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PresentPerfect


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    Oh boy, memes

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  • 1 week
    Dreams

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Sep
11th
2020

Fic recs, September 10th: The Descendant edition! · 12:03am September 11th

Friends, bronies, countrymen, lend me your adorable pony ears. I come here not to bury the Descendant, but to praise him.

He hasn't been seen on this website since 2016. I personally haven't heard from him since 2017. Wherever he is, whatever he's doing, I hope he's doing well, because he was always a swell guy. :C

Within these annals, I present reviews of the remainder of his stories that I had not reviewed up to this point. And I've gotta be honest: there's a reason some of these were left till last. :/ Not all of them, no, but his absolute best is definitely behind me. So buckle up, we're about to ride a rollercoaster provided by one of the most beloved authors on this site!

H: 1 R: 4 C: 3 V: 0 N: 0

Tangled Up in Blues
Genre: Character Piece
It was Blues' fate to be tangled up in the blues. After all, he wore them.
I'll tell ya, I have never understood the blues, and that is why I think I kept this story at arm's length the entire time I read it. It's an excellent season one character exploration (it's so old, Hearth's Warming wasn't a thing yet!), but the constant refrain of "painted blue" drove me up the absolute wall. Blues is a complete sadsack, and it almost seems like his talent is being unlucky (Troubleshoes didn't exist back then either, of course), or else just seeing the worst in everything. It's a bit much to deal with for as long as this is. Plus like… he gets a happy ending? So I don't even know what the point is.
Recommended If You Like Sad Characters

Shine
Prequel to Tiny Wings
Genre: Slice of Life
Broken bones or not, Thunder Clap is not the kind of pony who gives up easily, especially not when there's a scared filly out there who needs him.
So what this is is an expansion of Rainbow Dash's backstory as laid out in chapter 3 of Tiny Wings. Y'know, the chapter I complained about in my review? But despite the fact that this isn't Descendant's best work, it still makes that story seem like a brief, awkward summation. Thunder Clap, captain of the Wonderbolts, is… basically, Wind Rider if he hadn't been a gigantic scumbag. He's cocky and egotistical, but he's got a heart of gold, and it shines through in his actions helping out Rainbow Dash. There's also an unspoken throughline about the difficulties that face adult men who want to help mentor kids, which I appreciated. I will warn you, the ending is abrupt and shockingly dark, and I'm not really sure why he decided to end the story that way. I'm not sure what it's really meant to teach us. But with that in mind, this is still a good read, with a strong character and good use of the surprising backstory for Dash the other author created.
Recommended

On Pins and Needles
Genre: Emotional
Spike would do anything for Rarity. That's the problem.
Ladies and gentlemen, the closest to grimdark The Descendant ever wrote. c.c; Straight to the point, a confluence of happenstances turns a repeat of the 'living pincushion' scene from Green Isn't Your Color into a literal bloodbath. It is intense, painful, almost nauseating to read, because Descendant is so good. But alongside this is an evaluation of Rarity's character, as she grew from season one to season two, that I have to agree with. In particular, I love her constant mantra of wanting to be the mare that Spike sees when he looks at her. And yes, this is very just-shy-of-full-Sparity territory, but it doesn't make that final leap, so it gets a passing grade in my book. Just know what you're getting into, because I sure wasn't expecting that!
Recommended If You Don't Mind Blood

The Youth in the Garden
Genre: Historical Fiction
Fluttershy has been dreaming of strange sounds, and tramping through water. Now her dreams are bleeding through into reality…
Well, all right, this story is also full of grim darkness, but it's the kind of grim darkness you'd expect from a piece involving a non-romanticized recreation of an American Civil War battle. Not quite as amazing as Wander and Greenbriar, this nevertheless puts Descendant's knowledge of the Civil War on display, and he uses it to craft a story about the collusion of spaces, with a strong purpose. The scenes describing the actual fighting are dreamlike and strange, perfect for a story where one reality is bleeding into another. And though it gets schmaltzy toward the end, it's an earnest kind of schmaltz, decrying the sacrifice of young lives in the pursuit of war. But the ending will really get you, because just about every named human in this story — the commanders, and certainly the titular youth — was a real person who fought in the Civil War, and there's a very specific reason Descendant picked this kid to write this story about.
Recommended

To Change a Heart
Genre: Historical/Drama/Shipteasing?
A magical accident forces Princess Luna to confront an old part of her past.
This is two stories, and though they do impact one another thoroughly, they start in such disparate places that it's hard not to analyze them separately. The first thing you'll be greeted with upon entering this piece is an epic poem detailing a late struggle in the War of the Witches. Now, as someone who's read lots of Descendant's work and recognizes the references to things he tends to throw around and never explain, I was really into this. It doesn't hurt that it's some mighty fine writing, up there with The Song of Syhlex. (Also I can't believe I never considered that the War might have something to do with G1!) The poem itself is scattered in pieces throughout the chapters, and it's always a joy to come back to. The 'main' story, though, is far more pedestrian. It seems on the surface to be one of those "old magic turns Apple Bloom into a dragon so Spike has someone to smooch" things, and though it isn't — not completely — that seeming certainly tarnishes the story's heft. Because it's really about love, in all its forms, and the struggles that Spike has to go through on a daily basis. When it dovetails into the epic ancient history stuff, it gets really fascinating, though it also gets weird. I think it needs to be approached from a mindset of ancient beings like Luna and Discord being gods, and real-world mythology being full of incest and pseudo-incest for whatever reason. Also, the ending is kind of horrifying, mostly because of the plodding pacing used to march us toward the inevitable conclusion. It's hard to know how to feel, but that's kind of the point, because the characters don't know how to feel, either. But then, the real problem with this story is that he uses the T-word, then turns around and says it's only used by "those who wish to sound more intelligent than they truly are." c.c WHAT'S THE DEAL, HUH? All told, this isn't Descendant's absolute best, but it is absolutely worth the read.
Recommended

Certain Advantages
Genre: Random Comedy
The newest contestants for the Sisterhooves Social: Celestia and Luna. There's no way this can go horribly wrong.
Okay, I know what I said earlier, but what the hell? This starts off with an estrogen joke that just keeps going on and on in the most shamefully tasteless "Men are from Mars, women are from Venus" manner I can imagine! It's such a black mark, such a terrible first impression for a story that… Okay, let's be honest, Descendant wrote one really great comedy, and it was Dear Idiot. But it's a shame, because if nothing else, he's really good at writing hilariously overblown Luna dialogue. Also, what happens to Celestia is consistently hilarious (even if half of it is based around some shockingly crude humor!), it's great seeing her and Luna portrayed as bumbling oafs who are still, yaknow, extremely powerful rulers of a nation and not just old fuddy-duddies like in the show. There's also a fantastic running gag about a group of Diamond Dogs. But this also has a pacing issue, or maybe it's a density issue? There are just so many jokes jam-packed atop on another that you've barely got time to breathe before one starts or ends. Plus, more than once does a character stop all the action, frenetic as it is, to belt out an extremely long punchline or wear a gag nearly into the ground. I laughed at this, really I did, but I could never quite get that awful first taste out of my mouth. It's just got some issues. I damn this with faint praise.
Recommended for Laughs, but Only If You Skip the First Scene

Children of a Lesser Dragon God Boy Whelp Thingy Guy
Genre: Comedy
It turns out, writing the Noble Dragon Code means Spike's the reincarnation of a legendary dragon. Who knew?
Yaknow, I have always detested the title of this story, but thankfully, it turns out to be a callback to something in the text. What a cockamamie piece this is. Much better than the previous comedy, it still features the same odd pacing. All but one scene is 'on', and when a scene is 'on', that means it's either gradually building up to its punchline, or wallowing in its own joke. It's not a bad way to write comedy, per se, but it does take some getting used to on the reader's part. And for all that I said this is much better than Certain Advantages, it's still not high comedy. There is a literal noodle incident in the first chapter, one that is named as such in the text. Running gags abound, to various effect; one in particular is literally just a single sentence repeated again and again, yet it made me laugh every time, while another demands we be reminded of how grumpy Twilight is at any moment, and it never made me laugh once. A lot of this was dumb, but it was lots of fun, especially considering how the whole thing is a scathing rebuke of performative religion, coupled with an attempt to make Spike at Your Service and the Noble Dragon Code not a horrifically dumb idea. Ultimately, I enjoyed this story, and that's all you can ask for sometimes.
Recommended

A Sweet Taste of Cake
Read by Fimfiction
Genre: Romance
Mr. and Mrs. Cake's relationship hasn't been easy, but it was built on tenacity, truth and love.
For all that Descendant is remembered as the writer of Spike and Twilight stories, I think he ought to be remembered in equal degree as the writer about the Cakes. I mean, did you write a hundred-thousand word novel about how they got together? No. No, you did not. But the Descendant did, and — not to bury the lede — it is really good.

The funny thing about this story that is practically everything in it, everything that happens and doesn't involve an OC or an original setting, is a foregone conclusion. Despite this, he's such a good writer that he'll draw you into the moment. Of course Cupcake is going to go out with Carrot. Of course she's going to want to see him a second time. But in the moment, you're not thinking that. You're right there on the cusp of anxiety alongside this gangly, awkward colt who really, really wants this filly to like him. It's true for them getting together, it's true for them building Sugarcube Corner, it's true for them getting married, it's true for them taking Pinkie Pie in.

And those, in very broad strokes, are the basic outline of the story! So what's there to enjoy? How about literally everything? Along with the adorable, wholesome romance, you've got an absolute ton of excellent characters. I mean, Descendant couldn't have sold this foregone relationship if Mr. and Mrs. Cake weren't inimitably relatable. Carrot's a bit more of the star of the show here, his hopes and dreams and fears often taking center stage, but Cupcake is just as important. Better yet, we're shown how they fit together so well, Carrot with the raw baking talent, Cupcake with drive and determination to get things done. She's portrayed as something of a chessmaster, and her husband-to-be is very aware of just how on-another-level she is compared to him. She supports him, he makes her feel safe. They need each other, and it's great.

Along with them, we've got a major cameo from a young Mayor Mare, née Ivory Script, a big-hearted conniver who helps them get together and gives Carrot a few important pushes. She fades rather naturally after the first third or so of the story, to later be replaced by Pinkie Pie as a big motivator. Young Pinkie, poor kid, is shown as stifled and suffocating out on her rock farm, and the ways in which the Cakes help her become who she needs to be by the start of the show are varied and wonderful. You've also got some great OCs, like Carrot's mother, Cheesecake, is a superbly broken pony who slowly gets to come out of her shell over the course of the story. Mrs. Cake's parents I will not discuss in this section, because the reveal of who they are is kind of a big thing.

But I would like to talk about the closest thing this story has to a villain, because I want to make a point.

I have in the past compared Descendant's stories with those of RealityCheck. Remember him? Wrote Nyx's Family? Fucked off to fanfiction.net when people started getting mad at him? It's fine if you don't. The point I'm getting at is he's the Goofus to Descendant's Gallant.

In my ages-old review of Nyx's Family, I made note of some scenes where male characters, and I quote, "[put] other characters in their place via clever dialogue and witty banter". This is what you call the Strong Male (Jerk) Character, a feature of some writers — not just RC, let's be clear — who aren't comfortable writing female characters despite having decided to write fanfiction for a feminist cartoon filled with 'em. To put it mildly. No doubt there's some self-insertion wish-fulfillment going on there, too, an, "ah, if only I had been there, I could have diffused this situation and given them what-for with my sharp wit and natural charm." That's the Goofus.

Which brings us to the aforementioned pseudo-villain of A Sweet Taste of Cake: Quarry. He's introduced to us first through a series of impenetrable lines about "Being Quarry". Our first actual in-text introduction to him involves him literally throwing two businessponies out of a place of business after beating them, while swearing the whole time. He's a mountainous stallion, a well-known businesspony who is more feared than respected, a pony who is frequently consumed with bouts of rage, hence the reputation. And in the hands of a writer like RealityCheck, this would have been a classic Strong Male Jerk: a character meant to brutalize and berate any stand-in for those the author has an issue with, shutting down their arguments and destroying their self-confidence, someone whose anger is fueled by a just and righteous indignation at the state of the world, and who's Not Going to Let It Stand, no sir.

But the Descendant is a classy writer. The Descendant is the Gallant in this situation. Quarry is depicted as a frothing ball of rage, a "borderline psychopath", an unstable pony who, yes, is the way he is because of the way he's been treated in the past, but who is feared even by those closest to him, those who he'd never want to hurt, because of the ways he's reacted in the past. His rage is not righteous, his paranoia is not just, he's simply an animal, a ball of id, and this is no way to be. Only when he accepts that maybe, just maybe, he is wrong about the world — something an SMJ would never do — is he able to calm down and finally start enjoying his life.

In reading all of the Descendant's writing, I realize he has his own version of the Strong Male Character, one fueled not by rage, but by love and a deep belief in something important.

See, if I know anything about the Descendant as a person, it's that he was very spiritual. And you read a lot of his stories and you realize, yeah, he was a traditionalist. Gender roles aren't strictly enforced in his Equestria, but they do exist. Carrot Cake and other stallions are frequently shown as disinterested in "mare's talk". (Though I want to point out: this isn't because it's viewed as anything lesser that the interactions of stallions. There's never anyone saying, "That's mare's talk, boy!" It's more a simple respect for different spheres that nevertheless are bound by something arbitrary.) And like, no lie, Mr. and Mrs. Cake fuck a ton in this story (that Sex tag is there for a reason!), but only after they've gotten married, for all that "I'm saving myself for marriage" is never actually brought up in the text. That's how you write morality without being preachy, fyi. But like, whether they can have kids or not is a major conflict in this story, because having kids is expected, and someone not being able to when they want to is distressing, no matter how you feel about people having kids in the first place.

The point is, whether Descendant believes that men and women should be separate, he sees them as such, and he's not mean about it. And because they're separate, that thing that he cares so much about is that boys and young men have strong, kind, caring male role models in their lives. This appears as a theme over and over in his stories, especially when Spike is involved, also in Tangled Up in Blues, and Quarry eventually takes up this position in this story as well once he's embraced the idea that life needn't be a constant battle. This is what the Descendant sees as a Strong Male Character: someone who is kind, who is responsible, who is strong and who uses their strength to protect, guide and nurture, much like the earth ponies who feature so heavily in this story. A world where "be a man" means that is a world I want to live in.

I dunno, that comparison just came to me in the middle of everything and I wanted to express it. :B Let's wrap this up.

Is this story perfect? Heck no. Though the pacing is over all good, it's a bit meandering at times, not always earning the high word count. More of an issue, or at least something that bugged me, was a hammering home of images or themes. This story may very well have been based off the cover art, but don't bother feasting your eyes; you will get sick of each chapter cutting back to the Cakes in the present and "the dollop of frosting on Carrot's nose". That fucking dollop is there for the entire goddamn thing, and I hated it by the end, for all that it takes a central role in the final chapter that actually does work. No less repetitive but at least a little less aggravating is the constant return to "strings of causality", because the reader is to be very aware of the fact that if the Cakes hadn't gotten together, Pinkie wouldn't have been in Ponyville when she needed to become the Element of Laughter, and we all know how that would have gone. But like, it didn't have to be mentioned that often.

So is this perfect? No. Is it great anyway? Heck yes. This is the kind of intense slice of life that can only come from a labor of love. I had to wonder how much of the Descendant might have ended up in these pages. Sadly, we'll probably never know. :C But at least we can still enjoy what he left us.
Highly Recommended

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Comments ( 20 )
Wanderer D
Moderator

The thing I appreciated the most was that he was one of the few Spike writers who was not afraid of writing him as a child (and he is), which seems to be beyond most people, who always want to write him essentially as same-age to the M6.

See, if I know anything about the Descendant as a person, it's that he was very spiritual. And you read a lot of his stories and you realize, yeah, he was a traditionalist. Gender roles aren't strictly enforced in his Equestria, but they do exist.

I'm not sure we should speak so glowingly about tradcath bronies after Jetfire, but it's your call.

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

5352838
I honestly think that if anyone could hold that kind of belief and not be a shitter about it, the Descendant could.

I didn't know him as well as you did, but I do miss him.

5352842

Can you, though? The more I read your review of his stuff, the more unnerved I am. They are just boxes of red flags!

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

5352846
I've actually met the man. He was gentle, soft-spoken, made me feel like he absolutely believed everything he said. I think he made mistakes, but everyone does. And like I said, all his best work got reviewed years ago.

The dude near-singlehandedly got me into the fandom back in 2018—two whole years after he'd slipped away. Heck, he's probably the main reason I love Twilight and Spike's relationship so much, too. Love his stories, and he's been a big influence on plenty of my own.

Just curious; I can't recall if you've talked about it before, but do you have any present thoughts on Immature, the fic he deleted?

Ah, The Descendant. I've read a lot of great stories by him. In fact, Tangled Up in the Blues was practically the very first story I reviewed, and it's still one of my longtime favorites. I really should take a chance to read it again when my little vacation comes up in a couple weeks. I think the point of it was learning to use life's experiences to better yourself and the world around you, rather than to get angry about the injustices of the world. Blues started off letting everything get to him and being perpetually miserable, but by the end of the story he'd learned to roll with the punches, see the brighter side of things, and impart the lessons he'd learned to others. I found it all very touching.

A Sweet Taste of Cake was also an excellent story. I'd say more, but you've already summed it up nicely.

5352838
A brony assuming the worst elements of a group represent the whole? Now that's irony.

5352846
The Descendant's bio directs readers to donate to the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club, a non-profit horseriding club in a predominantly black Philadelphia community.

I'm fairly certain we don't have to worry about him pulling a Jetfire.

Honestly, this TD was probably one of the kinder people in the fandom and one who was traditional in a perfectly respectable sense instead of as a euphemism for being a bigot.

5352888

Come off it. He didn't whack anyone with a machete.

I just have Questions and Concerns about why his fics are morality tales/apologia for tradcath life wrapped up in Pony - vehicles for indoctrinating the young and easily influenced, as 'twere. Makes me think.

Blasphemy!!!! >:(
... that was actually funny 🤣
Still *bows in respect* I’m sure he’s doing fine. No shame in moving on 😔 ...

What's that about not liking the blues?

A Sweet Taste of Cake is one of my all time favorite stories on FIMFiction. It's just a wonderful story and I highly recommend it to everyone. :raritywink:

He was also one of the first people to leave a comment on my user page, and was just amazed that I love this story so much. But any time he replied to me he was always sweet.

I wish he could come back and finish Zenith, as it was fantastic and was just hitting the beginning of the main adventure. :ajsleepy:

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

5352880
I do not! :B If he didn't want it on the site, I'm not going after it.

5352909
You've got every reason to be suspicious, but I would hope you could also accept that maybe your presuppositions are mistaken and you're barking up the wrong tree here. Because, y'know, that's what everyone's saying. And also that charity that was pointed out.

Or the fact that Children of a Lesser Dragon Guy involves a bunch of dragons creating a religion around Spike, which is slowly revealed to be an excuse for some of them to have reasons to fight one another, and that all but a dozen of them refuse to listen to the actual message Spike is telling them, preferring instead to allow simply being present let them feel a sense of moral superiority. That's what I meant by "performative religion", the story is very condemnative of them.

5352861
You lucky dog you!

He never dissapointed. I remember being so hype when Certain Advantages came out. That concept was ripe and he did it perfectly.

He really did write Spike better than anyone. But he seemed self conscious about all this too, like maybe that's why he stopped writing? I hope he's proud of what he wrote. I would give anything to see his take on Spike's developments later in the show.

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

5353412
I always imagined he'd have been disappointed in the direction the show went toward the end, though I guarantee there is at least some projection in that analysis. :B

5353590
Good God, I'd hope not. If his writing gained a pessimistic edge from that, I think my drive to participate with this fandom would've died right there and then.

I wish I'd gotten to know TD. I'm forever thankful for a couple PMs we exchanged about Spike's characterization, doubly so for finding out he'd read and enjoyed my at-the-time latest stab at the our favorite dragon. He and couple other people really helped me develop my craft.

There ought to be an Erdos Number equivalent for him, considering the bazillions of "Welcome to fimfic" comments he's left on user pages.

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