Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Ponyfic Roundup 37: Should Have Been No. 63, Really...

This is a scheduled post as I'm expecting to be away on New Year's Eve. This is a Special Edition of PR, in which I concentrate on just one story. As the subtitle today may suggest, it's a tale in which Rule 63-ery takes centre stage. It's also another of the most popular stories in the fandom's history, and one which has had plenty of influence since. Before I get on to that, though, I hope everyone will have a very good 2015! Now then...

On a Cross and Arrow by Conner Cogwork
Mane Six, CMC, Spike, Celestia, Snips, Snails, Mayor Mare, Angel, Opalescence, Owlowiscious, Derpy, Lyra, Bon Bon, Doctor Whooves, OCs, Old Uncle Tom Cob-Neigh and All
Romance/Comedy/Adventure; 86K words; Sep 2011; Everyone
Twilight gets a spell wrong, sending the Mane Six across dimensions to... Ponyville! But in this Ponyville, there's one important difference... everyone is gender-swapped. (This story popularised, though didn't originate, Rule 63 names like Dusk Shine and Butterscotch.) Does this mean shipping? Oh yes, with variable results for both ponies and reader. Characterisation is decent for the most part, and there are some amusing sequences, which are generally better than the serious stuff. A big problem is the writing itself: it's not impossibly bad, but it suffers from messy style and misplaced punctuation throughout. It also has Lavender Unicorn Syndrome on a truly heroic scale, surpassing even It's a Dangerous Business, Going Out Your Door (PR 13) on that score. That makes it, frankly, wearying to read, and helps pull its score right down to 5/10.

As usual with a Special Edition review, there's more to come, including plenty of spoilers, after the break!

Monday, 29 December 2014

The Louder Yay Awards 2014

This is just a bit of fun, so please don't take it too seriously! But 2014 has been an interesting year in ponydom, and I thought I'd share with you a few of my own highlights and lowlights. Well, all right, it's just going to be the highlights, since this is the festive season! Note that I'm not awarding "best episode" now, since that's been decided long since: it was "Filli Vanilli", and that's all there is to it. "Twilight's Kingdom" was brilliant, as was "Pinkie Pride" and as (more surprisingly) was Rainbow Rocks, but none of those had Fluttershy being quite so ridiculously adorable throughout.

Best social event
The Worcester meetups continued to be excellent; I truly think ours are among the best ponymeets in the country. I also went to a couple of Leicester meets, which were enjoyable too. But the two conventions really stood out: there was BUCK in August, which was on a scale never before (and probably never again) seen... but the award goes to UK PonyCon, which proved to be a wonderful surprise. The best atmosphere of any pony event I've ever been to, excellent value and (barring crowding issues) enormous fun throughout.

Best commercial supplier
I remain perhaps the only brony in Britain never to have ordered anything from Mare Play, but I've obtained stuff from plenty of other sources. The inevitable Forbidden Planet, though the MLP range in the Birmingham branch isn't very big. Tesco and Sainsbury's did better than the old stalwart Asda for blind bags and the like, while Redbubble continued to serve my T-shirt needs well. The winner, though, is Level Seven Comics, who proved that good old-fashioned customer service can be the most important factor of all.

Best website
I'm excluding UK of Equestria from consideration, given my position on its staff, although I do genuinely think it's very good! I did read Equestria Daily a little more this year, and even made the odd comment, but it remains just too large and unwieldy for my tastes. Derpy News remained a useful alternative source of pony information, but it's Fimfiction that takes the prize. Knighty retained his tendency to be unnecessarily abrasive at times, but the fact is that the site works, and does so much better than any other fanfiction platform I've used.

Best official fiction
This section is pretty much a G. M. Berrow benefit, but Amy Keating Rogers' Journal of the Two Sisters deserves mention. It isn't as good as The Elements of Harmony that came before, but is still a useful reference for more serious fans. Berrow's chapter books continued to appear, and the best of a generally good bunch was probably Rarity and the Curious Case of Charity, which turned out to be a very satisfying tale. The fact that I had a copy signed by the author at BUCK has absolutely no bearing on this award, honest!

Best fanfiction
If you've been following Ponyfic Roundup since the start, then you'll know that only two fics have gained a 10/10 rating.  As such, I'm making this a joint award: we have Blueshift's remarkable So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish, which snares readers by appearing to be a silly Blueshiftian comedy and turning out to be a highly moving exploration of friendship. The other winner is Lucky Dreams' astonishing In the Place the Wild Horses Sleep, which forever puts to rest the notion that Human-tagged tales can't be masterpieces of ponyfic literature.

Best comic
I don't really pay much attention to fan-made comics (or indeed fanart in general) so I'm concentrating on the licensed IDW titles here. 2014 was a pretty variable year for these, seeing both some of the worst comics thus far released and some of the best. It's the latter I'm interested in today, though, and it comes down to two Friends Forever issues. The Applejack/Rarity pairing was very enjoyable, and showed the best of the Cook/Price/Breckel gang, but the overall prize here goes to a recent comic: the Twilight/Pinkie Friends Forever was just what this side series should be: light-hearted, funny and a good read all round. 

Best official music
This is one of the hardest awards to, er, award, given that every episode of the show from "Rarity Takes Manehattan" onwards, plus Rainbow Rocks, are eligible. From TV, there was Fluttershy's singing in "Filli Vanilli", just about every song in "Pinkie Pride" and the finale's "You'll Play Your Part". The film gave us "Under Our Spell", while the "Welcome to the Show"/"Rainbooms Battle" climactic battle scene is spine-tingling in context, though much less so on the soundtrack album. But I'm plumping for "Shine Like Rainbows". Simple, heartfelt and uplifting: just what MLP should be.

Best fan-made music
Aviators does a lot more non-pony than pony stuff these days, and though it's also very good it's not eligible for this award. However, he hasn't abandoned brony music altogether: "Set Me Free", about Luna's banishment, was an excellent example, but it's "Revenge" that takes first place for me. Although Aviators' voice isn't the perfect fit for a harsh song about Tirek, he makes it work. Special mention also to Evening Star's "Starswirl the Bearded", which has a suitably epic feel.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Ponyfic Roundup is changing!

Okay, it isn't really. Well, not much. I'm still going to be reviewing several stories on a generally weekly basis. I'm still going to have some themed posts. I'm still going to rate primarily on how much I enjoyed a fic. What is changing is the scoring system. I've decided that marks out of ten are fairly pointless; as I said earlier, nobody really cares whether a fic scores 7 or 7.5/10. So I'm going over to a simple and straightforward star-rating system, as follows:

★ : Outstanding. These are stories that I'm kicking myself for not having read earlier, that leave me open-mouthed with admiration, that do something truly original on a grand scale... the top-notchers, in other words. (Equates to 9+ on the old system.)

★ : Very Good. These are stories that I had a lot of fun reading and would happily read again, and that I could easily recommend. However, they may have small niggles or flaws that prevent their reaching true greatness. (Equates to 8 to 8.5 on the old system.)

★ : Good. There are likely to be plenty of stories in this class, meaning that I enjoyed them but that they didn't do enough to stick in my mind in the longer term. Some fics here could have been four-star stories with only minor improvements. (Equates to 6 to 7.5 on the old system.)

★ : Meh. In this category will be placed those stories that didn't really move me either way. They didn't make me wish I could write like that; they didn't make me wish the author had a clue. Read, shrugged, moved on, basically. (Equates to 4 to 5.5 on the old system.)

★ : Poor. To finish with a one-star rating, a story must either suffer from such poor writing as to make it truly a trial to get through, be outright objectionable in some way or include content that I really do not like. (Equates to 3.5 or below on the old system.)

The New Year's Eve edition of Ponyfic Roundup will be the last to use the out-of-ten scoring system; star ratings will be instituted with the first PR of 2015. As long as it seems to work okay, I intend to continue using the star system as described above for the foreseeable future.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Cons, cons everywhere!

Well, everywhere in the UK, that is. In the last few days and weeks, we've seen no fewer than four pony conventions announced for 2015 in this country, plus another one for 2016. Two of the events in question are returning after successful outings last year, while another two are newcomers aiming to take advantage of the absence of BUCK next year. And talking of BUCK, the behemoth of British brony bashes will be coming back as well, albeit not until 2016. So, here's the run-down:

Great British Brony Convention – 24/25/26 July, Manchester
A completely new venture, the GBBC takes the "BUCK replacement" concept almost literally by being held in the Manchester Conference Centre, only a few hundred yards down the road from Manchester Central itself. This con is intended as a one-off event, as the organisers don't wish to compete directly with BUCK when that returns (see below). Nevertheless, it takes several cues from that con, such as a Friday night concert. Captain Hoers and Mush have already announced their attendance, but it's highly ambitious, especially with another con happening 40 miles down the road just a month later...

My Little Convention – 29/30 August, Southport
Another newcomer for 2015, this con's venue has been announced as the Floral Hall in the Merseyside/Lancashire resort. Early bird tickets are already on sale (£45 for Standard tier) and planned events include a Saturday night concert, an area for up-and-coming musicians (apparently modelled on BUCK's Cadance Stage) and the inevitable CCG tournament. No guests have been announced yet. MLC was originally planned for Norwich, but has chosen to move across country for better transport links – although holding the con over a Bank Holiday inevitably means that there'll be rail engineering works to contend with.

UK PonyCon 2015 – 10/11 October, Leicester
This is a two-day convention covering the entire My Little Pony fandom, with a strong emphasis on collectors but also catering for families, bronies and other ponyish types. This means that the attendee profile (and therefore the atmosphere) is very different from other cons, with everyone from young children to grandparents coming along. The venue, the Mercure Grand Hotel, is the same as this year's, but 2015 will see the con gain the use of the entire hotel, not just half of it as happened this year. This should do a lot to alleviate the crowding problems that affected it in 2014.

BronyScot – "October/November", Edinburgh
Scotland's very own brony con faced challenges in its debut year, resulting in the decision to reduce the planned two days to one. This disappointing outcome was responsibly handled, though. This, together with good organisation, resulted in a well-received convention, so it's good to see it returning in 2015. After an unfortunate clash of dates with UK PonyCon last year, the two organising teams are on good terms and have made sure that this won't happen again. The popular Rock Nessie concert is set to return, while tickets look likely to remain attractively priced.

BUCK – "early 2016", venue TBA
Yes, the big beast of the UK pony convention scene is returning, probably in a new spring slot. Plenty still needs to be thrashed out before exact details will be made public, but I can guess at several things: it will be the biggest of all the British conventions, the tickets will be the most expensive, it will have the best range of guests and events and it will be the most slickly run event. BUCK's membership of the European Pony Convention Union is also a big plus, indicating that it abides by a number of rules to protect con-goers and staff alike.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Ponyfic Roundup 36: Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

For the Hearth's Warming Eve edition of Ponyfic Roundup, I thought I'd do something different, so this time I'm looking at six stories written by other reviewers! The six were chosen as all having published at least 100 reviews, as entered in Griffin's Big Master Review List. I chose one fic from each person, deciding simply on the basis of what looked interesting. If I've ended up selecting a story you'd rather everyone had forgotten about, then I can only apologise! Anyway...

Pick of the fics

Every Mare Needs Her Stallion by InquisitorM
Fluttershy and Rarity
Sad/Slice of Life; 8K words; Feb 2014; Everyone
Fluttershy, having lost her cool (off-screen) earlier, turns up at Rarity's... but she's far from the embarrassed mare Rarity expected. A really interesting story that challenges its reader, though it's one I'm far from sure I've entirely got to grips with myself. There are undercurrents galore, and the ponies frequently behave slightly unexpectedly – Fluttershy especially – though the writing is such that this simply makes their characterisation feel more believable. You can't skim any of this: a phrase as simple as "second most beautiful" can, in context, make the reader's eyes fly open. The story's basic agenda is fairly obvious by the end, but I still can't shake the feeling that I've missed something somewhere. It's an impressive piece of writing, but my enjoyment suffered very slightly simply because it was so demanding. 8.5/10

Other stories

Going Up by Chris
Derpy and Carrot Top
Slice of Life; 5K words; Dec 2012; Everyone
This is yer actual children's story, which is a rare thing indeed and reminds me of the amazing In the Place the Wild Horses Sleep (PR 20). It's not quite that good, but this is nevertheless a charming little tale of the friendship between the two principals, who make an odd couple in the best sense. Carrot Top is unhappy at being earthbound; Derpy wants to cheer up her friend. The way she does so is clever, original and entirely logical; I loved that. You do occasionally notice Chris's teacherly voice coming through ("which I shall attempt to describe") but it doesn't really harm the story. Really nice portrayals of Derpy are few and far between, but this is undoubtedly one of them. 8/10

Laugh, Laugh by PresentPerfect
Pinkie Pie
Sad/Slice of Life; 1K words; Sep 2014; Everyone
Pinkie's inspiration has always been the great clown Ponyacci; now she's heard from him again, but it's not what she'd expected at all. Drawing heavily on the backstory from Pinkie's IDW micro-series comic (to the extent that I'd recommend reading that first) this was actually written for another reason. Read the Author's Note, but not until after you've read the story. Pinkie's narrative voice initially doesn't quite seem right, but read carefully and you'll find the reason for that. One slight mis-step (the "-thingy" stuff just doesn't work) but otherwise a pretty satisfying story all round. 7.5/10

Ponies of Faith by JohnPerry
Mane Six
Comedy; 1K words; Jan 2012; Everyone
Twilight is accosted in the street by a "researcher" from the Church of Magictology. Later, she discusses belief with her friends. This is pretty much the opposite of InquisitorM's story, in that it's absolutely not meant to be a difficult read. It's short, it's silly and it gave me a laugh or two, especially in the early scenes. On the flip side, I didn't like the real-world intrusions: there's one particular reference that I don't think any writer has avoided making cringeworthy, while the punchline it all leads up to probably just doesn't work very well on my side of the Atlantic. I suspect some people would find this hysterically funny; I just shrugged and moved on. 5.5/10

The Potion by Prak
Twilight and Zecora
Sad/Dark; 3K words; Dec 2013; Teen
Twilight has a great idea: ask Zecora to help mass-produce the past-seeing potion from "Princess Twilight Sparkle". Zecora gives Twi a glimpse of the future instead. Prak is one of the surprisingly few authors to have nailed Zecora's dialogue: it's possible to make her rhymes too good, but this fic avoids that trap. On the minus side, I did think elements of the future scenario were a tad overdone, and an apparent strange gap in Celestia's knowledge near the end was a bit hard to swallow. 7/10

Sol Invictus by Soge
Celestia
Human; 3K words; Dec 2013; Everyone
Neither of Soge's published stories use my preferred tags (the other is Alternate Universe) so I chose this one at random. A pilgrim tells the tale of his annual journey with others to the otherworld where Sol Invictus dwells. It's obvious from the start that this means Celestia, but it's still a solid read, especially if you have a sprinkling of third-century Roman history. (It's not often I say that about a ponyfic!) There are a few irritating errors ("an unicorn") and one strangely repeated phrase, but nothing too bad. For those of us who like Celestia, this is a decent choice, albeit more oral history than actual story. 7/10

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Book review: The Daring Do Adventure Collection

Daring Do Adventure Collection box set
It really is quite a substantial box
Time for Louder Yay's Hearth's Warming Special review! Today, I'll be taking a look at The Daring Do Adventure Collection, the box-set of three DD books (and some other bits and bobs) by G. M. Berrow. This isn't the cheapest item to buy: The Book Depository is currently charging just under £40 for the US edition (pub. Little, Brown) that I'll be reviewing. There's also a UK edition published by Orchard, but I don't have that. Is the Collection worth the substantial outlay? Let's have a look...

Monday, 22 December 2014

So. Farewell then, Twilight's Library

E. J. Thribb (17½) is really having his work cut out this last week or so. First Everfree Network bit the dust, and now it's RIP Twilight's Library. This news came as a complete surprise to me; many others, especially Fimfiction insiders, probably saw it coming, but not me. Not only did I not read the TL staff forum, I didn't even realise that such a publicly-viewable thing existed until a few hours ago. So all the drama of the last few days is something of which I was blissfully unaware. It's a great shame.

As I've said in my Fimfiction blog, I feel the loss of TL (in its present form, at least) quite keenly. After all, I'm a middling-to-good author (I think) who likes to write sub-2,000-word shortfics. I'm not good enough to get picked up by the RCL, while EqD isn't interested in stories that short. TL was pretty much the only significant place I could submit one of my stories and feel that a) I had a decent chance of acceptance but that b) it wasn't guaranteed. There must be other writers like me out there, now feeling somewhat similar.

Depending on what, if anything, picks up the slack, I think one thing this will do is make reviews even more important. I love getting feedback, more than anything else; obviously I prefer positive feedback, but negative is much better than none. With TL dead and few, if any, other options for writers like me, the only way we're going to get such feedback, rather than just the odd like/favourite, is by having fics reviewed by an actual person. (Or pony, depending.)

The demise of TL has made me think about the future of Ponyfic Roundup. I enjoy doing it and it's not (usually) an excessive amount of work. I might tweak things a bit, especially in terms of ratings: does anyone really care whether a story gets 7/10 or 7.5? A simpler, star-based system has considerable merit in my eyes. But the PR reviews will continue and, especially since most of the mooted replacements for TL concentrate on new fics, I'll continue to feature many older stories.

I'm proud of the fact that all five stories I submitted to TL were accepted first try, and those ribbons will always mean something to me. Just because getting into Twilight's Library didn't require pro-level writing skills doesn't mean it was worthless; far from it. To me, at least, it was a source of encouragement and I really will miss it. Also, It Doesn't Matter Now was the featured fic at closure. That somehow amuses me.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

My Little Convention gets into gear

My Little Convention is a forthcoming brony convention in the UK, planned for the August Bank Holiday weekend (29/30 Aug) freed up by the absence of BUCK in 2015. Although its original plan was to be in Norwich, accessibility considerations have prompted a major change, and the con will now be in Lancashire. Specifically, the Floral Hall in Southport, which is relatively easily reached, though not so much so as Manchester city centre was for BUCK! Being a Bank Holiday, there are almost certain to be rail access problems from some parts of the country.

Ticket prices have also been announced: Standard entry will be £50 (reduced to £45 for Early Bird purchasers), Premium tickets will be £90 (£81) and the Premium+ level will cost £120. Standard tickets are interestingly priced: significantly lower than BUCK 2014's £80, but significantly higher than UK PonyCon's £25 or the £35 originally charged for BronyScot before that con decided to move to a single-day format. Personally, I think justifying £50 will need some quite special guests and events; MLC will have to be a lot more than a big meetup. But we'll see!

New story by me: The Light that Ignites in the Dark

Cover image for The Light that Ignites in the Dark
These two really do not have enough screen time together
It's about time I standardised things a bit, so: from now on, throughout this blog, story titles will be in italics, while chapter titles will be "in quotes". What the heck I'll do about anthologies with multi-chapter sub-stories I have no idea. Anyway, here's a new story I wrote. This was done for a contest for heart-warming fics in the group excitedly titled "The MLP Fan Club!!!!" over on Fimfiction. Despite its title, it owes nothing to Equestria Girls beyond some light influence from Rainbow Rocks' "Shine Like Rainbows" song.

The Light that Ignites in the Dark by Loganberry
Rainbow Dash, Rarity, Mane Six and Spike
Slice of Life; 3K words; Dec 2014; Everyone
Rainbow Dash and Rarity have a chalk-and-cheese relationship at the best of times, but when Dash makes a mess of a special effect for a fashion show in front of some of Canterlot's most influential ponies, the unicorn is furious. Embarrassed and miserable, Rainbow believes she deserves to be alone for a while. Her friends may have other ideas.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Ponyfic Roundup 35: The Good Old Days?

I've decided to go ahead with my plan of posting some themed editions of PR during the festive season. I already have one or two other ideas in the works, but this week's theme is very simple: all the fics I review today were published on Fimfiction in the site's very first month of operation, July 2011. The received wisdom is that the general standard of ponyfic has improved since then, though my unscientific experiment produced somewhat mixed results.

Pick of the fics

Celestia's Teeth by Abalidoth
Celestia and Luna
Comedy/Slice of Life; 5K words; Jul 2011; Everyone
First up, this story needs an OC tag, as there are plenty of them. Anyway: Celestia is fed up with palace staff interfering in her life, and when a pony is hired simply to brush the royal teeth, it's the last straw. A gently amusing look at the harmless Trollestia we see in episodes like "A Bird in the Hoof", and if you can deal with S1-era Luna and "foaling" for "fooling", together with one irritating contradiction, you'll find that it's held up rather well. A nice ending, too. 8/10

Other stories

The Canterlot Conference by Rezo
Celestia
Dark; 2K words; Jul 2011; Everyone
This is the most objectionable ponyfic I have ever read. A wildly OOC Celestia makes plans, along with Blueblood, to create more room for ponies by reducing the buffalo population. This is to be accomplished by a mixture of war and slave-labour camps. Yes, folks, what we have here is a ponified Wannsee Conference; Celestia actually uses the phrase "the final solution to the buffalo problem". A gratuitous reference to that old meme of Luna having trouble with technology somehow makes it even worse. And it's not even a trollfic. Quite solid technically, but I never want to see this fic again. 0/10

In Search of Bighoof by Lucres
CMC, Fluttershy, Cheerilee and Silver Spoon
Comedy/Adventure/Slice of Life; 9K words; Jul 2011; Everyone
Ah, for the days before Fimfiction's silly tag-conflict restrictions... the CMC are off on a Filly Scout trip, led by the rather unusual team of Cheerilee and Fluttershy, but Scootaloo goes missing in the woods and it's up to Fluttershy to track her down. After an uncertain start, this really grew on me. Too many little errors (eg "Applebloom" and full stops before closing quotes where there should be commas) but despite some clear "Stare Master" influence, it's a readable tale in its own right. 7/10

Longer than Diamonds by SPark
Rarity and Spike
Slice of Life; 6K words; Jul 2011; Everyone
SPark is still writing ponyfic, but this was her first story, and it's a pretty decent one. A considerably older Rarity is thrilled when Celestia is pictured wearing one of her dresses... but ponies' reactions aren't what she was expecting or hoping for. The author is a seamstress, so the sewing stuff is unsurprisingly very convincing. There's a prescient look at older Twilight, too, while Spike also plays his part, including in a very short epilogue not separated from the main chapter. Didn't utterly grab me, but kept me reading. 7.5/10

Porcelain Secrets by Nathan
Apple Bloom, Spike and Applejack
Romance/Comedy/Slice of Life; 5K words; Jul 2011; Everyone
Apple Bloom catches Spike in the act of rifling through Rarity's drawers (as in furniture, you dirty-minded lot!) and one of the unicorn's vases gets broken. This is largely ho-hum and unmemorable, with a lot of little errors ("Sweetie Bell", "Pinky Pie"), while AJ's ah-speak suddenly disappears for no reason late on. One thing particularly bothered me, though: a bizarrely non-canon idea of Applejack's disciplinary methods for her little sister. Pushes the Everyone rating a bit at times, too. 4.5/10

Trix and Stones may Break my Bones by Hipster Pony Raven Horn
Trixie and OC
Sad; 4K words; Jul 2011; Everyone
Trixie is summoned home to Hoofington when her brother (unintentional hilarity: his name is Flash) sends word that their mother is ailing. As she walks through town, she remembers... this seems to be quite popular with its readers, but I really didn't get a lot out of it. Although it was fairly well written, other than full stops before closing quotes, I found it all rather predictable, with what should have been a highly emotional final scene seeming rushed and even a bit dull. 5/10

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Comic review: MLP Friends Forever #12: Twilight and Pinkie Pie

MLP Friends Forever #12 subscription cover
I had a biscuit that looked awfully like that yesterday
As advertised yesterday, it's time to look at the latest IDW My Little Pony comic. This time, the Friends Forever series is teaming up Twilight and Pinkie. I sometimes have mixed feelings when FF uses two Mane Sixers, as there are so many other characters who could be used, but if it's done well then I won't complain. This is only Barbara Randall Kesel's second Pony comic, and given that her previous outing was the iffy Fluttershy micro back in May 2013, I wasn't sure what to expect when she linked up with the more experienced Brenda Hickey and the near-ubiquitous Heather Breckel. Read on to find out!

Monday, 15 December 2014

So. Farewell then, Everfree Network

I was intending to post my review of the Pinkie/Twilight comic today. Hopefully I'll be able to put that up tomorrow (spoiler: it's pretty good) but right now, I want to spend a moment to mark the imminent passing of one of the most recognisable brands in the fandom: Everfree Network, which will close its doors at the end of the year. Some of its features, such as Everfree Radio, will live on in a new form on the forthcoming Canterlot Hill site, but for EFN itself, it's the end of the road. It's not quite the seismic event that it will be when Equestria Daily finally calls it a day, but it's big news nevertheless.

I never paid that much attention to EFN, beyond reading the odd news story or watching the occasional stream from a con. Podcasts aren't my thing, in any case. Unlike (it sometimes seems) most of the fandom, I don't have any feelings one way or the other about Final Draft, as I've never had any dealings with the guy. I'm not that keen on his goodbye post's comment that "the fandom of 2014 is not the same as the fandom of 2011", with the clear implication that it's worse, because I'm not sure that's true – but then I'm just one small-time writer and blogger on the very fringes of ponydom.

As far as the fandom as a whole goes, I think it's doing fine. It is a bit smaller than it used to be – you only have to look at the gradually declining numbers of fanfics being published on Fimfiction to see that – but it's a very, very long way from being moribund. We know that there'll be official content appearing for at least another three years, so I certainly don't go along with anyone who says the pony fandom is dying. EFN will leave a gap, larger for some people, smaller for others, but (as Canterlot Hill shows) other people will be stepping up to fill that gap, even if not in quite the same way.

Goodbye, EFN: I hardly knew you, but you were part of a lot of fans' shared experience of this ridiculous and wonderful fandom. When we look back on this crazy time in our lives a few decades hence, your name will be one of those that many of us will reminisce about. Now, though, it's time to look forwards: S5 is on the way in the spring, Equestria Girls 3 looks like a given, BUCK is returning in 2016... don't just weep for the fandom's past, because there's an awful lot of future we still have to experience.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Music: "Tired" by svett89


It's been an awfully long time since we had a pony music post around here – at least, if you don't count Rainbow Rocks. This short, gentle but nicely crafted piano piece was written to complement Ebon Mane's excellent fanfic, Tired (PR 34), but it stands perfectly well on its own. If you don't know the story, imagine that about half a century hence, Pinkie Pie is still working hard to keep her now-scattered friends happy. There's a wistfulness to this tune, but it doesn't feel sorry for itself. I don't come across many piano instrumentals, possibly because they're a bit of a minority interest in the fandom, but this one is worth it.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Ponyfic Roundup 34

Here we go again! I'm sticking to the usual format this week, except that I'm covering six stories as I had slightly more free time to read than I sometimes do. This wasn't a bad week at all: there are no poor fics here, several which are very much worth reading, and one story in particular that I feel is absolutely outstanding. Let's go, then!

Pick of the fics

Tired by Ebon Mane
Pinkie Pie and Mane Six
Sad/Slice of Life; 7K words; Sep 2012; Teen
An old story that I only picked up when it was added to Twilight's Library recently: Soge was unimpressed, but I wasn't. Set half a century hence, Pinkie visits each of her old friends, working hard to bring cheer. Beautifully done and very moving, with one of the best "serious Pinkie" portrayals I've seen. I saw a twist coming, but it still worked, while a single line in Rainbow's house floored me. This only scores as "low" as 9 because it's not quite as satisfying in its last couple of scenes. Nevertheless, an essential read. 9/10

Other stories

Dulcet by shortskirtsandexplosions
Big Mac, Rarity and Cheerilee
Romance/Slice of Life; 8K words; Feb 2014; Everyone
I'm seeing a pattern with SS&E's fics: I usually quite like them, but find too many little irritations to really love them. The same applies in this spin-off from "Filli Vanilli" in which Big Mac, who narrates in a mildly irritating voice ("thang" – argh), is asked out for a meal by fellow Ponytone Rarity. It's a nice idea and the interaction between the characters is interesting, but it could have done with a little polishing. Would Mac ever use a word like "whom"? The epilogue seems a little unnecessary, too. 7/10

I Quit! by General Spritz
Coco Pommel, Suri Polomare and Others
Slice of Life; 4K words; Mar 2014; Everyone
The story of what happened during "Rarity Takes Manehattan" when Coco finally had the courage to quit working for Suri. And there's the problem: we pretty much already know the major plot point. (Oh yeah, please stop using "plot" in that sense. It's only done once here, but... gah.) There are also way too many full stops before quotes where there should be commas. All that said, it's automatically a good thing to be able to experience Suri's downfall once again. The best thing here is probably Prim Hemline's characterisation, which is great. 6.5/10

Immortal Dreams by TadStone
Scootaloo, Luna and Rainbow Dash
Sad/Dark; 6K words; May 2014; Teen
Scootaloo hovers between life and death in hospital. This was a rather frustrating fic: I really liked the first half, in which Luna visits Scoots in her dreams. It's nothing all that new, but the language used (adverb overload and all) really spoke to me. Luna does suffer from the dreaded SingleTear-itis, but that's a minor problem. A greater one is the second part, which just isn't anywhere near as good: the reason behind Scootaloo's problems didn't convince me and the resolution was much too easy. 8.5 for the first half, 5.5 for the second half, so 7/10 overall.

Life is Precious by BronyDad
Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy
Sad/Slice of Life; 6K words; Sep 2014; Everyone
Rainbow takes an injured bird to Fluttershy and learns a lesson about life. This made Equestria Daily, and at first I was wondering why: it was solid, but not amazing and quite tell-y. I don't mind this, but EqD reputedly does, or at least did. There's the odd redundant line and a very few typos and odd word choices. However, in its last third this story becomes something rather special, especially where Fluttershy is concerned. This part of the fic is memorable and highly satisfying. Life is Precious is worth sticking with; it starts off good – but ends up excellent. 7.5/10

Subtleties of Lust! by BronyWriter
Fluttershy, Big Mac and CMC
Romance; 2K words; May 2014; Teen (Sex)
A rather startling FlutterMac shipfic. Well, sort of, but to say more would give the game away. That's actually my beef with this: I think its main part would work hilariously well as a parody of a certain type of fanfic (or even as that rarest of things, a clever trollfic), to the extent that I actually felt a little disappointed when the camera pulled back to reveal that BronyWriter didn't simply intend this to stand alone as that. Still, I got plenty of laughs from this up to that point, so it still scores fairly well. 7.5/10

Monday, 8 December 2014

Coming up on Ponyfic Roundup

As we're well into the festive stuff now, I thought it might be fun to play around a little with Ponyfic Roundup for the Hearth's Warming period. This coming Wednesday's edition will be a normal one, including several fics of very decent quality. Later this month, I'm thinking about doing a themed edition or two. I haven't yet decided on exactly how to make this work, but one idea that attracts me is to put up an edition of PR concentrating entirely on some of the oldest stories on Fimfiction. (The site was launched in summer 2011.) Old fics don't have the greatest reputation, with a few notable exceptions, so it'll be interesting to see how well these hold up after more than three years.

PS: I've already reviewed the oldest proper story on Fimfiction: Cereal Velocity's Accolade. I wasn't all that impressed, giving it 5/10 in PR 21. So my hopes aren't necessarily high. I'd love to be pleasantly surprised, though!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Another runner-up minific by me: Stop the Journey?

My second-place contestfic count is now up to three! This time, my silver medal comes courtesy of the Weekly Contests group's contest #13, which was for poetry and had the prompt "Numbers". I chose not to do the optional challenge of writing about an OC, incidentally. I'm quite pleased with second place, as the winner was a really rather impressive sonnet (which you can see at the link above) and the moment I saw it, I was fairly sure it was going to win. Anyway, here's my poem:
Stop the Journey?
Yes, I remember, long ago,
In mind's eye still I see
My friends and I adventuring:
A time when we were three.

Those days are gone, no more are we
A trio bound as one:
Though memories shall never fade,
Crusading days are done.

Sometimes I dream about it still:
That carefree, far-off youth
When all of us, in friendship, sought
To find eternal truth.

Time waits for nopony, of course,
And nothing can I do
But wait till we are three again,
Adventuring anew.
I can see a couple of places where I could have thought of slightly better wording, but I don't think it's too shabby on the whole. Also, it scans. The number of poems I read that rhyme but don't scan (and not for deliberate stylistic reasons, either) is absolutely enormous. Anyway, you can probably guess what Stop the Journey? is about, but I'll spoiler-tag it in case you'd rather work it out on your own:

Official Season 5 promo videos trickling out


This isn't new news as such, but I thought I ought to remark upon it. (Also, I wanted to reassure people that this blog wasn't going to become entirely fanfic-centric!) The official MLP YouTube account has been putting out little teaser videos for a few weeks now. Each focuses on one of the Mane Six, gives away pretty much nothing, and is followed by a toy advert using exactly the same voiceover – something I find bizarrely hilarious. I won't post them all, but above (and here) is Best Pony's, to give you an idea of how they work.

Also, Discovery Family will be showing A Very Minty Christmas on 13th December. Generally considered one of the best G3 cartoons (okay, the competition isn't all that fierce) it also contains perhaps the best socks-based Christmas song ever made. Sorry, Daniel Ingram, this particular accolade still eludes you!

Friday, 5 December 2014

It Doesn't Matter Now featured by Twilight's Library!

"It Doesn't Matter Now" cover picture
I'm a little disappointed no-one has picked up on the reason for the proton's colouring
I really am delighted by how well It Doesn't Matter Now has done. This was mostly written in one evening as a bit of silliness, but it really seems to have caught people's imagination. It's now become my fifth inductee into Twilight's Library, as both a Staff Pick and a Featured story, and has also gained (for the little this is worth) the most likes of any of my 15 published works. Thank you, everyone who's read it! Thank you even more, those of you who liked it! I suppose all I can do now is... write some more pony words. That's what we do around here, right enough.

It's odd how things change. In 2012, I thought that the be-all and end-all of ponyfic was to get a story featured on Equestria Daily. I'd still like to achieve that one day (though I'd have to start writing longer stories even to have a theoretical chance!) but to me, at least, Fimfiction is now where it's at for writers. I do get the feeling that EqD doesn't care all that much for fanfic and would really rather concentrate on more quickly consumed pleasures: art, music and so on. Writing, which inevitably takes longer to appreciate, doesn't fit entirely comfortably with a fast-moving news-centric website like that.

So, back to Fimfiction. The stats there show that, although numbers have fallen a little bit from the heights of a year or two ago, there are still over 400 stories being published on the site every week. That's a lot of words, especially when you consider that I usually review five in that time! All my stories have between 130 and 800 views, which I consider reasonable, though I'm sure they'd be a bit higher if I hadn't largely ignored the site (and therefore not picked up many views or followers) for most of 2013. Which leads me to set a few goals of varying importance and likelihood:

1) Actually win a writing contest of some sort
2) Get 1,000 views on a single story
3) Reach 100 followers
4) Have a story of mine be another reviewer's equivalent of a "Pick of the fics"
5) Publish a Dark-tagged story
6) Write a Watership Down crossover that actually works
7) Get Friendship is Poetry going again
8) Finish Where They Understand You 
9) Write something in second-person, just to see if I can
10) Never, ever, under any circumstances, make the feature box

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Ponyfic Roundup 33

The latest changes to Fimfiction have caused a few ructions, but for the most part, I quite like them. I was a little concerned that I'd start seeing wildly NSFW fics in the "Related" box for my harmless little pieces, but thankfully the site's algorithm seems to avoid that. A shame we still don't have a less crude date-range filter, and the new search box is useless unless you use the exact fic title, but still. Anyway, it's time to play the music review five more pony fanfics. One of those weeks when the Pick pretty much chose itself.

Pick of the fics

Happily Ever After by Benman
Cadance and Shining Armor
Romance/Tragedy; 3K words; Oct 2012; Everyone
The royal couple's marriage is coming under strain; Shining thinks he knows what needs to be done. This is a brilliant illustration of how a sufficiently skilled writer can create a truly unsettling story within the confines of an Everyone rating. Uses the spelling "Cadence" throughout, if that bothers you. I can't say much more without spoilers, but this one is sure to leave its mark. 9/10

Other stories

Forgiveness by duvagr007
OC, Granny Smith, Big Mac and Apple Bloom
Tragedy/Sad/Slice of Life; 2K words; Aug 2012; Everyone
A Timberwolf POV story: the protagonist commits a terrible act, then explores his feelings about what he's done. This reminds me of some of the less accomplished entries in the EqD "Outside Insight" contest: the underlying idea is moderately interesting, but the execution is lacking: huge blocks of text, a strange POV shift late on, some capitalisation errors and a ridiculously rushed ending. 4/10

Lament of a Spoon by Zytheros
Silver Spoon
Slice of Life; 6K words; Jun 2012; Everyone
Silver Spoon wonders whether tagging along with Diamond Tiara's bullying is the best way to go. Quite an interesting concept, with decent characterisation – and SS's odd linguistic style is explained in-story. It's not believable that Rarity would show up "fashionably late" to a serious fire, though, and indeed that whole scene feels out of sync with the rest of the fic. A little gentle crush-style shipping here and there. 6.5/10

The Last Earth Pony by Palm Palette
Pinkie Pie
Slice of Life/Alternate Universe; 4K words; Jun 2014; Everyone
Poor Pinkie Pie: the only pony in Equestria never to have got wings, and her friends don't seem all that considerate. Pinkie stories are often bizarre, but this one tries a bit too hard and the charm is diminished as a result. Some clever wordplay (I like "aurora rainborealis") but also that scourge of ponyfic, Applejack's dreaded "Ah-speak". A few typos (eg "pegasai"*) but nothing terrible. A truly weird ending, but not the obvious one I thought I could see coming, so kudos for that. 5.5/10
* See the comments for a discussion of this specific word

Scotchtavia by 8_Bit
Vinyl Scratch and Octavia
Romance/Slice of Life; 3K words; Apr 2014; Teen
Unlike most of the fandom, I can take or leave this pairing, but this isn't a bad story at all. After a night on the town, an intoxicated Octavia tells Vinyl something really surprising. I haven't seen this idea treated seriously before, and the revelation was genuinely startling, though I'm not sure the explanation given entirely holds up. The interplay between the two ponies is nicely done, and it's a brisk read. A strange tense shift near the end. One of the very few ponyfics to capitalise words like "Unicorn". One very dodgy joke, included as a deliberate plot point. 7.5/10

Monday, 1 December 2014

Hearth's Warming Special?

I'm considering what to do about Hearth's Warming this year, as far as this blog is concerned. If I do a Ponyfic Roundup on a Wednesday as usual, that will be Christmas Eve. I tend to avoid the internet for the most part on Christmas Day, so I might make any extra post a Boxing Day special. At the moment, I'm thinking about reviewing the Daring Do Adventure Collection, since I've got that sitting next to me as I type. But that's not final, and it's possible I may do something else entirely. Or nothing. Because I'm annoying like that. :P

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Comic review: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic issue #25

IDW MLP:FiM comic #25, cover A
Price's A cover just beat out Richard's B for me
The latest arc in the My Little Pony main series, "The Good, the Bad and the Ponies", is a two-part Cook/Price/Breckel affair – and so will be the following one, apparently. I have somewhat mixed feelings about that: these guys have produced some wonderful comics over the time they've been doing it, but I am getting a bit irritated with their clear lack of interest in the pegasi. Fluttershy especially, of course, but Rainbow Dash doesn't tend to get much love, either. Is it better this time round? Let's see.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Ponyfic Roundup 32

Like an idiot, a feature I would really love to be added to FimFiction slipped my mind when Knighty asked for suggestions the other day. To wit: I'd like to have a small memo space (50 characters would be enough) by each story on my "Read Later" list, so I can remind myself of why I added it. For example, noting the identity of the person who'd recommended it. I do have a "Notes" column in Calibre, but this would be much more straightforward.

But back to the task in hoof. This week, as usual, there are five stories under consideration. It's not the most exciting edition of PR for those who like to see either astounding brilliance or astounding incompetence in their reading, but I'd imagine at least one or two of these will suit most tastes.

Pick of the fics

A Teacher with No Class by Kavonde
Blueblood, Cheerilee, CMC, Diamond Tiara and Dinky
Comedy/Slice of Life; 5K words; Aug 2012; Everyone
The author of An Outsider's Perspective (PR 27) had a hit with this Blueblood comedy in 2012. A special guest speaker comes to talk about government to Cheerilee's class... and it's the Royal Pain himself. This is lots of fun for most of its length, but with a twist near the end into a very different type of story. A few small quibbles (even in a 2012 fic, do we really need a description of the CMC?) but certainly worth a tea break. 8/10

Other stories

Dictated, Not Read by device heretic
Twilight, Celestia and Others
Sad/Slice of Life; 3K words; Jun 2012; Everyone
The author has apparently long since departed FimFic after some before-my-time drama, but at least they left us this. (Yes, and Eternal, I know...) Twilight's latest letter to Celestia is a little out of the ordinary, as she discusses a disliked Hearth's Warming gift from long ago. Really rather affecting. The only reason this doesn't score higher is that Twi's bitterness towards her parents seems a little over-the-top for her, especially in the circumstances of the story (vague because spoilers). 8/10

The Light in the Darkness by zaptiftun
Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie and Mane Six
Slice of Life; 5K words; Mar 2012; Everyone
A RainPie hurt/comfort friendshipping story. Dash comes home of an evening to find Pinkie in a dreadful state after a nightmare – one which bears a (deliberately) close resemblance to a certain infamous Pinkiefic of yore. A few typos and overlong paragraphs, while an our-world reference feels odd, even for a Pinkie story, but it's not disastrous. Does show its age, but not always in a bad way. 6.5/10

That Familiar Pain by Nightroad
Fluttershy and Twilight
Sad; 2K words; May 2013; Everyone
Fluttershy is always sad when Mother's Day rolls around – but this year, she's going to tell her wife (unicorn Twilight) just why. That's actually my main problem: it doesn't convince that Fluttershy, seven years into that relationship, would not have told Twi something as important as this. A comment about Rarity's mother is also unbelievable. Deliberately written without any direct speech, which mostly works but does feel forced at times. Still, quite readable on its own terms, so 5/10.

A True, True Friend? by Blazewing
Spike, Luna and Mane Six
Sad/Slice of Life; 9K words; Apr 2014; Everyone
Spike has finally had enough of not being invited when the Mane Six go to have fun, and ends up talking over his feelings with Princess Luna before confronting Twilight. It's a little sledgehammer with the "Spike deserves better" message in places, while the resolution is awfully convenient and drags on slightly, but it's still worth a look, especially for fans of the little dragon. 7/10

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Not-actually-new story by me: "By the Seashore"

"By the Seashore" cover picture
This was taken in northern Scotland, believe it or not
I never actually got round to posting about this little story when I wrote it. It's a simple, hopefully gently amusing, friendshipping piece which plays around with a notion stemming from something mentioned almost in passing in a show episode.

By the Seashore by Loganberry
Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash and Other
Slice of Life; 1K words; Sep 2014; Everyone
Harry the bear is vacationing in his favourite spot: a nice, quiet beach. Fluttershy decides to pay him a visit and persuades Rainbow Dash to accompany her – but why is it so important for the two of them to go digging around in the sand before they reach Harry's place?

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Accolades and aspirations

Haven picked up second place (out of ten entries, of which at least eight were serious attempts) in the Weekly Contests flash fiction contest. I'm quite pleased with that, since I did wonder whether my decision to go all-out with the coloured text might count against it. It also maintains my record of never having actually won a ponyfic writing contest of any kind. :P

Meanwhile, We Who with Songs Beguile was accepted into Twilight's Library, the fourth of my stories to achieve that status. I would have been quite disappointed if it hadn't been accepted, actually: it's not a work of staggering genius, but I think it meets all TL's requirements well enough. And it did hold up decently against some very high-powered competition, which is more than I've managed before!

I'm currently working on a short story (I know, amazing, isn't it?) for the Hearth's Warming Heart-Warming Contest organised by The MLP Fan Club!!!! group. Yes, that's how they style themselves. I'm rather attracted by the idea of writing something simple and cute, since I don't often go down that route with ponyfic. I've never entered a contest in this group before, so I don't know what they like, but we'll see!

Friday, 21 November 2014

Comic review: MLP Friends Forever #11: Spitfire and Rainbow Dash

MLP Friends Forever comic issue #11, front cover
The foals are based on G1 ponies: Melody bottom left, Heart Throb bottom right, etc
Been a while, hasn't it? You can blame that on the autumn cold that's been attacking me. I know there's already another comic out after this one, and I will try to catch up. Anyway, here's Friends Forever issue #11. Yes, it's written by Ted Anderson, so if that's a red line to you then I'll see you next time. For the rest of us, this RainFire team-up (hey, better than SpitDash!) brings a new artist to the scene in the shape of Jay Fosgitt. This'll be a fairly short review on account of my health, so let's go:

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Ponyfic Roundup 31: Special Edition

Way back in the summer, I started to read what (if it's ever finished) will be a quite enormous cycle of 12 books by "Imploding Colon", one of shortskirtsandexplosions' alt accounts. Austraeoh is the first book in the sequence. It has over 15,000 views and a votes ratio of +1,297/-46, but does it deserve such a stellar following and reputation? It took me months, but I did finish it:

Austraeoh by Imploding Colon
Rainbow Dash
Random/Adventure/Alternate Universe; 213K words; Oct 2012; Teen
The sum total of the description for this story is "Rainbow Dash flies east." The rest only becomes clear as the story progresses. It's a highly episodic story, with only a thin (though important) thread of connecting narrative. Scenes vary between imaginative and dull, gripping and annoying. At its best, the world-building is fascinating. Horribly overblown language early on thankfully settles down, but sadly the proofreading doesn't: far too many typos and weird word choices. (My favourite is a character "strolling icily".) Not even close to the greatest fanfic I've read, but worth ploughing through if you like world-building and episodic adventures with OCs – and have a high tolerance for Rainbow Dash. 6.5/10

All right. Now for my more detailed thoughts: these will contain lots of spoilers. If that doesn't matter to you, read on...

Monday, 17 November 2014

Austraeoh review coming up on Wednesday

I'm no longer doing the "Awards" posts every ten issues of Ponyfic Roundup. They seemed pretty pointless given that I score fics, and nobody seemed to care for them anyway. Even me. So, instead, PR 31 will be a special devoted to one fic: Imploding Colon's 213K-word story, Austraeoh. Those of you who want to see me rip shreds in a famous and highly-rated fic will get partial satisfaction, but don't expect a total evisceration. More on Wednesday!

(Also, I now have the Rainbow/Spitfire Friends Forever comic. Review of that coming this week, too.)

Official Season 5 teaser trailer released


Oh yes it is! The above video was released today on the official MLP YouTube account, also confirming release for spring 2015. The video is spoiler-free, so you're safe watching. The one intriguing line is "But nothing can prepare her [Twilight] for what comes next." And here's why I have a speculation tag on this post! Of course, you could argue that every season could justify a line like that – there's always something weird going on – but I wonder, I just wonder, whether there might be something really big and startling happening in S5.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

New story (of a sort) by me: Haven

This one is a little unusual: it was written for Contest #11 in the Weekly Contests group on FimFiction. This one was a flash fiction contest: the maximum word count was 100, the prompt was "Lighthouse" and the extra challenge was to use coloured text. I may have gone a teeny bit overboard with the last one, but none of the colour was added entirely gratuitously. Ask me why such-and-such a word is such-and-such a colour and I'll have an answer. Anyway, here it is: spot on 100 words, not counting the title:

Haven

It’s not always fun being famous, you know.

Sure, I like ponies to admire me – what pegasus wouldn’t? But if it burns too brightly, a star becomes blinding to look at. 

You want me to explain? Well... back in Cloudsdale, there’s this big lighthouse. Only inland lighthouse in Equestria. I worked there when I was just out of school. Didn’t stay long. Couldn’t...

It’s at the top of the Weather Factoryyou know why it’s there? Simple: to make sure weak fliers stay safe around rainbows. 

I learned something important the hard way up there: that lighthouse works both ways.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Ponyfic Roundup 30

My goodness, PR 30? I really didn't expect to make it this far! Anyway, a little sidetrack before I start: The Royal Guard over on FimFic has a ponypower shortage. This isn't a group that I've ever had anything to do with personally – Twilight's Library is more my thing and I'm iffy about reports I've read that TRG can be too concerned with technical minutiae, rather than how good a read a story is. (And that's me, typo-whinger extraordinaire, saying that!) But it would still be a shame to see it go under.

All right, on to this week's batch. It's a strange week when the winner is a Human fic, while a story widely accepted as one of the fandom's all-time classics is relegated to an also-ran position. But I can only tell it as I read it...

Pick of the fics

A Brush with Beauty by Burruku_Pansa
Pinkie Pie and Applejack
Human; 6K words; Jun 2014; Everyone
That rare thing, a properly good Human story – written, unsurprisingly, for that "Most Dangerous Game" contest (that I wish I'd discovered in time!) a few months back. The description makes the human protagonist seem about as boring and grey as possible, but you'd be surprised. As you read, it gradually becomes clear that his life is far from normal. Shifting perspective comes as a surprise, but there's a good reason. 8/10

Other stories

An Angel Lost by Mayhem Darkshadow
Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy
Sad/Slice of Life; 5K words; Jul 2013; Everyone
A story with a +95/-3 score, written by a well-known name? Has to be great, yes? Actually... no. It's by no means awful, but this hurt/comfort story of Rainbow Dash trying to help her best friend after the tragedy alluded to by the title doesn't really gel. It badly needs proofreading, for one thing, while Fluttershy coming out with a long, descriptive monologue while apparently barely able to function in everyday life simply doesn't work. I'm not personally convinced by 'Shy's boozing, either, even in these extreme circumstances. 5/10

Every Little Bit by The Descendant
Rainbow Dash, Spike, Twilight, Rarity and Scootaloo
Slice of Life; 18K words; Sep 2013; Teen
Rainbow Dash offers a kiss as a charity auction prize, but is humiliated by a roomful of mouthy teenage colts. As usual for this author, it's well written and Spike is particularly interestingly portrayed. His relationship with Twilight is interesting, and some may feel an (apparently unintentional) TwiDash subtext, too. Unfortunately, the auction scene is overlong, while the colts' distasteful behaviour grates a little too much with my own notions of Ponyville society for me to truly love it. Highly recommended for Spike fans, though. 7.5/10

Rainbow Dash Watches Clouds by Ezn
Rainbow Dash
Slice of Life; 1K words; Aug 2012; Everyone
Yes, this is a little piece by the author of FimFic's Writing Guide, so it's a relief to find that it's decently written! I can't really think of a great deal to say about it: it has a nice atmosphere to it and is pleasant reading, but it evaporated from my memory rather as a cloud dissipates in the summer sky. Insubstantial but containing some nice imagery. One for when you have a few minutes to spare and want something that doesn't demand too much deep thinking. 7/10

Sunny Skies All Day Long by PhantomFox
Celestia and Mane Six
Slice of Life; 9K words; Apr 2012; Everyone
Probably everyone at least knows of this fic, which has been winning awards for over two years now. Celestia, fed up with all the bowing and scraping, disguises herself as an ordinary pegasus and spends the day in Ponyville. This is undoubtedly one of the more "episode-like" stories out there, and it's a pleasant enough read. What it isn't (any more, at least) is exceptional. Bits and pieces of characterisation feel a little off, and there are a surprising number of small typos. Worth reading, but it surely wouldn't be considered a classic if written today. 7/10

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Film review: Rainbow Rocks

Rainbow Rocks title screen
I guess they still have to get their heart shapes in there somewhere
It's Rainbow Rocks review time! As was the case with the first Equestria Girls film, I wanted to wait until I'd seen the thing in an official screening before writing this – but having now seen it at the cinema, I can get cracking. The hype before the film came out was much larger (and more brony-targeted) than the first time round, and there was a lot less hostility from the fandom at large. That was a double-edged sword, though: could Rainbow Rocks live up to expectations? Spoilers from here on in!

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Ponyfic Roundup 29

In honour of Bonfire Night, I present... a completely non-special edition of Ponyfic Roundup. :P It's back to the usual format after the slew of EqD contest entries I reviewed last week. Since I do this in large part for myself (which is a good job, looking at my blog's recently-diminished view and comment count!) I'm once again confining myself to short stories. No real standouts this week, but that's just the way it goes sometimes.

Pick of the fics

Our Weary Daughter, Rest by HoofBitingActionOverload
Applejack
Adventure; 2K words; Jul 2014; Everyone
Applejack is travelling – utterly alone – along a forgotten, dusty road. Why is she doing it? Where are her friends and family? What, indeed, is her final destination to be? The writing is good enough that the answers to these questions do slowly become clear as you read. One or two minor typos apart, it's nicely proofread, too. An interesting stylistic touch is that there is no dialogue whatsoever: it's all description. I can't say this moved me quite as deeply as it clearly has others, but it was still worthwhile. 7.5/10

Other stories

Clock is Ticking by InfantHorizon
Twilight and Rainbow Dash
Tragedy/Sad/Dark; 4K words; Aug 2014; Mature (Gore)
Yes, it's a gorefic. Not usually my sort of thing at all, but I thought I'd give it a go after the author made major revisions to their (apparently terrible) initial version. Twilight wakes in a dark room, accompanied only by a ticking clock. Turns out the pony responsible for her torture is a diseased Rainbow Dash. The science doesn't make a whole lot of sense and I had serious problems with the characterisation, but the writing is smoother than usual for this sort of story. Even the gore quotient is manageable until about the three-quarter mark. In the end, though, it still reads like a gorefic first and a ponyfic second, and I can't really enjoy that. 3/10

Sprinkles by Corejo
Pinkie Pie and Twilight
Comedy/Slice of Life; 3K words; Nov 2012; Everyone
A cute little fic by the author of Reading Rainbow (PR 23). Pinkie decides to teach Twilight how to bake, and Twi is confident she can do it. Thanks to book learning, naturally. Er... no. But Pinkie does end up teaching her friend something even more important. Not a particularly deep or meaningful story, but it's rather heartwarming and just right if you want something short and undemanding. 7/10

Styx Enterprises by JLB
Diamond Tiara and Others
Dark/Comedy; 3K words; Oct 2014; Teen
Filthy Rich has a problem with his latest contract deal. He also has a problem – as usual – with his wayward daughter. However, it's the identity of the two visitors that really matters here. Quite an interesting black comedy, albeit nothing all that original in terms of its subject matter. The prose is a bit choppy and rambly at times, though, and a certain amount of tense-mixing is present even after revision. 5.5/10

Twilight the Book Worm by Derpator
Twilight and Rarity
Random; 2K words; Aug 2014; Everyone
Rarity goes to get a book from the library... but Twilight, in an effort to get even closer to her beloved volumes, has transformed herself into a book worm. Yes, I know, it does sound almost like a Blueshift story... but unfortunately the quality of this one doesn't quite match up. It's quite fun, but there are too many unconvincing bits: for example, would Rarity be caught dead with a book called Fabrics 101 or Twilight simply give away Owlowiscious? The ending is abrupt, too. 5/10

Monday, 3 November 2014

Well, there's a nice Monday surprise

Front page of Twilight's Library just now. Which explains where the sudden little bump in new readers for This Fragment of Life has come from, seeing as it's not the newest story of mine. This is probably the answer. Yes, yes, I know that having a fic featured on Twilight's Library like this is not quite the same as winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, less still having the entire staff of the Royal Canterlot Library down their keyboards quills on the grounds that they will never again encounter a story of such unquestionable brilliance. But for me, it's quite a big deal. :)

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Rainbow Rocks at the cinema

I went to see Rainbow Rocks at the Worcester Vue cinema this morning, in company with seven or eight others. We were the only people in the auditorium apart from one family (three people) several rows in front. Unsurprising, as the film's already been out for a week and it's half-term so there was more scope than usual for families to visit on weekdays.

And... I really enjoyed it. Yes, like many people I'd already seen the film through other means, but seeing it in the cinema made a big difference. Especially with the sound: a proper cinema surround sound setup really helped with the music. And given the importance of music to the movie, that was a big thing. I'd absolutely recommend people go to a cinema screening if they can.

And yes, there'll be a full review at some point in the next few weeks. I can't promise exactly how soon it will be, but there'll definitely be one before Christmas. Hopefully much sooner than that.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Ponyfic Roundup Extra: Outside Insight entries: top ten and final thoughts

Frankly, my first thought is one of admiration crossed with "What were they thinking?" for those who slogged through all 100+ stories that were entered into this competition. The 22 tales that I read were quite enough for me, and those were the good entries! Anyway, although this certainly isn't something I'd like to do very often, I did find some very enjoyable fics in my four-week journey. So here, after a little consideration to break some ties, is my personal top ten:

1. Moonlight Palaver by Carabas
2. Queen of Queens by JawJoe
3. Changeling: The Movie by Obselescence
4. Rise by Blueshift
5. Veni, Vidi, Verti by thesecret1
6. Cranky Doodle Donkey's Bad Asssssss Day by Einhander
7. An Outsider's Perspective by Kavonde
8. The Last Trumpet's Call by Cold in Gardez
9. I Am Demon by Aquaman
10. Pride by InquisitorM

Let me stress that this is a top 10 based on enjoyability, not strict adherence to the contest prompt. A few of those fics, including the winner, sailed quite close to the wind in terms of keeping to that prompt, and might have scored lower had I been focusing on that criterion. But Moonlight Palaver wins by virtue of being immensely enjoyable all round. I don't think it necessarily has the broadest appeal, but I liked its style and that's what matters around here.

Someone's bound to ask, so... where would I have placed my own We Who with Songs Beguile, had it been written by someone else? I'm not much good at rating my own stories, but I like to think it would have got good marks for originality of POV species choice, narrative voice, avian vocabulary and general enjoyability. However, it would have lost out in terms of its limited complexity and depth, as well as one embarrassing typo that went unspotted for weeks. ("Pink-Yellow" instead of "Yellow-Pink": significant in context.)

All that being so, I think WWwSB might have crept into the lower reaches of my top ten, though it would have struggled to have got any higher than that. Actually, I think I'm justified in feeling a little bit disappointed that it wasn't one of the 15 stories with some sort of mention in the actual contest's results. It did follow the prompt considerably better than some fics here, after all. There! For those of you who've stuck with me all this way, a little controversy right at the end!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Ponyfic Roundup 28: Outside Insight finalists, 4/4

And that's the lot! Here are my reviews of the final six entrants for the EqD "Outside Insight" contest. Three excellent fics and three okay-to-good fics this time. I'll be making a special extra post tomorrow giving some final thoughts – and my top ten. There are several draws in terms of ranking scores, so I'll need to think a little about tie-breaking, hence the slight delay. Next week, it'll be back to the usual format for Ponyfic Roundup, with a wider variety of fics.

Pick of the fics

Moonlight Palaver by Carabas
Celestia and OCs
Comedy/Slice of Life; 7K words; Aug 2014; Everyone
Pushing it a bit in pure contest-prompt terms but as a story in its own right, which is how I'm rating here, I loved it. The sun doesn't rise one day (it's set at Nightmare Moon time) and the various other nations of the region meet up to discuss what to do. For which, read "bicker at each other". The characters are a great deal of fun (especially the Tyrant and the Crown) and the story rolls along at a nice pace. Even has a Colossal Cave reference slipped in. Should have an OC tag, though. 9/10

Other stories

Changeling: The Movie by Obselescence
Chrysalis, Changelings and Twilight
Comedy; 9K words; Aug 2014; Everyone
Chrysalis decides to make a documentary about ponies to assist in future invasion plans. This is pretty much the sort of thing I might write if I were a  better writer. It's very funny and I love Chrysalis's snarkiness. Unsurprisingly, then, it scores well: it came within a whisker of winning Pick this week, but a slightly predictable ending just cost it top spot. The relationship (such as it is) between Chrysalis and Twilight is undoubtedly the highlight. 8.5/10

Cranky Doodle Donkey's Bad Asssssss Day by Einhander
Cranky Doodle Donkey, Matilda, Pinkie Pie and Caramel
Romance/Dark/Comedy; 9K words; Aug 2014; Everyone
Ooh, interesting combination of genre tags! Cranky tells us, in his own inimitable style, how he wound up in jail for running over Pinkie Pie. On Hearts and Hooves Day, too. That narration is the best thing about this one: Cranky's tone is utterly believable and his complex relationship with Pinkie generally works well. The party pony herself is... well, she's Pinkie. A few mis-steps (since when did Ponyville have cops?) and it could do with a little editing, but the heartwarming ending got to this old softy. As such, 8/10.

Her Scarf Fluttered in the Absence of Wind by ArgonMatrix
Cadance and OC
Slice of Life; 5K words; Aug 2014; Everyone
A pre-ascension Cadance falls into a dragon's lair. The dragon is not inclined to help her out. I had a lot of trouble scoring this one: it all makes sense and I liked the parallels between Cadance and the dragon. It didn't move me quite as much as I'd have expected, though. Another story that teeters on the edge of compliance to the prompt. 7/10

Sylphidine by RazgrizS57
OCs
Slice of Life; 5K words; Aug 2014; Everyone
I'm a simple soul, and sometimes stories just confuse me. This tale of an air elemental's perception of the equine world was one such, at least for the first few pages. Things do get a little clearer after a bit, but for a short story I think that took slightly too long. From a contest perspective, maybe also too much bordering on pony POV when Twilight talks to Spike. (Only printing one half of the conversation doesn't get you out of that one!) Technically fine, but I found it a bit of a slog to get through. 5/10

Veni, Vidi, Verti by thesecret1
Changelings and Rainbow Dash
Adventure; 13K words; Aug 2014; Teen
Ah, a changeling story not from Chrysalis's POV! Here, we follow Crypsis on her mission to infiltrate Ponyville. Lots of quite detailed description in the first half, which some readers won't like (I do) but later on, things broaden out quite a lot. A take on how the hive mind works that I haven't seen before, and an interesting stallion OC. The ending is also interesting and one you might not see coming. 8.5/10

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Comic review: MLP Friends Forever #10: Fluttershy and Iron Will

MLP Friends Forever #10 main cover
This is an incredible cover. Geddit? No? Oh, never mind
It's comic review time again! This month, Friends Forever features a combination we haven't seen since "Putting Your Hoof Down" back in S2 of the show itself: Best Pony with Best Minotaur. What could possibly go wrong? Christina Rice, who wrote last month's pretty good Granny/FlimFlam issue, has the writing job once again, while stalwart Agnes Garbowska brings her distinctive artistic style to the table. (You see? I can write pointless advertorialese no problem.)

Monday, 27 October 2014

While I'm on a run of talking about fanfic...

...I might as well make a post I've been thinking about for ages: namely, how I choose the stories I read for Ponyfic Roundup. Obviously the current run are all taken from the "Outside Insight" contest finalists, but I usually prefer to cull my fics from a much wider range of sources. They need to be complete, but what else? Well, fulfilling these criteria, although they're (mostly) not absolutes, helps a fic to find its way up my list:
  1. On FimFiction. FanFiction is horrible and Google Docs is clunky.
  2. Under 10,000 words. Under 5,000 words is better still.
  3. Not clop. At least, not all clop and not clop for clop's sake.
  4. Not foalcon. This one is the only non-negotiable criterion.
  5. Not a trollfic. I find almost all of those boring beyond belief.
  6. By an author who isn't too Horse Famous already.
  7. Written in reasonably comprehensible English.
  8. Not a crossover. Yeah, I read "Fallout: Equestria". Lump it.
  9. Readable on a black-and-white, text-only e-reader.
  10. In the canon Friendship is Magic universe.
  11. Not a gorefest. The [Gore] tag covers a multitude of sins.
  12. Features Fluttershy. Or, to a lesser extent, Scootaloo.
I probably could have thought of some more had I not dashed this list off in five minutes, but it gives a reasonable idea. Note that this is just how I choose fics in the first place: actually rating them is another matter. That's very simple: I award marks on how much I enjoyed a story. MLP means escapism for me, so give me a light, fun romp over a savage allegory on the eternal nature of human suffering any day. Well, most days.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

New story by me: "It Doesn't Matter Now"

"It Doesn't Matter Now" fanfic cover image
"If you are sad or blue..."
I do now have the Fluttershy/Iron Will Friends Forever comic, so a review of that will be along during the next few days. Meanwhile, here's a little something I knocked up for a UK of Equestria writing contest (this one had a free prompt). It's short even by my standards at barely 1,300 words, but I think it turned out okay given that I had to write it in a couple of hours.

It Doesn't Matter Now by Loganberry
Pinkie Pie and OC
Random; 1K words; Oct 2014; Everyone
The Spirit Pony is responsible for the End of All That Ever Was. It has always been so. This job looks like being a particularly clean one – until a certain pink pony intervenes to prevent it happening. Pinkie has a very, very good reason for stopping the Spirit, too...