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