• Member Since 4th May, 2013
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On the Sliding Scale Of Idealism Vs. Cynicism, I like to think of myself as being idyllically cynical. (Patreon page.)

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  • Tuesday
    Up for grabs: a parody title in search of a story

    This is one of those 'I just saw one too many of the @$%%^& things' title concepts. Once you see the title itself, you'll understand. And maybe you'll even have a story to go with it, which is something I'm lacking at the moment. Shortly after posting this blog, I'll be focusing efforts on a Rarity one-shot comedy piece because dear gawds, could I use a laugh -- but that means I'm not really

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    17 comments · 504 views
  • Monday
    Estee Ticks Off The Entire Site: Story Reviews, Round #4 (in a series of #Unlikely) & possible story submissions for future rounds

    I need to start this one with an apology, and it's not 'For what I now say and opinionate, forgive me.' We all know that's not going to happen. I'm apologizing because this set was supposed to be up a week ago. There was a bribe to get a story into the next group, I told the author I would get it done that weekend, and

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    25 comments · 601 views
  • 1 week
    I just found international region-free DVD listings for MLP:FIM Season 9

    For those who must have hardcopy (and, like me, have given up on Shout Factory. Forever), here's the links.

    The main store.

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    17 comments · 367 views
  • 1 week
    A very British pony naming challenge

    Today (and possibly tomorrow), I'll be working on an Everyone-rated light comedy one shot: The Tortoise And The Fair. This is based on the story concept I mentioned in one review blog, only shifted in location: I realized that 'something happens due to an

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    33 comments · 519 views
  • 1 week
    About the Triptych Continuum's Discord server

    I've mentioned it before. It's an empty room. I'm the only person who has the server code. (I'm not even sure how to detect or paste the server code. I usually get into the server by typing in the first two numbers of its location into the URL bar.) There are no member, no channels -- don't ask me how you go about setting up channels -- and not a single word has ever been posted there.

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    35 comments · 651 views

Estee Ticks Off The Entire Site: Story Reviews, Round #1 (in a series of #Unlikely.) · 9:02pm May 10th

I should have just marched up and down the street while towing a cart, ringing a bell, and shouting "Bring out your dead!"

But no... y'all thought that, given the opportunity for review, you should be presenting what you regarded as your best work. Let's have a blog full of nothing but praise and validation! Because we are writers, every last writer on the planet is a desperate attention whore -- I am not excluding myself -- and there is nothing we love so much as people talking about our work.

At least as long as they're saying nice things. Because when you're whoring yourself out for attention, you really don't want your clients skipping out of bed while your back is turned. And then you get what we're going to call the Tommy Wiseau summary on Yelp, here described as 'It probably would have been a lot better if they hadn't been trying to have sex with my navel.'

Yeah. So here's the thing. I don't review stories any more because, in the worst CinemaSins tradition, I am a bitch/bastard/delete whichever is inappropriate, and that's how things tend to come out. I'll tell you a secret, kiddies: I used to do this: a long time ago, on another site, under another name, posted by someone who really isn't me any more. It did not go well. Because in the end, a community is a fragile thing, and it does not deal well with the one person standing in the center of an abruptly-cleared circle who's yelling "YOU STINK!" I didn't break up the group -- but I did some damage to a few of my relationships within it and when the time came to leave, I had very little trouble closing the door behind me. No one loves a critic, and bare tolerance is too much to ask for.

I'm writing this preamble before I look at a single word from the stories which were volunteered, and I'm doing so in part to remind everyone that damage can be done. Also that you brought out what you thought was your best work, and the opinions of those readers who came before aren't going to have an impact on mine. Upvotes aren't always a measure of quality. (Again, I am not excluding myself there.) Sometimes they just show popularity, or 'you wrote about that thing I like!', with a side option of 'My fetish!' I can think of one author with a four-digit follower count, who's guaranteed a small flood of upvotes on everything they write. This author also has at least one error in every story description and if you try pointing it out, you'll probably wind up blocked. They'll happily criticize everyone else's style, but anyone trying to fix their typos? Must be silenced. And yet the upvotes come, because this person is popular.

Don't ask me why. It certainly doesn't seem to be based on their personality.

The fact that others liked your writing doesn't mean I will. And that has the potential to do damage, because a critic is a lot of things. The ones who try bringing attention to the worthwhile new, those who sound the alarm when toxins are detected -- but mostly, a critic is a jerk with an opinion and a keyboard. So yes, the entire Internet is composed of critics. Feel free to log out in horror at any time.

I'm expecting to lose followers over this. Possibly Patreon sponsors. Lawsuits are unlikely, but I'm not taking the option off the list. Because even with people submitting what they feel is their best work, my opinion is unlikely to match that of the previous majority.

You're taking your most precious creation, watching it dance on stage before a live audience, smiling with pride, and then you get that one person sitting directly behind you who says "It's not a very good costume, is it?"

That doesn't end well. It never ends well. But hey, I'm the idiot who offered to do this because everything here is horrible and apparently I wanted to make it even worse for myself. (What is the mark icon for self-sabotage?) So in the last minute when any of you can still pretend you feel like speaking to me, let's just consider all the mistakes that brought us to this point. And if that doesn't take a full minute, you can use the time to go find some pitchforks, torches, tar, feathers, and an rail. Based on historical evidence, you're about to feel a need for them.

Everyone ready?

Yeah, right.

So. There were too many stories submitted for a single blog post of coverage. (Seriously. Go count.) Additionally, two people took the Ko-Fi bit seriously and therefore should fairly be included in this first/only?/I-dunno-everything-is-on-fire grouping.

Let's see how many I can do before the self-loathing hits limit break.

And lastly-before-we-start: there are no ratings, not in the sense of a simple 0-to-whatever, or any cute system of symbols. This is how I feel about the stories. I'm not going to put a numerical qualifier on emotion.

What Cats Know by Daedalus Aegle

It's autumn in Ponyville, and Nightmare Night is approaching, when Sweetie Belle stumbles on a mystery.

Cats are adorable, and playful, and aloof, and they know more than ponies realize. Once they were revered as gods.

But have you ever tried to get a straight answer from a cat?

"Hey, cat. Are you a murderous sociopath who doesn't actually care about your human any more than anyone would care about a convenient sound-triggered food dispenser?"

"Yes. Pet me."

Mission accomplished.

Let's see how this one starts.

When I was a little filly, we would spend every Hearth’s Warming with my grandparents, on the Northern coast. We would take the ferry to get there, which traveled up and down the coast every day. But the ferry left our hometown at 4 AM. So every year, for Hearth’s Warming, we would get chased out of bed in the middle of the pitch black winter night, and have to go down to the harbor and spend an hour checking in on the ferry, in a biting wind while the waves whipped against the pier.

Every year me and my older sister insisted that we wanted to just stay up until it was time to go, but dad wouldn’t hear of it, and insisted that we go to bed at the normal time to get at least some sleep. Maybe he was right, but getting pulled out of bed at 3 AM after at best half a night’s sleep makes you feel dead inside, flat, like paper.

The cheap shot is to start on how complicated that ferry route is, because starting from a landlocked town at the center of the continent sort of adds a few issues to standard operating procedure. But in this case, we're going to give the author a little bit of a break, because no one's ever said the Belles lived in Ponyville for their entire lives.

However, I do need to point out that we have a narrator here. Sweetie is telling this story directly: in fact, if you look at the absolute opener of the story, she repeats the title and claims authorship. So this is something which Sweetie herself is writing down. We're not told if it's a real event, a work of fiction, or the age of the narrator. She's looking back at her life from some point -- but we don't know exactly when.

This means the first thing the reader has to accept is Sweetie's voice. She doesn't have to sound exactly as she does in the show, not for sentence structure and vocabulary. She just has to come across in a way that can be accepted as Sweetie. And the younger we allow her to be -- a filly writing this down, as opposed to an adult who's just trying to sound like one -- the more the writer can get away with. The story doesn't have to be perfect grammatically, because somepony at Sweetie's show age still has a long way to go for mastery. One thing which stands out early is that commas tend to be scattershot: the narrator knows they have to go somewhere, but isn't all that worried about the exact details of placement.

This is a style choice. It's possible to make an entire novel without commas: True History Of The Kelly Gang pulls this off in the storyteller's narration. You can also kick them in anywhere you like, because a filly doesn't have too many concerns there. And if the story is being told in anything other than third person, you might start hating the presentation. Questioning what the author is doing, to the point of just ducking out -- but for first-person, it's about the narrative voice. We're asking ourselves if this is how Sweetie would actually write things down, as a filly just hours to days removed from the events -- or as a mare trying to sound like a child.

Accept that a first-person narrator is relaying things in the only way they know how, and we can put up with a lot. Flowers For Algernon relies on our being willing to force our way through endless spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, because that's all Charlie Gordon can manage at the start -- and at the end. So the question becomes 'Do you accept this as Sweetie's narrative voice?' Because if you don't, you are going to have a hard slog ahead.

My granny had a cat. An old Norwhinnyan Forest Cat, who hadn’t been built for indoor life but who was a cat and therefore wasn’t going to accept that there was anything she couldn’t do. She had long, thick fur, and a mane almost like a lion’s mane in the same iron gray as the rest of her. And every year when we came to visit this cat would look fairly miffed that all these ponies were intruding in her space, but she endured us with feline grace, such as a long-suffering monarch of the forest might endure ponies hiking through her lands without even realizing whose home they were stomping across. She would lie on a table in the corner, watching us all with a cat’s professional disinterest.

Writing child characters is a nightmare.

Childhood is a period of self-reinforcing insanity. It's also endless discovery, because you know nothing until the moment you learn, and then you know everything until the instant you don't. If a child is narrating, then there's often a sense of both understanding what's going on and not quite having a grasp on events, at the same time. And there can be strange insights, because a child has yet to be taught how not to think in certain ways.

In this case... it comes down to acceptance of narrative voice again. Is Sweetie going to be the sort of filly who pulls 'long-suffering monarch' out of her descriptive files? Or is that an adult trying to capture what they think a filly would sound like? Childhood is a dream, and dreams are so easy to forget...

Building a credible child character can be about working within the madness. The adult has the lie of sanity, and sanity further lying about being mad can become annoying in a hurry. So... in the paragraph quoted above, how old does Sweetie sound? Does that age change as you move across the words? Is it consistent?

Managing a single constant voice is hard enough. Locking down within a solitary year...

Quick aside here.

She would only let my granny pet her, and hold her in her lap

Yes, I know we had an increasing number of ponies sitting human-style over the seasons. That's a personal bugaboo and no one else should pay it any mind -- but for those who lean more towards quadrupeds, 'lap' is always going to be a jarring moment.

CNG argues that stories about ponies are stories about people, and there's truth in that. But they aren't stories about humans. We were willing to come to this world because it wasn't our own. We know what our own set looks like, and thus the frequent desire to strike it and switch out.

Watch out for laps. They don't always fit well.

And when we get this, a little later on...

I was sitting there slumped with my head on my arm


So what's this story about?

As it turns out, Sweetie is both writer and narrator: she's composing a story at the start of the piece, then switches out to just relating things directly. And with Nightmare Night approaching, she's been thinking about cats. How her grandmother's cat followed into death through being put down at the vet's office, with all of the cats in that distant town seemingly emerging to either see her off or exhale. Opal's right there in the Boutique, Opal's getting old, and... cats are the ones who condescend to live with us. We've got dogs tricked into thinking we're on the dominant side of the relationship: cats understand when a sucker is passing over free food. In wrestling terms, felines are smarks: they know it's an illusion, but they respect careful crafting and hey, even a smart mark can come to care about the characters and storylines.

There's always something about a cat which suggests they know it's a game and by the way, they won. Sweetie has been wondering if cats have magic, because this Equestria has legends of witches and cats. Nightmare Night is a reminder of that, so... how can she find out?

Well, first, we head for Twilight's. And as this is in the castle age...

It was a crisp day, just on the right side of frigid. I wore a thick fluffy scarf and ear muffs to ward off the chill, and set off in search of answers. My breath hung in the air, and the ponies nodded at me as I passed by, the work of preparing for Nightmare Night put on hold while ponies attended to the mundane work of the morning.

The sun hung just above the horizon, its light extra sharp in the dry air, landing right in my eyes as I walked. Red sunrise-light that looked summer-warm on the walls where it landed, reminding us that what we see and what’s real are often two very different things.

How old do you see Sweetie as being, when her age is roughly translated to human years? This story was written in 2016: that gives us some grounding for where the inspiration originated.

Is she old enough to have that thought? At that time, with those words, based on that inspiration?

It's all about how you see her. Whether you accept this as her narrative voice. And acceptance is subjective.

Spike had grown. He was twice as tall as a pony now. As always, he was wearing his one of a kind librarian outfit that my sister had made for him years ago. It was sharp, and comfortable, and always showed him at his best side.

All right: so we're some distance into the future. That gives us more flexibility. And we already knew Opal had aged --

-- did we?

We know Sweetie sees her as being old. But we don't know how old Opal is in the show. We can't be sure of how old Sweetie is at this moment, how many years have passed since we last saw her. We started this story adrift in the temporal sea, and we still aren't anchored.

That's a problem. A setting has to establish itself fairly quickly: where we are, and when. We started with Sweetie looking back on a younger self in her story -- but twelve looking back on ten is gazing at a younger self. It's hard to pin down Sweetie here because we don't have a full grasp of when she exists. Temporally, we're floundering. How old should she sound? How old is she now? Does she just like commas?

“So this, this stream of magic, it flows through everything… Ponies and cats alike.” Twilight nodded. “So what’s the difference between us and everything else? Why do we have cutie marks, while nothing else does?”

“There are a lot of theories about that,” Twilight said. “The most commonly held explanation is that ponies are attuned to the magic of destiny in ways that other living things aren’t. All lifeforms have magic. But only ponies have a special purpose.” She chuckled a little self-consciously. “I mean, it’s not to brag. But we ponies are pretty much the center of the cosmos. We control the sun and the moon, the turning of the seasons, and even all the other sapient species depend on us.”

Anyone else want to bust that boast?

This is a very dismissive version of Twilight. Everything comes down to pony magic and the ways it becomes distorted and reflected through others. Everyone else is running on pony magic: just not at the level in which ponies know it. (This includes Discord.) This feels like a version of Twilight which, quite frankly, needs to have Pinkie predict a few more flowerpot drops directly onto her head, and deserves it. But Sweetie can't quite accept that answer, so onwards we go...

I am still a little sad at that. Now they only exist in my memories, and they deserve better than that.

Time turns marvelous possibilities into banal realities and sorrow. Nothing gets away from it.

But Nightmare Night fights back.

For just one night, all the dreams and terrors of our past come back to us, and we learn how much we missed them.

Childhood is insanity, because insanity is the reasonable response to terror.

We don't understand, and that's a terror. So we tell ourselves stories, then say we understand the tales and so the tale has to be what's real. Adults miss the times when it was that easy, because at least a story could be resolved.

This is an adult looking back, and that makes the passage effective. But I wish we'd known that a little earlier.

Ponyville at 5 AM in autumn is a howling wind in darkness. The wind heralded the coming of winter in the worst way, whipping and biting at my face, sapping my heat, very different from the mild days of softly falling snow for foals to catch on their tongues.

This was a wind that warned, a wind of change and dismissal, that told us that everything we thought we knew about wind was laughably wrong, and every sensible pony should stay inside and hide from it. Pegasus ponies can bend the wind, but there are only so many ponies, and the wind is forever.

I'm bringing this one in because it's a direct contrast to Twilight's attitude. Childhood is the illusion of fantasy. Adulthood is the illusion of control. And each tries to reach towards the other.

Sweetie, as an adult, is looking for a degree of fantasy: the magic of cats, something disconnected from marks and spells and everything else she knows. So she goes to Fluttershy, to Discord, to Golden Delicious, asking about something she wants to be true. And on Nightmare Night itself...

Outside, Pinkie Pie was leading the children from house to house, as she always did in the early evening, remembering what it means to be a foal, and teaching it to those who don’t yet know.

Did you have to be taught how to be a child?
Or did you just exist as one?
How do you remember your own madness, from the perspective of false reason?

And this is where the story starts to feel like base trickery.

I won't give away the first big plot twist. But it feels like it centers around the same concepts: things we weren't told, details which were hard to anticipate because it doesn't feel as if the clues were there when we were establishing everything at the start. When the story goes sad, it does so all at once, telling us something we didn't know, possibly couldn't have known, there were chances to hint at it earlier and either I get to feel stupid for missing what might have been there or angry because it might not have been. A twist, at the instant it arrives, has to retroactively fit. Everything which was a casual part of the background comes into full focus as support beams for what turned out to be a structure, and if you don't spot them... then it collapses.

The initial major reveal made me angry. It's the difference between early Shyamalan and late: if we can identify the clues looking back, then we accept it. If we can't -- then the fault is either ours or the storytellers: either way, it's going to piss us off.

So in the end, when we reach our answer, about the magic of cats... it doesn't feel earned. Because we had a narrator, and the narrator's job is to tell us the things we need to know. The story comes into mysticism, and it's not so much a matter of being slowly surrounded by wisps of fog as having Rainbow dump a deluge onto us. I don't feel like the bread crumbs were there, leading us on a trail through the forest towards the dark places. And if there were, I missed them, so... either way, I get to feel stupid.

I was trying to figure out who the narrator was, where and when she spoke from. And now I feel like she wasn't telling me enough, or telling me the wrong things. You can have red herrings in a mystery, false leads -- but when you have a narrator, all you have to rely on is her words. So there's a sense of betrayal. How could you know, when she didn't? You couldn't. But you can feel like it was her job to tell you, and...

Did I listen to the wrong things? Who's at fault here? I don't know, because there are times when the blame lies with the reader. But in the end, there is something of a straight answer from a cat. I just don't know if I got one from the author.

Here's a lie of adulthood: This should have been different. Why isn't it?

But you can't ask someone to tell the story you wanted told, in the way you felt it should have come across.

...and yet...

...I realized that I'd spent the entire story waiting for Sweetie to tell me things. She's the narrator: that's her charged task. I followed in her wake. I had to decide whether I was going to accept her voice.

Now I don't know if I accept the words that voice carried.

So if anyone's wondering, current shipping time on a torch from Amazon is at least seven days. Pitchforks may be easier.

All right. That was the first story volunteered. Let's go roulette for the next one. Up and down the scroll wheel, until...


Last Daughter Of Croupton by FanOfMostEverything

By simple biological necessity, one can conclude that Scootaloo has parents. And, indeed, there is a couple in Ponyville who claim her as their own. But they adopted her long ago. The documents are in Town Hall for anypony who cares to look. So, whence came the winged Crusader?

To learn that, we must go not just to another time, but another place, for Scootaloo is as orphaned as an orphan can be.

First thought prior to chapter click: At least it wasn't the Last Daughter Of Crouton.
Chicken flavored.

This is a story which gleefully announces itself. 'Oh, you think you know where we're going with this, do you? Want to find out if you're right?' The title combined with the Crossover tag is meant to get you thinking of One Thing or, if you had the misfortune of seeing the early DCEU cinematic attempts, Anything But That. It's setting you up with expectations.

The trouble there is that when it comes to what I'm expecting to be the inspirational source material, expectations can override execution.

So here's a comic book story: 'Villain kills a lot of people. The hero captures the villain, who is put aside for a while until they can escape to kill more people, because capturing them again gives the hero something to do.' That's the expectation of just about every Batman/Joker tale, isn't it? And the moment some of us step out of the medium forever is when we realize that nothing's ever going to change. To continue the professional wrestling analogy from above, you start in the audience as a mark: you're fully buying in to all of of this. But once you understand that justice won't be done because Justice derails the next crossover... you can have two reactions. You become a smart mark, who recognizes the story beats and just wants to see them executed well. Or you get fed up and walk away, because the expectation is that nothing will ever truly change, and you just realized that you were never supposed to be tracking the body count.

The title makes me expect something with a Superman vibe to it. And there are places where that goes, where it almost has to go because you don't get a Superman story without some of those beats. But maybe you're sick of reading about a planet where no one bothers doing anything about the signs of global disaster, because that hits a little close to home these days, doesn't it? Perhaps the whole 'And how hard would it have been to build a rocket for three?' thing finally got to you.

A story's title is the author's first chance to hook you. It's also the initial opportunity to form an impression, good or bad. And if you're sick of Doomed Planet, Kindly Couple, Next Reboot In Three Years... you're probably not clicking unless you have faith in the author's ability to subvert all of it. It's a title, and it's also a potential announcement of plot, tropes, beats, and possibly green glowing rocks. Or horns. Horn-rocks. But maybe the author means to play around. Forget the expectations: we're here for the execution.

Did you judge this story before you went in? Do you think you know exactly what it's about?

How would you react to being wrong?

Let's see how this starts.

The Chamber of Wisdom evoked Croupton's constant aspirations towards further greatness. It stood atop the tallest tower of the Planetary Science Complex, every part of it tall and thin, stretching ever higher towards the stars. Within, a single blue-coated unicorn stood before the Crouptonian Council of Research, gazing up at the planet's nine greatest minds. The Chief Researcher, his beard draping down past his barrel, sat at the center of the arc and looked down upon him. "Do you know why you are here today, Dr. Wreath?"

"I believe so, Chief Researcher Brainiac," said Laurel Wreath. "I take it this is about the paper I submitted?"

Brainiac nodded. "Indeed it is. Would you please summarize it for those members of the Council who have not yet had the chance to read it?"

"It details the long-term environmental effects of direct mana taps—"

The rest of the Council went into an uproar, drowning out Laurel.



...oh boy.

Here we are or rather, here we are again. In fact, here we are for the second time, because this is pretty much where I was afraid we were going to wind up and this story just jumped into the dead-center target of Expectations. Which means I'm now looking for one of two things: for a degree of subversion because without that, we may be playing What If? (or worse, What The?) with ponies and that goes straight for A. Great. Deal. Of. Fun --

-- or we're hoping for a decent Execution.

Possibly of the author. We'll see how it goes.

Incidentally, I'm aware that there's a constant temptation to work with punny and/or meaningful names when writing ponies and when you're working with this kind of story, you should always factor that temptation against the number of people who have worked out approximately where you live and may decide to kill you.

'Laurel.' 'Ivory Tower.'

Check your locks.

Chin in his hoof, Laurel pressed a button, and the view shifted another micron along the fifth dimension, revealing a Croupton that was just as doomed, but with many more silly hats. "No."

Do you want some ice for that Byrne?

So this is, for the most part, a example of Execution. We all know how this goes, and the subversion of Expectations are very few. (Admittedly, the big one essentially goes full Normalman by having the planetary transfer give her the powers of -- pretty much nothing.) We're playing around with the Superman origin story because why not? That's what you signed on for when you clicked the title, and you knew that going in. Someone who walks down a clearly-marked road, going past all the signs which read Trespassers Will Be Eaten does not get to complain about the first bite, or the last. Frankly, when the base tale is this well-known, being illiterate isn't even a defense.

What you don't get here is a story.

Yeah. I know what I just said. Let me explain.

The author spends the early sections going over our hallowed and self-destructing ground: here's the planet, here's why it's going to blow up, and this is why you couldn't make the thing seat three. Once that's done, we cut to Scootaloo as we know her, with adoptive parents, and it's time for her to get the reveal for where she truly came from and why.

That is where the piece ends.

You accept that, when it's a comic. And the reason you accept it is called Issue #2. Okay: Scootaloo is facing the holographic head of her birth father. There's clearly about to be a Major Talk. But we just hit the page limit, so see you next month! And in this case? It's a text piece, with no sequels tagged. A one-shot. You had the parody, you had the puns, you had the buildup, and now you have -- the Author's Notes.

So you check the front page again. It's tagged as Complete.

And is that where your Expectations were going?

So to me, it's not a story. It's a few scenes which proceed in the expected order, and then they just stop. I went into this with Expectations, and I came away with the sensation of having viewed an extended trailer for a film which was never going to be made. And so I exit feeling cheated for the second time in two tales, because the Execution hadn't been bad. It's not straying too far from the source material in the parody, it's going for the beats we all know -- but there's an effort being made, the tone is just about right, and I'm willing to accept what's going on because in terms of comfort, familiar ground can be just that. I know where I am. I've been here a hundred times before and if the Execution isn't bad, one more might not hurt.

Expectations were... as expected. But the Execution dropped the blade at exactly the wrong spot. The reader who goes into this story has a reason to expect more, because that's how the story goes. And when it just ends...

It's not a story. It's Chapter One for a microseries which got cancelled after the first issue. I've had those in real life. All they do is frustrate. You can flip through the pages you have as much as you like, and that equals as much as you can stand because when Chapter One is all you're going to have, then it might as well be Chapter Zero.

For what this is -- for what exists of it, Expectations and Execution alike -- it's fine. But I could never recommend it, because that's all there is. And I'm not Expecting any more.

The author, however, will be Executed accordingly.

And so I've alienated two of my oldest followers for petty, stupid, and avoidable reasons, also known as 'reviews, the mistake of writing.' Who's next?

I think we're going to stop at -- six reviews for the day. (There's only so many people I can stand to lose at once.) Two of those slots have been Ko-Fi reserved, and random draw seems to be the most fair way to treat the other remaining pair. So back to the scroll wheel, and when the spinning stops, we get...

Bad Roll Of The Dice by Skyace

The Changelings have regrouped, and with the help of a new ally from another world, have conquered and enslaved Equestria. The Elements of Harmony manage to cast a desperate spell, a cry for help. One man answers, and shows the conquerors why his name is taken from a bad roll of the dice.

*covers eyes*

...oh boy.

Let's talk source material.

This story proudly declares itself to be a crossover with G.I. Joe and based on the artwork, we're looking at the 80s incarnation: a team instead of an individual soldier, fighting against 'a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world'. There are many questions to ask about that series, and the modern day brings up 'Why wasn't this a multinational effort against a group which has shown the ability and desire to wipe entire countries off the map?' Of course, the modern day also answers that question: 'Because maybe they'll attack someone you don't like before they get to you,' and hello, realpolitik.

You knew I was a cynic going in.

Anyway, we're looking at an 80s cartoon, and the vast majority of those existed to sell toys or, in the case of a few unfortunates, promote a toy which already existed through a medium which shut down any and all desires to own. You will only be interested in a Rubik's Cube until you meet Rubik, The Amazing Cube and then you will take that thing apart one tiny block at a time just to make sure he never manifests again. But in the case of the Joes, they had to be distinguishable: not just in the packaging, but through giving them personalities.

...one trait. Each.

It's a government organization. (The 'G.I.' in the original has been said to stand for Government Issued, just in case you wanted to feel like even more of a cog... but it really means Galvanized Iron.) One was the limit.

Admittedly, some of them developed a little over time. The 80s cartoon liked to have focus stories, and so viewers often followed a particular Joe around for twenty-two minutes. We met their families, saw how they interacted with the others, looked up their posted pay grades and realized they were barely pulling in minimum wage for fighting terrorists -- some things never change -- and in the case of Shipwreck, patiently waited for someone to punch him in the face. But the big draw for most of the watching boys (and a few of the girls) was Snake Eyes. Because he was the ninja. Government-issued. He wore a full-face mask at all times, he never spoke (because he couldn't) and he was a Man Of Mystery. With swords. A badbutt who didn't have to worry about little things like dialogue, whose past was exactly as mysterious as you wanted it to be.

(Oh, and those swords never cut anything which wasn't inanimate. Plus it was really easy to be a ninja in the 80s, because there would be thousands of guns firing all around you and none of them would ever hit anything. The entire early Joe Vs. Cobra war is known for having one fatality. And he got better.)

Mysterious ninjas who get to carry swords and never need to worry about talking to girls are the ribeye steak of boys' action figures. Strictly speaking, you don't need to eat one and too many will lead to an early death, but oh, that first one tastes so good... You just don't learn about what it did to your arteries for a while. And much like your action figure accessories, some part of it will be clogging the flow for a lifetime.

This isn't to say that Snake Eyes was a bad character. You could argue that he was as good as the era would allow him to be, and the same could sometimes be claimed for his show. I just want you to understand that he was the magnet. If fanfic was being written by the core audience, it was Snake Eyes fanfic. (Until they got a little older, and then it was Snake Eyes/Scarlet. Or Lady Jaye, because who doesn't love javelins? But if you meet someone who went Baroness? Run.) Secret origins. Deadly skills. Actually being allowed to, you know, cut someone. And once his backstory came out, you got a little rivalry action going... there were so many things you could do with Snake Eyes and if people are still doing them thirty years after he showed up, then I think you can say he won.

Am I stalling before starting the story?
I honestly have no idea.
But now you know a little more about what we're dealing with, and some say that's half the battle. Let's see what this chapter looks like.

Equestria was dying. Slowly strangled from the inside out, it’s once happy citizens now slaves of not just one, but two viciously parasitic foes. The changelings had tried twice before to convert the peaceful ponies into their personal food source, only to be foiled at the last minute by first the niece of the one-time diarchy and her betrothed’s love, and then by that same couples baby sister and her five friends.

It looks like it needed one more editing pass.

This is a case where having a writer as your reader doesn't always work out for the best. As seen by the rather happy fandoms of a few (thousand) unnamed souls, there are readerships who will merrily skip over any and all errors, because a lot of readers tend to skim. (There's some study of literacy which suggests those who work with lettered alphabets just check the first and last characters of a word in order to decide it's 'right' and move on from there.) And for some of those who go a little more slowly, they just won't care. But you toss a stray it's/its problem in with a lack of possessive, badly-timed lowercase, and some absent commas in front of a writer -- even a fanfic hack one, at least when they're paying attention -- and it's jarring.

(Not 'its jarring'. And don't start.)

I feel -- without hard evidence -- that most people in the site would just go past all of that. With me? If I'd clicked on this story directly from the New column, then I'm probably halfway to going out again. And yes, I know we all make mistakes. Half of my Comments sections consist of 'you missed this', and there are days when I feel like I'm rounding down. (This is not an objection or request to stop: the errors need fixing. However, I do get frustrated with myself.) But I think it's easier to miss, when it's your own work. Semantic saturation subset: you've looked over the words so many times as to stop seeing them.

It's hard to make a call on action, when you spot the little mistakes. Some people send gentle PMs. Others go to the Comments. And some just don't see...

Read your work out loud, whenever you can. It stands out more that way. And the looks you get on the train are just priceless.

So. Shall we story? (And from here on, I'm mostly going to ignore the errors in this particular piece. It's time to look at the plot.)

Now the changelings were back, bearing weapons of war that had been unheard of in the world of Equestria; weapons accompanied by alien, bipedal “military advisors” carrying yet more devastating weaponry. This second enemy race were instantly characterized by the symbol blazoned across both their armor and weaponry, a single stylized cobra, mouth yawning open in preparation to strike. With over a thousand years to stagnate in unbroken peace, the Royal Guard was completely overwhelmed within the first week of the engagement, the royal sisters once more imprisoned within changeling pods while their subjects found themselves offered one choice; submit to the occupying forces or face death.

It quickly became apparent that submission was no guarantee of survival. Those who surrendered were rounded up into concentration camps, with most pegasi and earth ponies given up to the changeling queen to sustain her hordes, while the unicorns found themselves at the less than tender mercies of the alien forces known as “Cobra”. Many died before the invader’s chief scientist discovered the most efficient method of extracting each unicorn’s personal manna supply, thus providing the Cobra leadership with a stockpile of raw magic to power yet more terrible weaponry, while leaving those ponies who survived the procedure in a near catatonic state.

I've said that one of the issues in working with a crossover is trying to make sure that people who aren't familiar with both sides of the meeting can track what's going on. And this isn't always possible. I've personally tried to get across the concept for the old World Of Darkness (everything is both gothic and depressing, with optional punk!) along with trying to explain Cerea's world (there's monsters, but they're all cute girls who can't avoid turning into fanservice!) and in both cases, I've had my share of failures.

In this case, the author doesn't have to get across too many basics. There's an organization helping the changelings and it isn't going well for anypony involved. You don't need to know the 80s series (or any of the reboots) in order to really track events. We're basically in 'previously on' here: summary provided for your protection. It can be okay to fast-forward a little at the start of a story like this, because all you're really doing is establishing the background.

This, however...

The Elements of Harmony, those six incredible ponies who personally defeated such deadly foes as Nightmare Moon and Discord, were at first able to escape the enemy forces set upon them, fleeing to the north with as many refugees as they could save to seek asylum within the as yet untouched Crystal Empire. There Twilight Sparkle, the solar princess’ personal student and Element of Magic began a desperate attempt to seek help from beyond Equestria. Divining the point of origin of the alien invaders, she gathered her fellow Element Bearers to craft a spell to seek out their most deadly foe, figuring that any force as ruthless and cruel as Cobra must have spawned enemies to resist their rule. Twilight’s spell succeeded in piercing the veil between the two worlds, but only had enough power to pull one being through to Equestria. Worse, the spell was tampered with by changeling spies within the empire, so that when Twilight’s chosen warrior finally came through, his body was badly battered.

This did not prevent the warrior from befriending the ponies who had pulled him from his world, and pledged his support for their increasingly desperate cause. During his weeks of convalesce, his friendship with the Avatar’s of Generosity, Honesty, Laughter, Kindness, Loyalty and Magic grew and strengthened until he came to consider them as important as his own friends back on his world.

...is a little too fast.

If I had to make a call on the author's experience? This is where I would have said 'first-time writer'. We're playing Princess Bride here: the whole point is to abridge down to what's being seen as the good parts.

The problem is that we just skipped a whole lot of potential story goodness.

The author may want an action-focused story, and that's understandable: we're starting with a base of an action-focused show. But... the Bearers fleeing to the Empire? Twilight researching where the invaders came from? Changeling spies in a position to sabotage the summoning? Speaking as a reader, that sounds like several thousand words of story. I want to see that. I'd love to know how it all happened, especially with the spies. How were they revealed? Why just go after the spell instead of the Bearers? What did the fight look like once they were spotted? Was there one? Did the recently-summoned play any part?

HiE stories tend to have beats: here's how we got to Equestria, this is when we meet everypony... and those beats can become wearying. Sometimes it's best to try and skim or skip, for those things which are so formulaic that we already know how it was going to go anyway. But the author just summarized some things we generally don't see. There's a sense of intrigue there, events which sound so much more interesting because we didn't witness them.

What the writer thinks are the cool parts isn't always what the reader is most intrigued by. And when you have text instead of an episode's running time, you're allowed to slow down.

Especially since in the next paragraph, the Empire falls, the Bearers get captured, and Snake Eyes is on his own.

...well, that was sudden. Who's up for pizza?

And that's the main problem with this story: tempo.

The writer loves Snake Eyes as a character: that becomes clear at the outset. The goal of the story is to write about Snake Eyes being awesome. And so that's what happens here. He gets into an fight with a mixed Cobra/changeling battalion and frees several Bearers. What are the tactical details which allow a single soldier to pull this off? We don't get many because that allows it all to happen awesomely. Snake Eyes then releases some of the defeated to carry messages which say he's coming for them, and --

-- end of story.

Sort of. The writer stopped this one here, with the Complete tag applied -- then moved to another story with more Joes involved. So in that sense, I would call this one a published first try, and in the writer's own words:

This is more of a preview/beta test for a much larger fanfic to come later.

Okay. It's a beta. But in what will soon be Ubisoft's greatest tradition, it's a beta without gameplay. As the lead-in to what turned out to be another story, it partially comes across as a trailer -- but it also manifests as a character creation screen. Here's Snake Eyes. Here's his gear. This is what pressing X and the shoulder buttons does. And when we hit the actual game -- everything ends.

The problem isn't that the writer loves Snake Eyes. The issue is that we're not being shown the why. Because Snake Eyes had a personality, and managed to communicate it without a spoken word. We get Blazing Swords Of Changeling Death, and we don't understand anything about the person wielding them.

How do you work with a voiceless protagonist in text? Easy. Get inside his head. Show us what he's thinking. Plot the approach before the battle, have him survey the environment. He's an infiltrator more than a large number combatant: nothing wrong with whittling down the enemy forces before the big battle begins. Give us the meticulous Snake Eyes, who makes sure he wins the battle before the sword ever gets pulled out of the scabbard in the first place. There are reasons to love this character, and we're being shown --

-- a fast-forward for how he got here (which skipped all sorts of interesting stuff) and a whole lot of skimmed combat.

The tempo wants to reach the cool bits: we're abridging to the awesome. And the vote count suggests people enjoyed that. But I'm more interested in what wasn't shown. I wanted to slow down. I thought the awesome could have been found in the details. And that's why I'm not a good reader for this kind of story, because what I'd want to see isn't what the majority seemed to favor. I wanted a cruise down the river, surveying the scenery, and then there would be frantic attempts to survive the rapids. I got forty seconds of blurred roller coaster where you stagger off unsure of whether you had a good time, but the fact that you stood in line that long means needing to justify it and so you tell yourself that something happened.

Snake Eyes wasn't a bad character.

It would have been nice if you'd shown us the why.

Okay. One more random draw before we get to the pair who Ko-Fi bumped themselves into the first (only?) set. Who's the next person to never speak with me again?

...oh, bloody @$##...

Now That I'm Homeless, I'm Spending a Lot of Time On the Bus, Hoping From Ultra Cheap AirBnB to Ultra Cheap AirBnB; See My Latest Blog Post. This Ultra Cheap AirBnB Has a Lovely Balcony, and On It I am Writing This, My Latest Sh*tfic For You to Read by SuperTrampoline.

Twilight and Super have a short chat. Then Scootaloo visits the human world to become a math wiz, then tutors Sweetie Belle who becomes a civil engineer.

This is another shitfic. You know the drill.

I will murder you all.

...okay. Deep breaths. Center. Calm down, and find a more reasonable response.


I will slowly murder you all.


All right. Shitfics.

I've been known to write what I call 'crackfics', and my definition for that may not be yours. I see it as 'I am going to take this ridiculous idea and kick it out there, into a world where there are no future consequences whatever.' Other than the one where people downvote and unfollow, but the idea is that no matter how silly the story's core is, the story itself can stand on its own. A crackfic, to me, can be a story which just ends a reader reaction of '...well -- that happened...' And then we all move on.

But a crackfic can have a plot. It's a plot with no long-term influence on anything, but it's allowed to tell an actual story. Insanity with a beginning, middle, and 'Thank Sun it's over!'

A shitfic, in my view, exists for one reason: it is there to waste your time. Something happens. Maybe lots of things happen. None of them need to be associated with any of the others. When things stop happening, the fic is over. And that's it.

So what's the difference between a shitfic (and why do I have to keep typing this word?) and a trollfic? A shitfic has a chance to be funny. It's usually random humor, maybe you'll luck into a feghoot, but a laugh could be had, and that will justify reading it at all. A trollfic is not only out to waste your time, it wants you to feel angry about having done so. Listening to music? In some exceptionally staid views, that's arguably a waste of time. Listening to Weird Al's music? Also a waste of time, but you're grinning. And then we get trollfics, which is like watching 6ix9ine stream on Instagram as he desperately attempts to add onto the ever-growing number of people who don't care what happens to him because no matter what it is, he'll probably deserve it.

(This is not a statement about "snitching," because crimes need to be reported. It's my feelings about someone who had his personality surgically removed and replaced with Nyah-Nyah!, plus the things he was part of makes him into someone whom I can't care about. He not only wants be hated, he needs your loathing in order to exist. He's a fringe radio talk show host with hair dye. Also, if you are physically attracted to him, please write down the reasons why and I'll save them for the next time I need to induce vomiting.)

It's in the eye of the beholder. If you enjoyed any part of it, then you can say you weren't trolled. But if nothing caught... well, that name exists for a good reason, doesn't it?

This story thinks it's a shitfic. But hey, Death Flush Of The Author is in effect, so let's see what one irrelevant reader thinks.

"Hello, Twilight."

"Hey, Super."

"Just 'hey'? You're not going to go into histrionics at the fact that you are yet again trapped in a Super Trampoline story?"

"I'll be honest, I'm over it. Your stories are short and usually rather unoffensive albeit awful. And I'm not going to kick a guy when he's down; I know you're not doing so hot right now. And lastly, I'm an imaginary version of an imaginary character, so whether I throw a tantrum or snark or whatever or not doesn't matter; in fact nothing I do matters at all."

...look. I wrote the Sherman tank story. There's an argument to be made that I really don't have the right to complain about someone going this meta. However, once again, this is a review and all pretense toward recusal died during the blog title.

The story is informing you of its nature. It is also directly stating that any time you spend reading beyond this point is your own fault, and it's also rather surprised that you couldn't figure that out from the title. And the cover art. You may have noticed that I didn't include the cover art. Part of that is because I don't feel like trying to work with the code, but it's mostly because Andy Soshal is huddled under the blankets while waiting for Mommy to save him, so let's not have that happen again.

So Twilight reconciles that it's a shitfic, and we skip to the vowel movement. In short order, we learn that Scootaloo is a math wiz, the author follows the SCP website because y'know, eldritch horrors working to destroy us are a lot more comprehensible than the current headlines, and also there's something about Numberphile which I will not look up because Math and also this is a shitfic, so nothing mentioned in it is getting Click #1 from me. There are those who say this fic contains next week's winning lottery numbers and by not using them, I condemn myself to poverty. There are also those who say that those in the preceding sentence are morons.

Nope. Not looking up anything in this story. Including the SS&E story which got linked. Or Letterkenny. Letterkenny is down by one viewer forever and it's the author's fault.

Math occurs and civil engineering happens.

As follows.

Anyway, Holy fuck, I've now unintentionally started the last three paragraphs with "anyway", which tells you a lot about the rambly state of my writing. Anyway, Scootaloo is so fucking good at math from cumulatively watching thousands of hours of math videos in the human world, that she is able to successfully make Sweetie Belle good at math herself, and Sweetie Belle gets good enough at math that she decides to become a civil engineer and design civil engineering shit, which is good because Twilight Sparkle, having ascended to the thrown to rule Equestria with the help of her friends since Celestia and Luna have fucked off to who knows where, probably knocking back mai tais and having sex with buff stallions and cute mares on the regular, oversees a peaceful, prosperous era of expansion known as Pax Equus, which sees a population boom, and Sweetie Belle, now a civil engineer thanks to Scootaloo tutoring her for thousands of hours, is hired as chief engineer to design a new ring road that will wrap all the way around the Canterhorn, which is what I like to call the mountain Canterlot sits on, since Canterlot now envelops the entire mountain. Sweetie Belle does indeed design it, and after almost a decade of hard work and a tempestuous relationship with Flash Sentry, now a security consultant, it is finally completed, and dubbed the Sweetie Beltway. (Password: "dumb fabric")

Also, there is a vibrating picture in the Author's Note. Because of course there is. And it's making a trollface, because y'know, eye of the beholder. And that's it. That is all there is, and yet there is more than there should be.

Autoapproval was a mistake.

You don't review a shitfic. The story has reviewed itself for you. The author thinks it's crap, the story has announced that it's crap, we're not sure how it emerged into the world but there's a good chance that squatting over the keyboard was involved, and all that matters is whether you laughed or not. Because if you laughed... then you can tell yourself that you didn't waste your time. Humans hate the feeling of nausea, and yet we pay for access to amusement park rides designed to make us throw up. We are, as a species, extremely stupid and if you don't believe me, this fic exists.

So if you laughed -- if you can convince yourself that you had a good time -- then that's what matters.

Did I laugh? It was a thousand and one words, and that word count existed because there's a minimum and once again, autoapproval? Mistake. The words were arranged into something approximating sentences. There's a chance the main language was meant to be English. And that is all I will remember about this fic, other than the cover art. I'm expecting to remember that around three in the morning.

And yet it was still better than 60% of the New column.

That's not a compliment.

I didn't laugh.

But I did flush.

Okay. As said above, in the original blog for this, I joked that those who dropped money into the Ko-Fi jar would be given priority. Two people who'd posted story links also left tips, and so I feel obligated to honor that because it isn't often that you see someone pay for their own tar. (Feathers are optional, and it usually takes a team to carry the rail.) So for the last two slots in this first (only? I'm likely to be banned after this, so probably only) review blog, let's give them what they paid for. Whatever that was.

First up...

A Simple Raid? by Whispers In The Dark

The USS Exeter, still damaged after a recent battle, scans a certain planet and finds evidence of much-needed dilithium crystals on the surface. Scans also show it's a pre-warp civilization, so the Prime Directive is in full force.

But they need those crystals, as the nearest starbase is hundreds of lightyears away. They only need a few pounds of them to repair their warp drive, then they can be back on course. How hard could it be to beam in, get the crystals from the primitives, and beam out?

What they don't know about is the white unicorn who's been using them for her dresses.

Those poor fools...

The special hell of this one? The core concept was originally my idea. And that means I have to be very careful to avoid a trap.

'That's not the way I would have written it.'

Now as demonstrated several times above, the fact that I'm posting reviews at all means I am calling out those words from the bottom of a carefully self-dug pit. But it's still one of the most annoying things any writer can see. I once received a full diatribe-with-downvote comment on Triptych which basically came down to 'WHY DIDN'T YOU WRITE THE ENDING I HAD IN MY HEAD?' Because I wasn't him and after I eventually saw some other things which he'd been saying, I was especially grateful for that. Blocking someone should be the kind of decision you never regret and to this day, with that one, I haven't.

Why didn't you tell it with more style, in a less obtuse fashion, from a better viewpoint, with stronger editing... bring those on, and there are times they're legitimate complaints. But don't expect me to be you.

And in the case of this story? I can't expect the author to be me. I know how I would have told that story: as a comedy heist short film directed by Harold Lloyd and staring the Three Federation Stooges vs. Margaret Dumont, who shall be Victorious. (They have doubletalk technobabble and she has a horn. The horn wins.) I have to discard that, right now.

...let's pretend I succeeded.

So clearly we have a Star Trek crossover here, and let's hope the author doesn't really need to spend half their word count explaining Star Trek to the readership. (There is a Reset Button. Everyone in the cast takes their turn sitting on it.) For those out of the know, Rarity has the doubletalk technobabble fuel channeler of the franchise, which the ship can only work without when the plot says so.

We start in Rarity's favorite gem hunting ground, with Spike lending an assist. Glowing white gems are a new find (and according to Spike, taste horrible), but Rarity is sure she can work with them. Also, this is still a hack writer looking stories over, so...

Spike startled and looked up at her. "Oops! I said the quiet part loud and the loud part quiet."

...that's one of those awkward cases. 'Startled' can be used as an action verb and there's nothing wrong with doing so, but it's something which can make the reader's mind do a double-take because it's so seldom seen.

Meanwhile, the orbiting ship needs those gems to function, because there are two hallmarks to Federation technology: it breaks down every week and when it does so, there's about a 50% chance that it'll try to kill you. That's right, kids: the most advanced (except for all the species which are 100000% more advanced and won't share) tech in the galaxy has an Engine Start rate below that of your 1967 Volkswagen Beetle. You know. The one where you haven't changed the oil in five years. Only the Beetle doesn't become sapient and start holding a grudge.

There are reasons I don't write reviews. They may be related to the reasons I don't talk about Star Trek.

@$%^ing Star Trek.

Anyway, unicorn has gems. Ship needs gems. Ship decides to send crew members to steal from the Boutique because ponies can't travel off-planet at FTL speeds and for legal reasons, you just don't talk to people like that in case it turns out they know how to build phonographs which have never strangled anypony.

At this point, the crew develops a severe case of Stupid.

Okay. Follow me closely here. In Star Trek, you are not allowed to reveal yourself to any civilization which isn't at a minimum level of advancement. You also have teleportation technology which doesn't worry about minimal levels of intervening barriers, plus the ability to 'scan' areas, which is how they picked up on the gems to begin with. You can't necessarily teleport something directly out of a location (even though it's been done a few times) and in the case of the gems, you might need to put them in a special container first. So the thing to do is teleport directly into the Boutique in the dead of night, gather the crystals, and get out. Lowest possible chance of contact with the natives.

What do our Federation geniuses do? Bring themselves in at the outskirts of town. This leaves them walking through Ponyville at night, completely in the open, at risk of being spotted by anypony who happens to be up at that hour, the Lunar police patrol, or somepony who glanced out a window. And when they somehow reach the Boutique, they try to get in from the outside. By opening the door.

Which sets off the very audible alarm.

They shoot the alarm.

Our raiding party knows there are intelligent beings on this planet. They do not connect 'alarm' with 'meant to wake somepony up in the event that there's a break-in.' They just go about their business and yes, this is in fact why they don't make contact with non-FTL-capable species because apparently being able to go faster than light turns you into either an idiot, a giant lizard, or, in the case of the worst episodes, both.

It's that kind of show.

Okay. I know what I said. This isn't about how I would have written the story. And it still isn't. This is about the Idiot Plot, and we're using the Roger Ebert definition: the plot which can only function if everyone involved in it is an idiot.

This plot doesn't have to be one.

You can have a case of where the raiding party does everything right, and it still all goes bad for them. They teleport directly into the Boutique, but their technology can't detect a magic-based alarm. There's no loud noise set off: just a little *ping!* in Rarity's ears, and she sneaks out of her bedroom so she can discover what's going on. It is possible for everyone involved here to act intelligently and still set up for the comedy of unicorn vs. Federation -- something which, when it happens, is cut so short as to qualify for a criminal stabbing. We barely get to see them react. There's very little view of Rarity attacking. It was possible to go full Home Alone with this as everything lightweight in the Boutique went after the intruders. RUBY-WEIGHTED SCARF TO THE FACE!

But they walk in from the outskirts, at an exposure risk rate of Ridiculous. They do everything wrong. It creates a few questions about exactly how students are getting into the Academy these days, along with how they lived long enough to get out.

The instant I saw them take the long route is when I lost suspension of disbelief. Because in a crossover, the reader should ideally be familiar with both sides -- and based on what I know of the invading half, this isn't how the Federation works.

(Incidentally, when the ship's Captain decides to break all rules YES I KNOW and try to purchase directly, he teleports in directly in front of everypony. So the option is established as having been available.)

If you're dealing with a high-tech society, you expect them to use their technology. Intelligent characters should be able to act intelligently. This doesn't mean you can't make someone smart behave in a stupid manner: they should just be able to justify it. (As the running joke goes, the smarter you are, the more idiocy you can talk yourself into.) There's nothing wrong with a plot in which everyone is thinking, because thought doesn't always work. And it's funnier if you believed yourself to have planned for everything, and then had it all go wrong.

So there's an exchange of sorts. The ship gets what the crew wanted, and the ponies get told they're not ready to learn about the greater universe, which I'd like to interpret as 'We refuse to deal with anything which might be smarter than we are.' A little dual postscript, and that's where it ends.

Was it a bad story? Again, I'm going against the vote total here, because the vote total says I'm in the wrong. I wouldn't downvote this, because it's competently written. But I didn't upvote it, because it felt as if the characters were behaving stupidly -- and doing so not only when they should have known better, but when the rules of both worlds said they didn't need to. I feel that everything which happened here could have taken place with full thought leading into more detailed comedy. It didn't.

But I could just call it true to half of the source material. Because as too many of us know, when it comes to remembering about resources and tactics they could use, most of Starfleet is exactly this dumb...

So while we're waiting for Whispers to check on the refund policy, let's see who the last contestant of the day is.
Oh, lovely. I get to drive away another long-timer. Where's all my recent arrivals/departures at?

The Final Failure by Krack-Fic Kai

(No front page long description available: story is a single entry within an anthology series.)

In the days before I kicked myself out of the site's Discord channel -- currently taking a break from being "pompous, self-important, and cruel" there in order to do it in full public view --

-- look, I openly embraced "Pony Hitler": what did you think was going to happen? --

-- I would tell new writers that the short and long descriptions of their stories would likely be the most important words they'd write. Because HERE'S THE NEW COLUMN! YOU HAVE FIVE SECONDS TO GET MY ATTENTION! TOO LATE! And if you can't catch someone's eye with the short desc, if you can't bring them through to the next click... you've lost. The reader who was scanning New or Latest Updates has probably moved on, because the Internet has trained us even better than television did and we're not willing to think about something for fifteen seconds unless there's a lightshow involved. But with an anthology series? The only thing we've been given is that it's short works which wouldn't be published on their own. That's hard to get someone in with. It's a little easier with a theme -- but even then, you're just hoping someone will look at the individual stories, because you can't preview what each one is.

Anthologies, without a clear and uniting central core -- or a fanbase loyal enough to follow you anywhere -- can kill, and they're just about always going to be a little harder to win new reader interest with.

So let's see what this is. You know as much as I do.

...okay. In this case, I do have to invoke another author.

Upon reading, I found this story was inspired by Break Away: a multi-writer collaboration directed by cleverpun, and was originally published there. The core idea there is that the Alicorn Amulet offers temptations to those who might use it, or the option to take away its own tortures. And every time somepony refuses, or pushes through on their own... the Amulet gets a little weaker. If enough ponies reject it, the thing will be destroyed.

So a small parade of characters passes through (while being managed by different authors), all trying to find their own way to say NO. Of course, there's going to be a small problem if any one of them goes YES, but that's the sort of thing we can reconsider while somepony else is moping up the blood.

There's your arc plot. And in this story, Pinkie is the last pony to face the Amulet. (You can find this story in its proper sequence at the above link.) Everypony else has managed to reject it, and this has brought the thing to the point where a single additional refusal will destroy it. All Pinkie has to do is hold out against whatever temptation it offers, and it's all over. No more Amulet.

No more thing which desires, has its own ambitions, is intelligent enough to converse while offering its gifts, knows what it is and the reason it needs to go on...

No more sapient being. Because Pinkie's been thinking it over. If the Amulet can do all this -- if it can craft illusions designed to tempt the target -- then there has to be something at the core which can imagine those temptations. You can't imagine something without a mind to do the conjuring.

And that is the position which the Amulet ultimately uses with Pinkie. A very simple argument of logic: if you don't take me up, then you've committed murder.

So how far would you go to save a life, if there's a life present at all? What if it means sacrificing yourself? The Amulet claims that every wearer chose the path of corruption freely, that it had no part in the process -- but it's arguing for its life, and that means lies aren't exactly off the table. Is it possible to wear it and remain pure? What could a redeemed Amulet even do, and is redemption possible at all? Does it go against the way it was made, whatever its purpose was meant to be? Is this a mind, or a series of reacting spells struggling for the last option left, using the only pony who might listen?

This story relies on character voicing and viewpoint: if you don't believe that Pinkie would see things this way (and go so far as to name the Amulet 'Amy' near the outset), then it's not going to work for you. And if you're going to count on a voice, then Pinkie is arguably the scariest of the Mane Six to use. She's the easiest to overdo: turning into a pure plot element of lower-level chaos, or just going for the LOLRANDUM which characterizes far too many of her appearances in larger plots. I feel Pinkie is misused far more often than anyone tries to truly get her right, and that includes a good number of the show's own writers. It's a lot easier for people to use Pinkie As Sight Gag than Pinkie As Pony, and if you're already counting episodes on the former, there's a very depressing reason for that.

In order for this piece to work, you need to be able to justify having this argument coming out of somepony's mouth. And when that somepony is Pinkie... that makes it harder, because we usually don't get to hear her as the voice of empathic reason. Even if that's the role I feel she often best defines within the set...

...yeah. Argue to the critic's headcanon, why don't you? It's like waving a sneaker through a Lucas space battle. It takes just a little more effort to say no.

So do I believe this is a credible Pinkie? Because the Amulet is the plot device fighting for its life, something it's been doing across double-digits of authors. It can be something different for every writer. And the same is true for our mares -- but the Amulet can be more flexible: we don't have any definition for it at the core. We've been told who Pinkie is, on her best days: the ones where she's allowed to be anypony at all. You can't accept plot or debate unless you can see her doing it. And I've talked about character interpretation being the greatest sin. We all have our own Pinkie, if we've worked with her at all. Some of them have put a lot of distance between themselves and their original. You don't need to hear the Pinkie in this story. You need to accept that this could be a credible example.


Okay. I'll buy it. I'll accept that Pinkie is the one making the argument for life, and some form of final mercy. It's not a perfect piece or fully ideal voicing. There's a stray capital or two. But there are enough times when I can allow myself to hear the right voice behind the words -- and if that happens, then the story is doing something right.

...admittedly, this is the endgame, which follows eleven chapters which I didn't see and so have no idea what was going on...

...gonna have to backtrack on this one, aren't I?


And thus ends Round #1.

We'll take a few days. Count the dead, lost, and number of sniper dots appearing on my forehead. See if anything else hits the Ko-Fi jar. And we'll see what y'all say about the prospects for Round #2.


Report Estee · 1,183 views ·
Comments ( 62 )

Bold of you to assume I brought out my best work. I thrive on negative attention. And no matter how much you hate me now...


but it's mostly because Andy Soshal is huddled under the blankets while waiting for Mommy to save him, so let's not have thathappen again.

Andy is a far-right-wing asshole who blocked me cause he’s a snowflake, so that’s a win in my book.

Also, please at least give the first two episodes of Letterkenny a shot. If you don’t love it, you’ll at least understand why I did.

Thank you for reading my story. I enjoyed reading your review. Even if you didn’t enjoy writing it. :rainbowlaugh:

Estee #2 · May 10th · · ·

So. Just for the record.

I lost three followers within the first four minutes after posting this blog.

Boy, y'all read fast.

Geez, this must’ve took you forever to write.

I gotta give you kudos for that.

I have been nitpicked by amateurs. I relish the chance to be savaged by an expert :moustache: Quite sincerely, thank you for the review.

I lost three followers within the first four minutes after posting this blog.


in the worst CinemaSins tradition,

To be clear; CinemaSins sucks because he refuses to engage with the material in order so he can mock it. Linkara and even Doug Walker actually review the movie without acting like parts of it just don't exist.

that Star Trek story made me think of a story in the online comic "Quentin Quinn, space ranger" on RhJunior.com.
Quinn encounters some VERY stupid characters who are a lot like ST:TNG, and has to save them in spite of themselves.

Lawsuits are unlikely, but I'm not taking the option off the list.

The only usable identifying information we have about you is that you're almost literally dead broke. Who would be stupid enough to even attempt a lawsuit in that situation? Right, the average American. Never mind. (Look, I out-cynicismed you by enough to get your readers angry at me at one point, are you really surprised?)

And lastly-before-we-start: there are no ratings, not in the sense of a simple 0-to-whatever, or any cute system of symbols. This is how I feel about the stories. I'm not going to put a numerical qualifier on emotion.

And admitting that makes you better than most professional critics, because numerical ratings are useless and none of them want to admit that. If you don't read the actual review, then you won't know that the only actual criticism used to warrant that low number boils down to "it's a kaiju movie" when Godzilla was in the title. (You probably think that was a joke. No, the only joke is that I'm describing every review of that particular movie, or close enough to same)

UFP in any away mission on a prewarp planet: Let's try and blend in and learn while doing the mission objectives. UFP when that either fails spectacularly or leads to them being caught up in literal armed conflict: surprised Pikachu face

Do you want some ice for that Byrne?

I feel slightly embarrassed having to ask someone to explain a comic book reference: He was an artist, sometime in the 70's or 80's? I'm assuming he drew Superman...

Anyway, I got a basically positive review, go me! I wrote those two chapters right around when I was starting to become basically competent (everything written prior to that has been burned and I've changed usernames three times, so good luck finding anything) I'm really happy to know I got Pinkie's characterization right.

In order for this piece to work, you need to be able to justify having this argument coming out of somepony's mouth. And when that somepony is Pinkie... that makes it harder, because we usually don't get to hear her as the voice of empathic reason. Even if that's the role I feel she often best defines within the set...

My very first idea involved Pinkie pulling the thing into her mind and then Bugs Bunnying it while trying to get it to stop being evil, which thankfully didn't even get started. There was also briefly a time when it was Fluttershy and not Pinkie, but I just like Pinkie more. The main thing that excited me was flipping the script; exposing the evil artifact to the temptation of a nice, normal life. Than you so much, I hope I can buy a review of the other story sometime.

adding my 2 worth to your review of What Cats Know
The author says "only ponies have cutie marks", he forgets that zebras do too
But that's just quibbling.

A more serious flaw is "When in time is this?"
Based on the lifespan of cats, this is when Sweetie is in her late teens.
Rarity's death is out of time because
it's implied that it was some lingering disease or old age
& it can't be -it hasn't been long enough

Estee #12 · May 10th · · ·


I wanted to make this reply to both of you, because it's something I don't feel I really made clear in the review. There was an increasing sense of temporal dislocation. I didn't know when I was, and it became disorienting. When the fact that time has passed is such a crucial part of the story, having no idea how much has gone by becomes a problem.

Oh, lovely. I get to drive away another long-timer. Where're all my recent arrivals/departures at?

Buddy, when Clev' put out the call you posted a comment saying you were uncomfortable with them being able to edit your work. (It was Whittier than that but I don't remember) Anyway, I did an additional chapter for that collab and helped edit the other stories. I'm the guy who wrote a Power Rangers crossover that's an AU for both it and MLP and sincerely thought it'd get featured. I advertise myself ask Krack-Fic Kai, which in addition to being crackfic is misspelled purely for the purpose of alliteration.

Do you think I fear pain?

Pitch Meeting does fairly good satiric reviews simply by having one person go over the movie plot concentrating on the weak points

Estee #15 · May 10th · · ·


I kept it out of the review, but you might recall that CP and I don't exactly get along.

(For the newcomers: it was, oddly enough, based on a review he once wrote of my work. I did not object to his not liking the story. I had a fight with him over the fact that he didn't finish it. He wrote his review based on everything he saw up to the first line break. And in my opinion, if you can't stay in your seat through the credits, you ain't a critic.)

That was, in fact, my first story. And I agree with everything you had to say. I am not a good writer, I much prefer to read stories than write them. That said, I apreaciate you actually taking time to review, and I hope someday to apply your advice to future, hopefully better works. ( giddy giggles that favorite author noticed me)

I actually didn't know the specifics, I'm sorry.
Yeah, that's already a lot better.
(Imagine if Benedict Cumberpatch was the Sultan. Heck, imagine if the crew had been allowed to make the movie the very different Bollywood movie they clearly wished Disney had allowed them to make instead of something so bare bones.)

And you originally spelled it "correctly" but then somebody misspelled it and you decided it worked better that way. Or at least that's how I remember it. (Scare quotes are because all words are ultimately made up and names are even more likely than average to diverge from how people talk)

Feel free to log out in horror at any time.

I'm halfway tempted to make that my user bio.

And lastly-before-we-start: there are no ratings, not in the sense of a simple 0-to-whatever, or any cute system of symbols. This is how I feel about the stories. I'm not going to put a numerical qualifier on emotion.

I like this. Ratings and bite-sized summary judgements are useful for a quick read, but this is more of an (occasionally rambling) analysis. This took time to write. This requires thought on the reader's part.

This also tempts to throw one of my own stories into round 2, should such a thing come into being. Not because I think any of my stories are perfect (or perfectly terrible), but to see what flaws you point out that I either missed or don't agree are flaws.

There's a unique sort of twist in the gut that comes from reading a review for a story you've preread. You—or at least I—can't help but think "I could've fixed this. I was the outside reference point. That was my job." This isn't the first time I've felt that sense of failing to fulfill a duty, but it is the most acute.

And then, of course, you get to my story. :derpytongue2: Good thing I don't think this one is my best work.

But maybe you're sick of reading about a planet where no one bothers doing anything about the signs of global disaster, because that hits a little close to home these days, doesn't it?

:fluttershyouch: In hindsight, I probably should've thought a bit more about that before recommending this one.

'Laurel.' 'Ivory Tower.'
Check your locks.

I'll finally get to meet you in person. I count this as a win.

Do you want some ice for that Byrne?

Afraid that one went over my head. :twilightblush:

And you hit the nail on the head. This is a terrible habit of mine: I have an idea, I write a chapter's worth of content, and then I don't do anything else with it. Mostly because I've had five other ideas in the meantime and they'd like their turns. But writing an Issue Zero rather than an Issue One is poor form and something I'll have to bear in mind in the future.

Honestly, the What Cats Know review hurt worse to read. Though that may be because there was more depth to examine and thus find fault with. In comparison, this was like scuba diving in a puddle. Suffice to say, thanks for the critique. Harsh but fair.

Didn't want to comment on the other reviews; it feels too much like I'd be sitting in a surgical theater with a foam finger and a bucket of popcorn. But I do feel there's one more thing I can add:

...gonna have to backtrack on this one, aren't I?

No kidding. I wrote one of those chapters, and it doesn't have the same degree of headcanon resonance as Kai's. Just because I can accept the evisceration with grace and try to learn from it doesn't mean I enjoy it.
... Oh, and apparently there's history between you and cleverpun. I had no idea. :twilightoops:


No kidding. I wrote one of those chapters, and it doesn't have the same degree of headcanon resonance as Kai's. Just because I can accept the evisceration with grace and try to learn from it doesn't mean I enjoy it.

I'm not exactly sure what you meant by Headcanon Resonance, though since I was editing more of the chapters than anyone else the inconsistencies were probably my fault. I wasn't sure how insistent I could be without being rude.

Author Interviewer

YOU delete whichever is inappropriate HOW DARE YOU write so hecking much oh my god, this is way above the call of duty my dude what the hell o.o

Estee #24 · May 10th · · 1 ·


Afraid that one went over my head.

John Byrne's version of Kryptonian headgear.


Queen Amidala called. We don't know what her burn was, she's laughing too hard to say it.

Ahem. Yes, that is definitely the joke I had in mind. :trixieshiftleft::trixieshiftright:

I picked that story specifically because you know more about comic books than I do. Why didn't I expect something like this?

Eh, if you had pointed it out I probably wouldn't have listened anyway :ajsmug: The truth is even after reading the review I still feel quite comfortable with every part of the story.

I do just want to make one thing unambiguous: It is not unknown for horsey materials to refer to the forelegs as "arms", and I put that in on purpose.

I dare to comment on that because it's a purely factual matter, but for everything else, I know better than to argue with critics, nothing good lies down that way :derpytongue2:

Estee #28 · May 10th · · ·


I know better than to argue with critics, nothing good lies down that way

We buy electrons by the barrel.

Yes, we pay for electrons.

We're kind of stupid that way.

Estee #29 · May 10th · · ·

I just realized what I really did.

I just forced Singularity Dream to make a new column on The Big Ultra Master Review List.

...I am so sorry.

I reuse electrons from other things. Great savings!

As entertaining to read as your stories. ...And by that I mean I find your stories extremely entertaining.

Don't worry about offending me when/if you read my story. I prefer brutal honesty. Wounds heal.

I was sitting there slumped with my head on my arm


I see nothing wrong with this. That is actually the correct terminology for that part of pony anatomy.


I can't say I'm surprised...Comedy is a genre I'm still having trouble with, so there were bound to be flaws.

I had all the characters act as they did for the (apparently, in this case) failed attempt at the Golden Apple of Comedy, so I'll take what's written and improve. I've actually had readers ask for a sequel, so I'll use what I've learned here to incorporate it into the next chapter.

In any case, I thank you for the Review, and will take your words to heart, Senpai.

First and foremost, I have to say I haven't read any of these stories.

But I can say that you did an excellent job of analyzing each one and pointing out the faults and points the authors got right. What you did is, in my opinion, what a writer really wants and in most cases needs: a good analytic review and someone asking hard questions. Not everyone wants to hear it but it can make a better writer by being open to seeing how it reads from another persons perspective. I like your idea about reading a story out loud. It helps one catch mistakes and lets one hear how it flows.

You did a terrific job. You were straight forward, not offensive and clear in your opinions. I for one would welcome that type of advice. It might sting, but like exercise, if it doesn't hurt a little, you're not getting anything out of it.

Malandy #35 · May 11th · · 1 ·



"Arm" just seems too human. People would more use... foreleg or something.


Oh, these reviews are so useful! Thanks, Estee! Now I know what to think about when reviewing, because yeah, I see where you're coming from on a lotta this!

I can tell you for free that literally every single Home Depot has pitchforks and torches in their garden centers.

No. Arm is literally the word. Foreleg is an invention of cringefurs.

You put more thought into the review than some of these authors put into their whole body of work.
But hey, at least you lanced that wound, once the puss stops you might be able to heal.


Each forelimb of the horse runs from the scapula or shoulder blade to the navicular bone. In between are the humerus (arm), radius (forearm), elbow joint, ulna (elbow),


Get your facts straight before you try to correct someone, especially with such a shitty attitude about it.


Thanks for the source!

In your first comment, did you *just* edit in "That is actually the correct terminology for that part of pony anatomy."?

... Because I was just trying to explain why it seemed Estee was weirded out by "arm".

Yeah, I could've been less curt.

I'll do you one better. I've had CP "review" a story where they read a review written by a friend of theirs. That was the basis of the review where they dubbed it "amateur at best"... when their entire library is shlock of the highest order.

That is demonstrably incorrect. "Foreleg" is defined as referring to either of the front two legs of a quadruped. "Arm" can be used to refer to either the upper limbs of a biped, the upper segment thereof (distinct from the forearm), or to the analogous limbs of other creatures, especially those used primarily for physical manipulation as opposed to locomotion.

In this case, ponies use their anterior limbs for both locomotion and manipulation, though they can also accomplish the latter to some extent with mouth, wings, and/or magic. Therefore, in a sense, either term is technically permissible. Given the original intentions of Lauren Faust that these ponies be depicted with predominately equine traits, I would posit that the term "foreleg" is, in fact, more appropriate than "arm" when referring to the anterior limbs of a pony.

You took the words right out of my mouth. And added a fun new twist on an old quip. Well played.


Each forelimb of the horse runs from the scapula or shoulder blade to the navicular bone. In between are the humerus (arm), radius (forearm), elbow joint, ulna (elbow),


Get your facts straight before you try to correct someone, especially with such a shitty attitude about it.

Shut the fuck up.


I just realized what I really did.

I just forced Singularity Dream to make a new column on The Big Ultra Master Review List.

Eh, it’s good for him. Gives him something to do.

I lost three followers within the first four minutes after posting this blog.

They were all losers. I bet none of them tried to bribe you with a T-shirt, Ko-Fi contribution, or Fashion Horror Sunset Shimmer. Actually, forget I mentioned the last.

Did you know I once lost a follower because I REDACTED BECAUSE IT’S POLITICAL, isn’t that crazy?

When (if!) you savage my story, you’ll gain ‘em back. Or at least one, that guy who downvotes everything I publish, sometimes within minutes.

Yeah, I think you'll have more readers left than you were expecting. After all:
Humans are weird.

First off, when was the last time you saw a quadruped leaning their head on their upper anterior limb? For an equine, it would be much more natural to lean the head on the cannon or pastern.

Second, for someone who told someone else that they have a shitty attitude, your lack of self-awareness is tragically ironic.

Back in the day, critiques of my own work would discourage me and make me stop, because I felt like I had set everything up as the perfect Jenga Tower and the critiquers would just keep picking until the idea fell over. Weird analogy aside, I wasn't the most mature person back in the day....but that's different now.

Critique's are important, even if they're less than polite about it, because we learn from our mistakes and make ourselves better because of it. "gives you a hug" You're not shaking me off that easy :raritywink::heart:

"Second, for someone who told someone else that they have a shitty attitude, your lack of self-awareness is tragically ironic," sums up so much of her.

Estee, thank you for this. As others have said, your analysis is more helpful than a simple review. Sometimes in my own work (nothing published here), I can tell a section isn't working, but I can't tell why. These help.

Also, two things that you wrote in the first review are going into my quote bin:

Childhood is insanity, because insanity is the reasonable response to terror.


Childhood is the illusion of fantasy. Adulthood is the illusion of control. And each tries to reach towards the other.

Bad Roll of the Dice: having grown in the 80s, I feel unnecessarily defensive of G.I.Joe, even as I'm aware that I'm not defending what it was, as much as what it could have been. In that vein, the answer to the question 'Why wasn't this a multinational effort against a group which has shown the ability and desire to wipe entire countries off the map?' is 'Because Cobra was a domestic terrorist group, formed and recruiting in the US, and funded by domestic multi-level marketing schemes.'

Now That I'm Homeless, I'm Spending a Lot of Time On the Bus, Hoping From Ultra Cheap AirBnB to Ultra Cheap AirBnB; See My Latest Blog Post. This Ultra Cheap AirBnB Has a Lovely Balcony, and On It I am Writing This, My Latest Sh*tfic For You to Read
Without having read it, I thought that this was going to be a parody of the extremely-long-titled isekai trend.

Screw it, I'ma Ko-Fi you.

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