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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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  • Thursday
    Paul's Thursday Reviews CLXXVI

    Review time! And for once, I have nothing to talk about. No big reveals, no curious discussions of life’s secrets, no big news in relation to what I’m writing and when it’s coming out. Been a pretty dry week overall. Well, in terms of events. Weather’s been a whole different matter. And we’re not here to discuss the weather.

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    19 comments · 230 views
  • 1 week
    Paul's Thursday Reviews CLXXV

    First off, a big and hearty “Thank You!” to KorenCZ11 who, unsolicited, gifted me new cover art for my most recent short story, How to Save a Life. It is awesome and a vast improvement over the previous one.

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    34 comments · 339 views
  • 2 weeks
    Paul's Thursday Reviews CLXXIV

    For those of you wondering, I still have some Audience of One books available should anyone wish to buy them on the cheap rather than straight through Lulu.

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    18 comments · 381 views
  • 3 weeks
    Paul's Thursday Reviews CLXXIII

    Hello again, everyone! Back from a review break, and before I talk about anything else: books. I didn’t want to bring this up until I had all my pre-orders settled and I knew what I’d end up with. I can now say with certainty that I have four copies of The Gentle Nights: Audience of One and one paperback copy of Bulletproof Heart still taking up shelf space in my apartment.

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    7 comments · 289 views
Jan
18th
2018

Paul's Thursday Reviews CI · 10:29pm Jan 18th, 2018

If my month so far is an example of the year to come, then 2018 is going to be great.

Admittedly, it started off rather poorly. I wrote less than 2,300 words for the entirety of the first week of January. It looked like my little pledge to myself to hit 1,500 words/day for the month was a pipe dream.

Things look very different now. I'm regularly churning out 2,500+ words/day. I've hit an average for the month of +1,800 with every reason to believe I'll hit +2,000 before the week is out. I've already churned out over 30k words for the month and fully expect to break 50k, maybe even 60k for the whole of January. I've been keeping track of my intended word count/day since August, and two days ago I got ahead of that for the first time since September. It's been a good two weeks. The only question now is whether or not I can keep it up. I'm not sure, but at the moment that 500k in 2018 goal doesn't seem all that challenging anymore.

Meanwhile, Songbird is in the midst of editing, Bulletproof Heart's rough draft is over 70% complete, and I've got a new (experimental) short story coming out this weekend. I'm also so far ahead with my reviewing schedule that my current five-week reading plan has stories in it that won't get into a blog until May, and that's with a reading vacation included! I finished auditing my Author's Scoring spreadsheet, which means that everyone's scores are now up-to-date (congrats to Viking ZX and shortskirtsandexplosions for being the only ones so far to hit RAINBOOM! scores!), which also means I can get back to adding the 'prior reviews' element to these reviews. Heck, I even got a brand new review for Friendship = Evil by that PresentPerfect guy. Yes, January is starting to look like a good month.

This is a fine way to start the next set of 100 Thursday Review blogs. Let's get started!

Stories for This Week:

Something Sweet to Bite Too by Knackerman
Honeymoon by Darth Link 22
Treasure by KuroiTsubasaTenshi
The Laughing Shadow by Merc the Jerk
Ruminating by Hakuno
I Wish I Had Met You Yesterday by 8686
Total Word Count: 297,960

Rating System

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


Alternative Title: Knackerman’s Gift to Sadists Everywhere

Something Sweet to Bite is another one of those stories I first read way back before I was shortlisting sequels, and as such it took me a minor eternity to get here. I recall ripping the original a new one for a variety of reasons, but mainly because I had been expecting a proper horror. In reality, it was just a bunch of nonsense gore for gore’s sake, and that invoked my ire. It wasn’t until after my review came out that the author pointed out it was supposed to be over-the-top ridiculous. Which is unfortunate: had I known the kind of story to expect, I might have approached it properly and rated it higher. Naturally, I expected more of the same in the sequel, which I RiLed purely for the sake of going into one of Knackerman’s stories from the correct angle.

For those of you unawares, this series focuses on the supernatural monstrosity called the Candy Mare, an abomination literally made of candy and the source of the “sweet to bite” rhyme on Nightmare Night. She was banished to eternal slumber by Princess Luna more than a millennium ago, which Luna thought was a mercy but ended up putting the creature through nonstop, torturous nightmares. In the last story, the CMC discovered a book of recipes for cursed candies and, thinking ‘cursed’ was just added for the Nightmare Night spirits of things, made some. Turned out they were forbidden because if anyone ate them, the Candy Mare would emerge.

The sequel takes place a year later. Ponyville has been wiped off the map and half of Canterlot’s citizenry are gone – Princess Luna included. Rainbow Dash is the last known survivor of the mysterious event, by virtue of having been out of town at the time. Nopony knows what happened in Ponyville, but Rainbow, Trixie and Shining Armor have been tasked with finding out.

There’s one thing I can say about this with absolute confidence: it is a significant improvement over the original. The original was just about ponies dying for no apparent reason other than the author wanted a bunch of pointless blood and guts. This one? This one has a plot. While still having its roots in horror, it at least makes an attempt at character growth, rising action and all those trappings of an actual, worth-the-read story. It also gives us vastly higher stakes, to the point that the multiverse of MLP comes under threat. It’s still gorey, and if you saw how the previous story ended then you’ve got a good idea how this one will, but at least it’s not entirely gore for gore’s sake. Especially with the less in-depth descriptions.

And yet, this is still a story full of nothing but agony. There is no joy, no happy ending, no epic victory over ultimate evil. If you are one of those types who don’t like pain, run away as fast as you can, because this one is pure, unfiltered torture. I have every reason to expect he sequel to be the same. As one who frequently writes painful stories and defends that type often, I must confess that even I cannot condone the level of torment this story has to offer. That should tell you something.

I imagine at this point people would expect me to give this a low rating and say it’s terrible. On the contrary, I’m going to put it on even ground. The fact that it is overwhelmingly painful does not make it bad. It just means that it will only appeal to a specific niche of readers, the most extreme of trauma-fiends and gore-ophiles (Is there actually a word for this? I bet there is. It's not guro, that requires sexual gratification to be involved.).

A bit too traumatic even for me, but not without its (admittedly disturbing) audience.

EDIT: And now I have that final moment with Celestia back in my head. My congratulations to the author: that moment stayed with me for a long time.

Bookshelf: Worth It

Previous stories reviewed for this author:
My Little Doubt — Worth It
Something Sweet to Bite — Needs Work


This earns a solid :trixieshiftright::trixieshiftright::trixieshiftright::trixieshiftright::trixieshiftright: out of :trixieshiftright::trixieshiftright::trixieshiftright::trixieshiftright::trixieshiftright:. Set in the author’s Nuptialverse (see Post Nuptials and its sequel, Families), this story is set immediately after the events of A Canterlot Wedding and takes place while Cadance and Shining Armor are riding away from Canterlot in their wedding carriage. The general premise is supposedly Cadance reminding Shining why his lack of success in the past day doesn’t make him a total failure of a stallion.

Instead, about half this story is flashbacks. Rather than being about what the story’s description claims, it ends up a stunted, highly abbreviated retelling of the major landmarks of their relationship. Sadly, Darth Link 22 utilizes these flashbacks in extremely poor taste, giving us information we don’t need and pulling the story far away from what has been advertised.

I don’t like the flashbacks. Period. They are jarring, handled with the most minimal and ineffective transitioning possible, and make the promised premise of the story little more than a poorly portrayed afterthought. Having said that, if the author had clarified what this story was actually about in the description, I wouldn’t be so critical about it. So in a way, Darth Link 22’s biggest mistake is false advertising. If you’re going to write a ‘how their relationship grew’ story, you should tell us that’s what it is, not pull us in with something else entirely (and which isn’t half as interesting as the truth anyway, so what was the point?).

But this and the flashbacks aren’t the only problems. The story is telly in the extreme. Take, for example, the lengthy explanation of how Cadance’s parents died, which is of zero value to the story. This isn’t a story about her parents. The fact that they died when she was very young is more than enough. If you absolutely must reveal what happened, wasting an entire paragraph of explainy narrative is not the way to do it.

This story is a mess. Post Nuptials was at least interesting, and Families had a lot of nice character growth and a well-woven plot (plus what remains one of the best ‘Celestia Wins!’ moments I can recall). This just feels like a bunch of random scenes cobbled together in hopes of it resembling a story. If Darth Link 22 had skipped the flashbacks entirely and kept the action 100% within the confines of that carriage, this might have amounted to something worthwhile. As it is, it just… is.

Bookshelf: Needs Work

Previous stories reviewed for this author:
Families — Pretty Good
Post Nuptials — Worth It


Treasure

10,071 Words
By KuroiTsubasaTenshi
Recommended by cleverpun

Written before the official announcement of A.K. Yearling’s identity, this story follows Twilight as she attempts to complete a research paper for Princess Celestia and Rainbow Dash, whom she asked along for help (for some reason). When Dash discovers a hidden passage in the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters, the two rapidly find themselves running a trap-filled gauntlet in the castle’s catacombs. A gauntlet that is mysteriously similar to what was described in a recent Daring Do novel.

This story is one part dungeon-crawling adventure, one part relationship building, and one part anticlimactic. The traps are hardly original, but still make for some good fun, and the writing of the action is strong. The relationship building? Eh, it’s kinda weak. At best, the story gets Rainbow and Twilight to learn how to tolerate one another, as opposed to them developing any serious understanding or appreciation of one another.

And the climax? Yeah, I was disappointed. That’s what’s going on with this place? Talk about a let down. Granted, it makes general sense, so I’m guessing it was intentional. I say general sense, because I’m not buying the creator’s claim that all the traps were largely harmless showings of power. Unless being sliced up on a spike-covered trap floor qualified as ‘harmless’ back in the old days.

When it comes down to it, this feels like little more than the author’s desire to write about a trap-filled dungeon, and everything else was secondary. That doesn’t make it bad, but it does require that the audience go in with a particular interest in mind. If you’re after character/relationship growth, big revelations, or an intricate plot? Look elsewhere. If you’re after a bit of tomb raiding fun?

Yeah, this might work for you.

Bookshelf: Worth It

Previous stories reviewed for this author:
New Author!


This story has taught me a lesson about myself. For the longest time, whenever anyone asked about my OTPs I would deny having any beyond LunaTavia. When the subject of Mane 6 ships comes up, I typically react with a shrug, because I can see them with so many that I didn’t have a specific pairing I liked more than any other. But now, after having read so many stories, I am at last willing to accept the truth:

When it comes to Mane 6 shipping, RariJack is my OTP.

Anyway, to the story. The Laughing Shadow is set in an unorthodox world in which all the characters are human. That’s not the odd bit. The odd bit is that the world is saturated in Arthurian mythology, to the point that Celestia and Luna are the children of Arthur Pendragon himself. Other references are abundant, from Starswirl being known as Merlin to rumors of Arthur having a bastard son Celestia and Luna weren’t even aware of. Completing this rewrite of everything MLP are the characters themselves, who come with changes to their backgrounds, their origins, and even their very names. Rainbow Dash is Isabelle ‘Dash’ Ridder, for example, and she comes from an esteemed family of police officers and detectives.

Don’t let this turn you off. The entire alteration is competently managed, and the characters are still the ones we know and love. If anything, this story should attract the curious for its massive-scale, competent worldbuilding.

To the point, the story follows Jack Apple as she is sent to Cloudsdale Academy in Ponyville by her well-meaning big brother, who wants his sisters to have the education he never did. Despite her lackluster grades and lack of noble ties, Jack makes it into the prestigious noble’s academy thanks to the workings of the student council president, one Twila Shields (AKA Twilight). Jack promptly finds herself thrust into the student council on the basis of her agricultural knowledge, in which she meets the wealthy fashionista and fellow student Rarity Belle. Sparks fly more or less instantly. Meanwhile, a secretive enemy of Equestria known as Dmitri Dorcis (come on, tell me I don’t have to explain it) keeps trying to interfere with school and royal business.

I should note that this story is darker than your usual MLP flare. You wouldn’t think it at first glance, but it gradually takes steps to make things that way. Characters you know (and perhaps love) will not only have bad things happen to them, but some will outright die. A few gruesomely. It’s not violent enough for me to think it deserves more than a teen rating, but then the author goes and throws in a detailed sex scene to complete the package. For once, I didn’t mind; the added scene felt both tasteful and appropriate, a rare thing in almost any story medium.

Generally speaking, I enjoyed the story. Strike that, I enjoyed it a lot. It was fun, well-paced, at times gripping, and I daresay even emotional. But it still had some strange quirks. For example, I didn’t understand Dorcis’s methods at all. Given his final goal for the story, what the heck was he trying to achieve with his two henchmen in the first place? A warning? How is anyone supposed to understand the intent given what was happening? Especially with the second attempt. I can’t help thinking some clarification would be in order, because I can’t see how the two original plans were meant to achieve his goal even remotely.

The second major issue is grammar, particularly punctuation. Sentences not stopping when they should, or stopping when they shouldn’t. Sentences that lack a subject. Repetitious use of words. Assorted things like this speckle the story from beginning to end. They weren’t enough to pull me out of the story – a testament to how much I enjoyed it – but I can see others easily having trouble because of it.

So the grammar is rough. Sometimes the immediate events don’t make sense in the grand scheme. The romance between Rarity and Jack feels a bit rushed, at least at the start. But despite these issues, I still thoroughly enjoyed myself. Creative and capable worldbuilding, exciting action, decently paced shipping, high stakes, and some genuinely emotional moments left me impressed. I am happy to set this high on my bookshelves, and I look forward to seeing how Jack and Rarity deal with Chrysalis in the next story (note my confidence in pre-emptively identifying the villain).

Bookshelf: Pretty Good!

Previous stories reviewed for this author:
New Author!


Ruminating

30,559 Words
By Hakuno

Written by the same author who gave us The Shimmer of Magic, Ruminating is both a redemption fic and an origins fic. The brunt of the story is set immediately after the defeat of the Dazzlings in Rainbow Rocks, where they form a plan to ‘befriend’ the Rainbooms in hopes that this will open a way to return to Equestria. This ‘main’ story frequently alternates with flashbacks showing how the Sirens survived immediately after arriving in the human world.

I enjoy how Hakuno worked this story, giving us a chapter and a flashback for each of the Sirens one at a time. We learn a bit more about how each of them think. The author played it safe by keeping their personalities closely in-line with common fan expectations, which I suppose is fine, if a touch unoriginal. I’m willing to accept it, because Hakuno managed to keep their lives interesting the entire time, throwing in the consequences of their immortality (without utilizing the tired ‘immortality sucks’ whining so common in these stories).

The only issue with the story is the writing style, which is telly in the extreme. You’re going to have a lot of instances where the author tells you exactly how the character feels, sometimes abusively so. In Hakuno’s defense, some effort at ‘show’ is made, but it’s always set side-by-side with the tell such that the two end up being redundant of one another. If you care at all about the big show vs. tell battle, this may get very annoying very quickly. Add in some misplaced word choices like ‘it’ instead of ‘in’ or ‘feel’ instead of ‘fell’ to pull you out of the moment.

Despite the questionable writing style, the story here is great. If you’re willing to ignore the issues and just take in the story of three women at the end of a three-thousand-year struggle to survive, you might enjoy this a lot. I certainly did.

Bookshelf: Pretty Good

Previous stories reviewed for this author:
The Shimmer of Magic — Pretty Good


In the prior story, Daring Do took Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash on an adventure and learned what it meant to make friends for a change. This story – actually written first – is not related to that at all. But, it was mentioned time and time again, complete with an epilogue where the two main characters actually got to meet (8686, you a darned liar!). There was a distinct sense of ‘I’m missing something’ in the other story, so I was obligated to figure out exactly what that missing element was.

In I Wish I Had Met You Yesterday, we meet Footlight, the pegasus who has been contracted by Daring’s publishers to be the ‘official’ Daring Do. She does stage tours, meets the fans, does book signing, so on and so forth. She has no idea Daring Do is real, she only knows she’s been assigned to portray her. She’s been doing the job loyally and perfectly for five years… and she’s sick of it. It seems like the publishers care more about a non-existent pony than the pony who brings her to life. It could very well be that signing that latest contract was a mistake.

Then she gets to do a show in Ponyville, and everything changes.

Allow me to trademark the phrase: This was a treat. I think I’ll apply that to any story I happen to love… and I happen to love this one. It is a curious profundity that Footlight is a far more interesting pony than the one she pretends to be on a daily basis – and I’m including the real one from the other story in that statement. This story comes with great character development, spot on Twilight and Rainbow characterizations (with just a touch of Celestia cameoing that worked equally well), and effective feels throughout. At any given time, I could feel Footlight’s frustration, misery, fury, and joy.

I dare to say 8686 handles shorter stories better than longer ones – although I won’t hold that against them, because I know from experience how very different the two tasks are. This story was heartwarming, endearing, and personable. Looking back on the entirety of it, I can’t find a single thing to complain about.

I’m following this author. I probably should have been ages ago.

And you guys should read this story, because it’s great. In fact, read it before Daring Do and the Secret of the Sunken City.

Bookshelf: Why Haven’t You Read These Yet?

P.S. – By any chance, did the wizard wear a ninja’s mask yet also have a righteously epic beard?

Previous stories reviewed for this author:
Daring Do and the Secret of the Sunken City — WHYRTY?
Run for the Roses — WHYRTY?
The Great Ponyville Snowball Fight — Pretty Good
Eclipse — Worth It


Stories for Next Week:

Tricks and Treats by ambion
Three Solos, One Cadence by Inquisitor M
Heavy Rock by CoffeeMinion
Emotions are Complicated by SamRose
The Alchemy of Chemistry by Novel-Idea


Recent Review Map:

Paul's Thursday Reviews XCVI
Paul's Thursday Reviews XCVII
Paul's Thursday Reviews XCVIII
Paul's Thursday Reviews XCVIX
Paul's Thursday Reviews #100!
You Are Here
Paul's Thursday Reviews CII
Paul's Thursday Reviews CIII
Paul's Thursday Reviews CIV
Paul's Thursday Reviews CV
Paul's Thursday Reviews CVI

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Comments ( 12 )

I've read "Ruminating" and had the exact same reaction: nice story, but incredibly telly and with a fair number of odd phrasings or editing problems.

Oh, and I'd read the other one in the list for that author, too. It had the same issues, turned up a notch. Just as telly, but with lots of dialogue mechanics problems and no sense of perspective. Seems like this is one of those authors that does well by plot and characterization, but could use help with execution.

TVTropes refers to the "violence spectacle" genre as Gorn. Gore porn, but with porn here being used to mean something gratuitous and shown for its own sake, rather than sexual in nature. There's also Torture Porn: a more specific term that focuses on torture scenes (the Saw series or movies like Hostel coming to mind).

Finally, there's the more mainstream--but less-defined--term of the Exploitation Film. At least mainstream enough to have a Wikipedia article. Likewise, this usually refers to a piece of fiction that is showing "lurid" content for its own sake.

Like all terms that attempt to pigeonhole fiction, these terms all have some degree of subjectivity to them (and more often than not, they heavily overlap). But better to have a handful of subjective terms than none at all.

(congrats toViking ZXandshortskirtsandexplosionsfor being the only ones so far to hit RAINBOOM! scores!)

YES!

Now that is a satisfying mountain to have climbed! :rainbowdetermined2: All the way to the top! From the absolute bottom, too. Ah, success ... :pinkiesmile:

Thanks again for reviewing my work, and for all your feedback! And now? I spy another mountain off in the distance, and one of the trailheads along the way is called Hunter/Hunted. Time to get climbing! Onward and upwards!

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

When it comes to Mane 6 shipping, RariJack is my OTP.

WELCOME, BROTHER

When it comes to Mane 6 shipping, RariJack is my OTP.

4776775

WELCOME, BROTHER

i0.kym-cdn.com/photos/images/original/001/236/841/075.jpg
Good taste to both of you on regards to best poni shippings

I still have a ways to go on being a proper writer of horsewords, but I'm glad that you enjoyed it despite some of its more obvious flaws, Paul. Thank you very much for the review! :twilightblush:

It just means that it will only appeal to a specific niche of readers, the most extreme of trauma-fiends and gore-ophiles.

:pinkiecrazy: This pleases me, greatly. Haha!

4776756
Congrats, man!

And to Paul, I'm quite glad to see you liked I Wish I Had Met You Yesterday.

4776743
Yeah, we're in general agreement. But since I tend to be forgiving of execution when a great plot is involved, I gave them decent ratings.

4776746
So many definitions. I can just see the debates roaring in the background. I already know I don't like torture porn. I saw Hostel and it seemed to me more stupid than anything else. The original Candy Mare would undoubtedly qualify as gorn. This, I think, is just outside that definition, but the author certainly skirted it.

4776756
Good luck with the new mountain! I have every faith in your ability to top it.

4776775
4776782
Do I have to wear a fashionable orange/purple robe (I bet Rarity could find a way to make it happen) and swear some sort of Oath to the One OTP now?

4776832
Glad I could please you. I will, of course, be continuing this series. My morbid curiosity and futile hope for revenge demands it.

4776897
Of course! It was a solid piece of literature.

4777139
We also accept a blood offering on the third Tuesday of every month, usually have an ice cream social alongside it for the kids.

4777248
I think I'll just take the oath, thanks.

4777139 I generally find all of it pretty stupid, so I don't try too hard to differentiate them. But as the TVTropes Exploitation Film article notes, sometimes the line between art and exploitation can be pretty thin. The Saw movies or Hostel clearly have an Excuse Plot and little interest beyond one specific thing. But I've been watching Psycho-Pass lately, and there's a massive amount of graphic, disgusting violence in between all the social commentary and dystopic drama.

Like all fiction, it's one of those things that is a personal threshold. The subjective nature of fiction means that it is difficult to know how other people will view it, not that it is hard to recognize.

Thanks for the review. The dungeon aspect actually wasn't what I started with, even though it might come across the way. Rather, that was more of a result of going with a Daring Do theme, since that was the big thing she was defined by at the time. I actually started with the idea for the reveal and tried to work off of that. Since it was a short story contest, I was trying to keep the journey relatively short and simple and, admittedly, the story probably suffered a bit for it. Looking back, this concept was probably more suited to a longer story with a slower burn on the clues and build up.

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