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Fanfiction Reading Update #178 · 9:12pm Jun 7th, 2020

Content Advisory: Contains unmarked spoilers for The Ponies in the Caves.

I emerge from my coronavirus bunker to discover half the site on fire and a wolf chasing a drunk Catholic. All we need is Knighty to do another UI update or fully implement Genfic (is that even still a thing?) and the 2020 shitstorm can really get rolling in.

As for my lack of posting, the simplest answers are usually the correct ones and in this case, real life has simply been more important than fanfics and taken up more time. Nothing dramatic or worthy of a 5,000 word long blog post, just regular, ordinary SoL-tier life. Spending time with family, going to work, relaxing on the internet. It’s been good to get back to some fanfics. And even though the Gen 4 ride has ended and every fanfic entered the post-show genre, it’s still been a fantastic ride to be on and I look forward to staying on it… even if I don’t post quite as often as I used to.

On a different note, I’ve done some Spring cleaning and cleared out some fics. The RL list and updates to read have been pruned down some as a result of some new filtering: all incomplete fics who’s authors haven’t logged in in over a year have been moved to deadfic categories due to the unlikeliness they will ever be finished.

To those of you worried or sad about the Gen 4 ride ending, he’s some positive trivia. Of the 310 incomplete fics on my RL list, only 100 got moved to the deadfic pile. 200 authors still have been on the site recently, even if their fics haven’t updated in forever. Sounds familiar.

Empty Horizons updated so much in the interregnum that it fully finished and the sequel’s half over. It’s a good thing the siege story arc is taking just as long as Lunar Rebellion’s did or it might have finished too before I had a chance to post about it. I won’t be doing a review of Horizons because A) I already have a huge backlog to vainly try to write and B) it’s not really a complete story as almost none of the plots finish at its conclusion. Hopefully I’ll do one when the whole thing wraps up.

I’ve spent the last two weeks in the bunker going through Rites of Ascension. To give an idea of its length, I’m still 140k away from the current point. After finishing the desert pirate story arc, I must say it leaves me with somewhat mixed emotions. Each Archmage-like story arc has fun, adventury settings, but the overall story has a glacial pace. I’ve read more than the entire length of the King James Bible, and it feels like I’m a dozen chapters in—that’s low little the main plot has moved. My other main complaint is the villains. They’re all so evil, it can sap the fun out of the story arcs because you know they’ll be quickly dealt with. They don’t have the gravitas or personality to sustain a longer stay in the story. I like complexity in my bad guys, not strawmen Twilight can beat and Luna banish to hell.

OCs. Original Characters. It’s a term that can only be found in the strange world of fanfics, given every published novel or original story is going to, by definition, involve characters of your own creation. It’s strange the term exists at all when you think about it. And yet there it is. A class divide of sorts. The canon from the uncanon. The in-character from the original character.

OCs have always engendered some controversy. The Mary Sue is, perhaps, the most infamous fanfic term in existence and rarely does “OC” lie far from “Mary Sue.” But that’s always struck me as unfair. Yes, OCs can have problems—they can get strange amounts of focus, have baffling backstories, and just be plain unlikeable. But all those problems and more can be found with the other OC term: OOC. When a canon character is botched.

OCs are incredibly important for most stories. They fill the world and your story. Manehattan can’t just have the dozen named characters canon shows. Canterlot’s government can’t just consist of the Princesses, plus all the unnamed guards—we never even got another named Captain of the Guard after Shining left. Even Ponyville is infected by OCs, they just dress in merch’s skin. Cloud Kicker, Raindrops, Flitter—these are all canon, but the author must develop their personalities, their backstories, their families. They’re OCs with existing names.

OCs are incredibly important, but there’s a stigma to them. And yet, it’s not an entirely undeserved one. It’s easy to write two dozen filler characters to take up room in Canterlot. It’s much harder to center a story on one who interacts with canon characters throughout. Many try but fall short. The interactions are awkward, the OC isn’t balanced, they take an undeserved amount of focus. Or, horror of horrors, they fall into the Mary Sue pit.

Caves finds itself in the middle of this nest of vipers. It’s focused on an OC and must navigate through Ponyville and canon. Just how well can it manage? Let’s find out.

Things start in media res—fancy literary talk for “taking a scene from the middle of the story and plopping in at the beginning, then going back and filling in the details.” That’s pretty much exactly what happens. We start with Rarity getting asked to wake up a Major Dusky and get to town hall—a group of foals have been foalnapped in the middle of the night like it’s a moral panic from the ‘80s.

We then flashback about a week. I was lying in my introduction. Yes, Dusky is supposed to be the central character. She’s in the synopsis, the cover art, the plot—but to be honest, Rarity’s more the protagonist than Dusky is. We start with Rarity. We follow Rarity’s POV through the entire story. We end with Rarity. And, well, that’s one of the root problems the fic has. It’s not supposed to be a Rarity fic. It’s supposed to be an OC one.

A week earlier Rarity is introduced to a batpony named Dusk Fireball—or Dusky—who can find no room in the inn, because the OC innkeeper is a racist. Poor batponies. Either they’re silly mango fiends, obsessive Luna cultists, or they’re discriminated against for being OC magnets. Rarity, being Rarity, invites the batpone to live with her. Sweetie Bell, being Sweetie Bell, asks uncomfortable questions.

You’re probably wondering just who Dusky is. She is the central character of this story, after all. Well, she follows a pretty standard formula. If you’ve ever read a fic with a bat pony mare guard character in it, you’ve probably encountered it. A little sarcastic, a little “rough around the edges,” a hard shell with a soft caramel interior just waiting to get character developed.

She also has PTSD and some nasty scars. This isn’t the Ponyville of canon, my friend. It’s got a little bismuth in it. There’s sex slavery and blood and even an f-bomb or two sprinkled in. It’s not too overdone, but it does straddle that border a tad—the sex slavery stuff especially threw things off the axis for a bit.

It will naturally take some prying to crack that shell and get to the caramelly PTSD backstory, but first, we have to have Dusky being stubborn and trying to make some money in a racist backwater town like Ponyville. She fails—and nearly kills herself by doing weather management in the day. Bat ponies in this setting suffer “sun poisoning” and are strictly nocturnal, which is why they all live in an arid desert—wait, what? Nurse Redheart, revealed to be a military medic, reads Dusky the Riot Act over this.

We get some more SoL antics and the revelation that Dusky was part of Equestria’s praetorian guard—par for the bat pony guard course, of course—when she decides to join Ponyville’s Home Guard as she continues her employment pursuits. Luna pops by out the blue to help her with some PTSD nightmares, which feels really strange. Does she do that with every night guard she has? No offense to Gusty, but you’d think one of Equestria’s rulers would be busy, you know, ruling and let the military’s psychs handle the PTSD stuff.

We then get a little more batpony lore. They cannot breed with the other subspecies, which makes them a completely separate species. Like zebra. Wait, no. Zebra can actually breed with horses. Like leopards and lions. Wait, that doesn’t work, either. I guess Dusky meant they can’t breed a fertile offspring, since there’s plenty of hybrids out there in the world.

Dusky also reveals just why she’s in Ponyville. She wants to escape her past and the traumas of it. She wants to settle down in a small town and live peacefully. Essentially, she wants to be in a classic Ponyville SoL fic. But I don’t remember seeing the SoL tag when I first clicked on this thing, so that doesn’t bode well for her ambitions.

Rarity decides to introduce Dusky to Twilight. Getting to know a princess is sure to boost her employment prospects. Dusky decides to go full Storm Kicker and do a formal introduction military salute thing, so I guess “escape her past” didn’t also mean “retire from the Royal Guard.” Kinda sending some mixed signals here, Dusky.

Twilight’s in a mood for caramel and decides it’s high time to crack open that shell and get the PTSD backstory. Bat ponies are dirt poor so the only way to advance in life was to join the military. Dusky got her cutie mark in RPGs. No, really. She can kick a grenade to pinpoint accuracy a football field away. If only an NFL recruiter had been there this whole story would have gone way differently.

After hopping aboard the Guard train, she joins Ronin Detachment—a crack team cooked up by Luna and Shining Armor who are tasked with FBI-style SWAT rescues. Slavers decided to kidnap a bunch of foals and sell them into sex slavery. After the suspension of disbelief axis stops wobbling from the edge, Dusky’s team scrambled to go rescue them.

They didn’t bring armor with them so they could fly faster. Luna went, too and its here that the first of several tactical issues pops up. Why didn’t Luna just teleport them or at least the armor? I know what you’ll say. “But it was hundreds of miles! Luna couldn’t do that.” Normally, I’d agree and not raise a fuse, but later on Twilight teleports a several-hundred-pound barricade into the Luna Sea—Ponyville’s in the center of the continent. Meaning Twilight teleported it at least a few hundred miles.

The next tactical issue is Luna firing a fireball into the door of the slaver’s hideout. Not an issue, but Dusky decides to run into the fireball so she can get an extra quarter of a second advantage. What? She suffers severe burns so she can be a few milliseconds faster? The lead evil unicorn decides to kill the foals because he’s evil. He was gonna sell them as sex slaves, might as well go all in on it. Luna kills him with a bolt of magic.

Wait, no. That would be practical. Someone shoots him with a crossbow. Wait, no. That would also be practical. Dusky chucks a grenade at him. While they’re in a building. With the foals right next to him. She then has to do that hero dive thing and nearly gets her wings ripped off in the explosion. Months in the hospital later and she wants to go live in a SoL fic.

After helping Twilight clean up her caramel mess and getting some bits for her trouble, we get the mandatory scene of Rarity talking about romance that is legally required in all fics that feature her as a central character. Then we get the in media res scene from the start of the story. Then the warfic barges in to assume direct control.

A new Diamond Dog named Rexdeposed the one from the Rarity episode and decided to implement a new foalnapping foreign policy. So they kidnapped the foals and are now holding them hostage. Because… So the Diamond Dogs are responsible. Twilight has a choice. She can wait twelve hours for a battalion—that’s three hundred—heavily armed Canterlot guards to arrive, or she and Ponyville’s ragtag Home Guard can bumrush the Diamond Dogs who are living in a literal mountain and are heavily fortifying their position and showing no indication they’re going to be moving the foals anytime soon.

You get one guess what she decides. It may be a poor strategic decision, but it is a fun one to read. All sorts of juicy CQC ensues as they fight into the cave. Twilight does the teleport thing I mentioned, allowing them to get right at the Diamond Dogs. Sparkler gets an arrow to the thigh, requiring Redheart and Rarity’s assistance. Dusky gets in on the classic wingblade action.

Twilight eventually teleports to the cave the foals are in and uses her magic butane torch to free them. Meanwhile, Ponyville’s militia makes a final push at the Diamond Dogs, culminating in Dusky dropping a grenade at Rex’s feet when they do some melee fighting, causing him to shit his nonexistent anthropomorphic pants.

This reveals him to be a huge coward when the grenade’s revealed to be inert and with the resident princess now returned with the previously mentioned battalion, Rex is very unceremoniously overthrown and the day is saved. There’s some post climax wrapping up. The injured are taken to the hospital. Dusky bemoans her failure to live in a SoL fic, and she’s eventually welcomed to Ponyville.

Caves’ ultimate problem is a common one in fanfics. It’s pacing. Or, more precisely, it’s a lack of story. To truly develop an OC, we have to actually have to time to get to know them. It is a common OC problem in stories. They get thrown at us and we never really have time to get to know them—to settle into things—before the story revs up and they’re suddenly interacting with canon.

Rarity being the protagonist is the problem here, really. We should have been following Dusky and we should have been following her a lot earlier. We don’t need a life story kind of thing, which are quite common in OC guard fics. You don’t even have to start it before the PTSD battle. You can start it during her recovery and leave the juicy backstory dangling like a carrot.

The point is we have to get to know her. Really, truly know her, before we can go into the plot that’s going to be so much about her. And that’s just not possible when she’s not the protagonist. When everything has to be filtered through Rarity’s perspective. We’re left with a sense we’re viewing the real story through a window. We’re not with the character we’re supposed to be with, but can only view a distorted picture of her.

I think I get why that is. OCs have a stigma. They probably always will in fanfics. There’s a certain bitter irony there given the discrimination Dusky faces. That infamous Star Trek fic from so long ago has done more damage than its author ever could have realized. Caves’ author might have been worried about centering a story around a bat pony OC with a tragic past—so decided to anchor things in Ponyville. Make the protagonist a canon character rather than the OC so the focus isn’t entirely on the OC.

If that was the intent, it was successful. Rarity did indeed take something away from the OC, but the problem is that the plot was still all about her and we were left missing out on some much needed personal time with a character so vital to the story we knew nothing about.

Even so, the warfic side of the story was still quite nicely done. Warfics are so often grand, mostly disappointing affairs, so it’s nice to see something more refined and closer to what might actually be seen if the show was a little more serious. No grand battles or strategies, just a town militia defending their homes. It’s a nice change of pace and structure and one I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing in the future.

The Ponies in the Caves receives...

…moustaches out of five and, as a result, is upvoted.

The CDC recommends a minimum distance of six feet between Possible Trackings.

I attempted to read through Where Loyalty Lies: Honor Guard. As this isn’t a full fanfic review, you can see how that attempt ended. The simplest reason why is that the synopsis gave a very poor overview of the story. Rather than being a “Dash joins the military to stop an assassination conspiracy” fic, it was a “Dash goes to Africa for 100,000 words to find a cure” fic with the conspiracy stuff being the subplot.

So I ended up skipping the entire adventure fic stuff with Dash and only read the conspiracy fic stuff. And it felt rough. Equestria’s government was very poorly organized (the Captain of the Royal guard does grunt work and the titular Praetorian Guard has about a dozen members) and worldbuilt. There seemed to be strange emphasis given to certain characters and regions, despite them playing very minor roles in the overall story. And, perhaps worst of all, the conspiracy isn’t even revealed at the end of the 200,000 word story. You have to read the sequel for that plot. A 300,000 word sequel that was inexplicably deleted (Fimfetch still has it, though).

Cozy is cut after one chapter. One character being the voice of reason? Being completely right and everyone conforming to her desires instantly? Yup, it checks off the fix fic boxes. I wonder if these finale fix fics have overtaken “Twilight bitches at her friends” Canterlot Wedding fics yet?

I never would have guessed that the Cancerverse (see below) would have actually died, but it did. Kind of ironic, really. No mutlichapter has actually finished. Changes is still tracked, since it doesn’t fall into the defined “Probably Deadfic” category just yet (which requires the author to not log in for a year). Not that I’m expecting it to ever update again.

It’s quite tragic, since I really liked the interconnectivity of it all. This story, and Feeling Regrets where tightly woven together—scenes from one appear in the other, but from the other character’s POV. The dialogue even matches up identically. It offered the briefest of glimpses at the true potential of a real, honest to goodness -verse. Showing a sprawling, tightly connected story as we read from character to character and see the universe expand out into the horizon—all while never actually leaving Ponyville a single time. Slice of Life with the complexity and detail of a million word long epic.

The real sadness of this setting isn’t that Derpy died of cancer. It’s that we’ll never be able to experience that kind of scale and interwoven plot ever again. The rest of the Winningverse can only live in the shadow of its near stillborn and forgotten daughter, never being able to reach the true potential that a -verse can offer. How incredibly sad.

It’s a dangerous business reading oneshots.

It finally happened. I finally read The Incredibly Dense Mind of Rainbow Dash. The story that originally ran out of silicon and imploded. There’s a part of me that thinks I read it long ago, but that just might be because the comedy romance premise of “ignorant character learning about the romantic feelings of another” is a fairly common one. Whether that’s because this story invented the genre along with the -verse I’m unsure of. It is very old, after all.

As for the story itself. It was enjoyable. Some nice humor, some romance. Everything you could ask for from a comedy shipping oneshot. And it gave no indication of the gravitational horrors and mommy issues to come. I do find it amusing that, even then, there were some complaints about the ending. It seems disappointing endings is an original sin for the Winningverse. Though in this case I found the ending to be just fine. Comedy oneshots always have abrupt story-long-punchline endings. That’s the nature of the genre and it fit right in here.

The orbit around the Winningverse black hole continues with Love Takes Work, which is thankfully not alliterative this time. Unfortunately, I can’t say it was particularly enjoyable. I went in thinking it would be a silly lighthearted thing that took the ship teasing from the other fics and refine it. Instead, it felt incredibly dry. There was almost no humor. The plot didn’t really exist. And Twilight really felt off seeming to be perfectly fine getting into a realpolitik political marriage.

But worst of all, the USS Twistorm’s powder magazine exploded with all hands lost. This seemed incredibly baffling. The shipteasing between Twilight and her bodyguard made up about 60% of their entire dynamic. It was a welcome change from the endless Cloud Kicker drama that made up so much of the black hole’s original mass. And it was ruthlessly crushed—which is all the more bizarre given how much it was originally developed—in favor of… more Cloud Kicker drama. It seems the only way to escape this character is going to be by Hawking radiation. Probability of Storm dying: kind of moot now, isn't it?

I start my descent into the Cancerver—I mean, the Winningverse’s Derpy dies AU with Saying Goodbye and… I’ve read some weird stories in my day, but I’ve never read one where the main character has sex with a terminally ill cancer patient in her hospital bed before said patient dies. That’s going to be one hell of an awkward autopsy. It’s also bizarre that, despite being childhood friends, Cloud Kicker finds out about Derpy’s illness literally hours before she dies.

The Cancerverse continues to metastasize with When Goodbye Comes Too Soon, and maybe it’s the fact my beloved aunt died of cancer and it was not as… perfectly clean as this story portrays it as being, or maybe I’ve just grown too cynical to obvious feels bait, but my stone heart remained just as stone. It also didn’t help that the Cloud sex thing popped in at the end. Also, Derpy had evidently been getting treatment for months. Jesus, Cloud. I know you can be dense at times, but still.

In keeping with my Halloween tradition (yes, that’s how long ago I started getting this update ready), I read a dark oneshot without checking the ending first. Beneath lands in the tried and true “Apple Bloom encounters a monster” genre that I swear makes up about half of all oneshot horror fics. Like every other fic in the genre, no one believes her. This time, much symbolism and allegorical representations ensue. It was nice enough, but I’ve grown so used to the genre that I’m pretty much immune to its effects now. Rape self defense metaphor or not.

Endings kicks off the post-canon era with some melancholic immortal Twilicorn. Something I suspect will become the standard for sad oneshots all the way until Gen 5 starts.

Lest We Forget takes a gander at the “creepily devoted and obsessive” bat pony headcanon that makes up 50% of bat pony fanon (the other 50% is full of Echo and mangoes). It was okay, but it took that obsessive devotion stuff almost to parody levels of over-the-top. The bat ponies mourn Luna’s banishment and lost history—a year after she returns. She even attends her own memorial ceremony.

Seneschal gives a twofor. We get some feelsy post-Luna banishment Celestia that’s so rarely seen in fanfics and a look at Equestria in the immediate aftermath of said banishment. It follows the standard fanon to a tee—Celestia’s isolated and in mourning decades later while an increasingly corrupt regent heads the country, forcing Celestia to snap out of it. Even so, I’m a sucker for this fanon and these stories. The thousand year gap is so rarely used in fanfics I latch on whenever one is set in it. Mayhaps we’ll see more set in it now that canon’s done and the timeskip squelches the post-canon fics. Overall, it was a pretty good oneshot.

A Trolley Problem Named Desire takes a comedic look at the Legion of Doom redemption plot. It was nice, if a little heavy on the comedic characterizations that are common in these kinds of oneshots. It is fascinating seeing the redemption plots staking their claims in a post-canon world. We have the comedy oneshot faction, the “Cozy did nothing wrong” faction, the sincere faction.

The bizarrely named If I Did It slots itself not into a “hypothetical” murder confession of a violently murdering asshole, but rather into that sort of spooky oneshot that has an unsettling ending genre. It’s not too unsettling, but it tries. It also enters the ongoing maelstrom of Cozy fanfics and decides to take the unique approach that she was really a mysterious monster. It’s good enough, but like most of the “unsettling ending” oneshots, it leaves you with a sense there could be more.

Friendship Bewitched gives a unique take at Grogar—a character so ruthlessly pragmatic and savvy, he decides to cut with the 300,000 word long warfic and go right to the redemption and tea parties. I do wonder where that pragmatism was at with the “reign of eternal terror” thing. Doesn’t sound like the most efficient way to run an empire.

With Twilight now an immortal alicorn, the “Who Wants to Live Forever?” Twilicorn genre has seen a boom like no other. Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow... doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, which is a little frustrating on the one hand. When you’ve read one of these sad oneshots you’ve kind of read them all. On the other, it does spin up the Discord angle—he’s had his fair share in this genre, too—but still does it pretty well.

Stuck with a Mango Between Your Jaws takes a gander at the “Echo and mangoes” bat pony headcanon that makes up 50% of bat pony fanon (the other 50% is full of creepy obsessions with Luna). Like any mangofic, it’s quite silly but thankfully doesn’t overstay its ridiculous welcome thanks to its brevity.

A Monster By Any Other Name may technically be a oneshot, but it leaves so many questions that I can’t really call it that. It’s like if Prevention only had one chapter and it really just leaves a feeling of wanting more.

A Discussion on the Benefits of Murdering Small Children receives a rare oneshot downvote for being the classic mouthpiece fic, where the author warps reality, sticks his hand up the characters’ asses and has them act the way he wants to beat the point over the readers head with a lead pipe like it’s the climax of Biblical Monsters. Quite a tragic end for an author who had so much going for him—popular fics, funny art, and he lets bitterness spoil it all.

A Night In Tartarus takes a comedy fic premise—Colgate giving Cozy an oral checkup—and decides to play it dead serious. And by “dead” serious, I mean “Cozy is a sadistic Harold Shipman-tier serial killer.” It also decides to take Tartarus, a locale so rarely used in fics, and ramp up its dark tag usage for all its worth as well. A good darker oneshot, even if it does completely snap away from canon.

Pony in the Shell takes into the world of Who Wants to Live Forever again, this time with a sci-fi golem twist of Twilight keeping her friends artifically alive for millenia. The characterization of Twilight and Dash felt a little off and rough and the early story could have used some more mystery undertones as to what was going on, but it was still a decent take on a genre that increasingly seems to actually be immortal. It’s been half a year since the finale, and these stories are still getting featured.

Golly follows the, what I’m now calling parole genre. An increasingly common comedy oneshot where Cozy and/or the other two escape from their prison for 3,000-8,000 words to engage in shenanigans. Things felt rather weak in this one. There wasn’t really much in the way of humor and the SoL side of things was lacking, too. It felt more like an avenue to deploy a modest fix fic angle than anything.

And that's all I read for the year.

# of story updates remaining: 562.

# of “Read Later” stories remaining: 1,211.

Comments ( 4 )
Author Interviewer

Well hey! It's been a minute! :O

And you reviewed my story! :D I have appropriated your words to show off in the description. Thank you!

Thanks for the time and the detailed review! Much appreciated.

Oh, golly.

If there's potential for a review like this in my future, I oughta get writing.

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