those other endings are all I could get. I knew I'd seen a page where you end up there. But in all the times it came up in other parts of the book, it was always emphasized that there was no choice, no decision you could make to get there. You just do if it's your fate. This made sense when I did locate the page where you get there, then searched the book for directions telling you to turn to that page. There was one. So I looked for directions to that page. There were none. So the book had literally been telling you just to turn to that page if it was the ending you wanted, since no decision would get you there. I was so pissed.

I've read that last story, and while I agree it was good, it didn't quite ring as exceptional to me. My main beefs with it were these:

It essentially takes a limited narrator in Rarity's perspective, and as you note, it's quite purple. On the one hand, I could believe Rarity to use such language, except this took it a bit too far. This exceeds even Twilight's tendency to leave listeners (or readers) scratching their heads at what word she'd used, so it's a bit of a stretch for Rarity to do that. Even more so, when that kind of language should be consistent with the character, yet there's a complete schism in how she chooses to word her narration versus her dialogue.

It turns out that ponies do have a unique flavor, yet Rarity never knew that from any previous relationships? And nobody else had ever figured it out before? Seems like something that would be public knowledge.

Rarity also seems riddled with a pervasive anxiety on the subject through most of the story, and it builds up until... it just suddenly goes away with more of an offhand thought as she leaves. Instead of bringing closure to that, we get a meme reference and a significant de-escalation of the importance Rarity invests in it.

Lastly, it employs the old cliche of character A suddenly kissing character B, who is surprised and resistant at first, but who quickly decides she likes it without ever breaking contact. Maybe it's just my interpretation of her character, but I can't see Rarity ever being okay with that, even if she ended up liking it. I'd love to see her slap the shit out of AJ for trying it, then wink at her and ask for another kiss.

Eyes does sound pretty interesting. Let's see what a good darkfic looks like to you before you elaborate on how 'ehh' mine was.

I agree with you in regards to G, B, A - I really enjoyed the story but through the length and restricted setting of the train prevented it from becoming something really impressive. It's still great fun to read (I overlooked the gun issues) and I would love to see a sequel or another story in a similar vein.
That dark, Noirish 'Eyes' story I'll check out- Been reading Sin City recently and having a female character called 'Blondie' got me intrested, plus it would be cool to see how people pull off noir pony.

4296467
I think this goes to the vast differences in our interpretation. For starters, I never believed Rarity's story of why she wanted to get a sniff (and taste) of Applejack. And I don't think Applejack believed it either. It was an excuse to do something she really wanted to, but just couldn't come out and admit it, even to herself. Thus, when Applejack got a little forceful, Rarity didn't complain about it because she wanted that too.

This is the shipper's perspective of things, which comes out in me the moment I realize the kind of story I'm reading. Because I believed I knew what Rarity was really going for, even if she couldn't admit it to herself, none of the events struck me as odd, awkward or OOC. The entire reason the subject 'just goes away' is because it was never the reason she was there in the first place, and she walked away because she till wasn't quite ready to fully acknowledge the situation.

At least, that's how I interpreted it.

And yes, I'll agree the dialogue and the narrative were off from one another. It didn't bother me too much this time, although the first time it really stuck out to me. As to the narrative being 'too much,' I think that comes down to our differences in nitpicks. I'll grant that the narrative was certainly over the top for being in Rarity's voice - and indeed, I'm confident she doesn't really think in such a flowery way in the first place. But as far as I (and I'm betting a huge number of readers) am concerned, it doesn't matter. The author was going for a set tone and style, and I'm willing to roll with that. Knowing you, you'll probably claim that such a style would have been better used in an external perspective, and you would be technically right. In my experience, the average reader isn't concerned with that level of technicality.

There are times when getting the voice just right is important, but that depends upon the writer and the style of the story. In this instance, I don't believe the overly flowered tone of Rarity's voice is a cause for concern.

4297018 It's hard to explain, but I never got the impression Rarity was being disingenuous about her question, even unconsciously, but I can see an interpretation of that flavoring (heh) what context the reader sees the rest of the story with.

I do feel like the inconsistency between Rarity's narration and dialogue was problematic, though it may well be the kind of thing a casual reader doesn't notice. I can't turn that switch off. The language being flowery even for Rarity is something I could much more easily excuse if her dialogue was equally flowery, because then I could just read it as this author's take on her character. Little things like that, I'm convinced, have a more subconscious effect on readers, so they might not explicitly identify it, even though they might feel like something's a little off. It's the kind of thing that doesn't hurt to get right, though. Say a story involves a medical procedure, and the author, who knows nothing about OR goings-on, completely wings it. Readers who know the subject matter will be put off, but readers who don't won't notice. But if the author does his research, readers in the know will like it, and readers not in the know still won't notice. There isn't a downside.

4297416
You're real big on subconscious effects, and I won't deny that they exist in some form, but I remain convinced they aren't anywhere near as powerful as you believe.

I had a long argument set up regarding the worth of pleasing the gilded elites, and then I deleted it. I realize I don't want to debate over this stuff, because I know nothing will come of it. Besides, given what I'm trying to do now with Needs of the Few and Songbird and the reasons I have of asking you to help me on them, I don't think I have a strong enough argument to work with.

I have my own set of things I get really nitpicky on. No matter how much I want to, I can't say your nitpicks are wrong and mine are right. When looked at objectively, such a position is untenable.

4297588 Just think of how often you see someone say they did't like something but can't figure out why. That always bugs me. In some cases, I never do figure it out, and then I can't chalk it up to anything but taste. But I've been in this business long enough that I usually can trace it back to something more or less concrete. It's not always the difference between liking and disliking a story; it may be the difference between simply upvoting and adding it to your favorites bookshelf, and lots of readers can't explain their choices or hadn't put that much thought into them, going more on a gut reaction. Those are the kinds of unconscious things I'm talking about. They're present, but they're beneath the surface, and a general sense that the writer has his shit together goes a long way.

Interesting that you brought up appealing to the "elites." I can definitely see something polarizing in appealing to the elites at the expense of appealing to everyone else. There are a lot of experimental works like this, and certain authors who like to do that sort of thing, to varying degrees of success, like NTSTS, Bad Horse, and Aragon. But if you can appeal to the elites without sacrificing a more general appeal, why not do it?

I can even see the opposite being true of this example you pointed out: I may be interpreting you wrong, but I think you're saying it's normally going to take one of the elites to read into this story enough to care that Rarity's dialogue voice doesn't match her narrative voice, so unless the author wants to reach the elites, there's no point in worrying about that. While that sounds plausible, it also sounds plausible to me that if the author doesn't match them, there's no justification for the narrative voice being that purple, leaving it flowery for the sake of being flowery, which would seem to appeal to more of a niche audience. Whether that niche audience is the "elites" is another matter, but I could actually see such a thing either playing to a general audience or pigeonholing itself. I bet both have happened before, depending on just how purple it gets.

Btw, I can never tell if you're enjoying a lively discussion or getting pissed at me. =/

4298142

Btw, I can never tell if you're enjoying a lively discussion or getting pissed at me. =/

This. This right here is exactly why I don't like getting into debates.

I want to appear decent and controlled and even-minded, but the truth is I do get angry. Then I force myself to stop and think about why I'm angry, and I realize I have no good reason to be. When I stop to rationalize what I'm being told, I realize that it makes sense and I can't argue against it without digging a hole for myself and making myself look stupid. Then I start poking holes in my own arguments, thus aborting them before they can stain the screen. Then I get mad all over again, but this time at myself for getting mad in the first place. It gets worse from there because as much as I force myself to admit that a valid point has been made, I still think my point is valid, but I know I can't argue for shit and I'm never going to convince anyone of that, so why did I even bother trying in the first place?

Then the 'opponent' inevitably starts arguing with points I've already made to myself, which just pisses me off more because I hate being told something I already know, but I can't call them out on it because they don't know I already knew and oh look I'm mad at myself for being mad again.

So then, all mad at myself for being mad and for being unable to properly defend my position, I try to write a response that is less argument and bitterness and more logical and accepting. I try to do so without much emotion, because if I let my emotion show then people will know I'm angry but will think I'm angry for all the wrong reasons and suddenly I look like the asshole I'm trying so desperately not to be.

So yeah, I usually quit quickly. I used to enjoy debating, but ever since I developed strong opinions it lost its appeal. I usually just fall back to the "everyone's entitled to their opinion" safe zone and ignore further attempts at baiting.

This is why I apologized ahead of time if I get snippy while editing. But I wouldn't worry about it if I were you; as mad as I sometimes get, the truth is that, at least in terms of the editing, me being mad is a good thing. It means someone is finally challenging me, and my writing won't improve if I'm not challenged and shown other ways to do things. I may ultimately choose not to go along with certain suggestions, but I am expanding my repertoire, and that is something I come to appreciate... after I've simmered down.

I'm glad that you ultimately enjoyed Under the Waves, even if parts of it frustrated you! I do want to stand up for the author on one thing:

There’s a massive mystery staring us in the face, a mystery dying to be resolved, and there is literally no solution. Excuse me while I tear my hair out.

Part of why I loved this enough to recommend it was that I believe you do get a solution to the mystery if you put together what you learn from multiple story branches. The biggest key is the branch where you go out in the submersible to the excavation site (and take the path that gives you the most dramatic reveal). Assume that what happens in that branch is one of those "it's going to happen whether you were there or not" events, and suddenly the destruction in the other branches starts to make sense. But the other branches fill in missing pieces (including motivations) that flesh out the story.

4299238
No no no. Just no.

You do not get a solution to the mystery by searching the other branches. Oh, sure, if you take the right path you get to see when the horde of creepy white things burst out of their long-forgotten lair. This is not an answer! What did it tell us? It told us that there are creepy white things in an underground cavern eager to kill sharkponies. It doesn't tell us what they are, why they're down there, what the giant thing they are with is, why they're insistent upon destroying the city, or even if they are sentient (although I suspect otherwise). It doesn't tell us anything.

Okay, so the city gets destroyed in every ending (except two, maybe), and if you take the correct path you can find out why. That's hardly satisfying. I'm not going to praise the author for setting the story up such that everything big that happens will happen anyway, because if the author is not doing that then they've already failed horribly. This should be basic, and if it isn't then I'm glad I haven't been reading these kinds of stories because I'd be tearing my hair out with every single one.

It's well done. Everything fits together quite nicely. That's great. But the author still ignored the real mystery; not why the city was destroyed, but the reason behind why the city was destroyed. I might have been okay with it if the story had fallen into the genre of the Weird, but it doesn't fit that bill in any other way, so I'm not.

4299279
Eh, that's a legitimate complaint, but it didn't bother me. Why does Cthulhu want to eat the Earth? (He's hungry I guess.) The thematic core here is ponies unleashing a terrifying and destructive power through their hubris, and the nature and motivation of that power, I contend, is irrelevant to the theme.

But the reason I think it was written that way in particular is tied to the source material this was crossed over from. The game 80 Days is stuffed to bursting with that sort of fragmentary story, in which your protagonist(s) get inserted when they arrive on the scene, and then only get the context they're able to tease out of it while there, and then need to rush off again in their madcap quest without properly getting resolution. I happen to like that sort of implication of a much larger story of which we see a fragment. If you don't, this is gonna seriously chafe in the exact same way as the game it drew from. (So the good news is that you don't need to blame the CYOA format for that.)

4299331
Hmm, I see. Well then, perhaps if I'd played the game a little first and come to recognize that this was 'just the way things are' in the source material, I may have been a lot more lenient about it. I didn't read this story as one small piece of a much larger set, but as it's own piece. That may have had an impact.

Is that why you never finished Pagliacci? It's too bad, I was just dying to see how you'd handle a Joker-esque Pinkie Pie.

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