Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Ponyfic Roundup 175: Spotlight on The Arbitrage of Moments

This wasn't originally going to be a Spotlight review, but I've discovered I've got more to say about GaPJaxie's fic – which, incidentally, is the only story on Fimfiction to have the word "arbitrage" in its title – than I can fit into my usual single paragraph. Here we go, then...

Read it Later story count: 396 (-1)

The Arbitrage of Moments by GapJaxie
Twilight, OC and Mane Six
Sad/Slice of Life; 12k words; Jun 2013; Teen
When you have so little, and another has so much, it’s easy to justify theft. The more precious the commodity, the easier it is to tell yourself you need it more than they do. And what is more precious than time?
This is a really thought-provoking story, though which thoughts it provokes are likely to vary from reader to reader. At its heart is Applejack reading a diary, and later on Rainbow Dash's strong reactions to its contents. However, it takes a while to see what's going on, including why Twilight is specifically tagged. The main OC (the journal writer) is somepony who provoked strong feelings, but not all of them aligning. This isn't a story for those who are looking for easy answers, but if you don't mind greyness then it's fascinating. If you read the author's Royal Canterlot Library interview for this fic, you'll discover that he's not entirely happy with it. I haven't read the (much longer) story he feels is better, but despite a few niggles (eg a rather unnecessary final chapter) I still think he did a very good job here. Oh, and for what it's worth, I'm in the "wow" camp regarding a certain highly contentious line that you'll know when you see it. ★★★★

If you don't mind plenty of spoilers, then past the break you'll find some more of my thoughts on this tale.

Yes, the line in question is indeed – as those who've read it will have guessed – when Applejack straight-up accuses Tick Tock of raping Rainbow Dash. As with so much else about TT, it's not as straightforward of that. He does have sex with her while possessing Twilight's body, but it wasn't a pre-existing relationship; it developed entirely after the possession. Personally, I do still think it's rape, just as it is in Cadance in A Minor (PR 93) when disguised Chrysalis has sex with Shining Armor.

I know some people think Applejack's outburst at that point is out of character, inappropriate, cringeworthy or the like. While I can see why they do, and it could have been handled more subtly, I don't think I agree with them. That shocking moment forced me to put the e-reader down for a few moments and think hard about what I'd just read and how it changed – or not – my feelings about Tick Tock. For me, its shock value worked towards the story's success, not against it.

On a wider scale, Tick Tock's story is one of an author seeing whether the reader can have sympathy for the fate of a character who's done something terrible. Not simply what he did to Rainbow, but the way he effectively murdered Twilight, keeping her as a husk of a body for him to use. It's reasonable to ask whether that also counts as rape, and perhaps of a more shocking kind than the one he perpetrated on Dash.

Nevertheless, GaPJaxie succeeded in his mission. In the final pages, it became increasingly clear that this time the story was not going to end with a pony's redemption but with his death, I found myself wishing there could be another way. Knowing that the need to bring Twilight back meant that it was impossible, but almost hating that fact. I almost got to the stage of feeling the heroes were doing the wrong thing. That's impressive.

I found the other ponies' characterisations pretty satisfying on the whole, though I was occasionally reminded of how old this story was, most notably when it came to to Fluttershy's reaction. Although she never appeared on screen, I feel that S7 Fluttershy would have done more than simply hiding in her cottage. Perhaps even S3 'Shy would, given that it was Rainbow Dash of all ponies. The brief glimpse we got of Twilight was okay, though I feel the story would have been stronger without that epilogue.

This fic appeared in 2013, and I do wonder how it might have been received had it been published more recently, after we'd seen what Starlight Glimmer had done and followed her redemption, perhaps in particular "Every Little Thing She Does". While I generally like Starlight, there are some uncomfortable parallels with what she does to the Mane Six there – and that's canon. Just one more thing to think about regarding this fascinating story.

Next time on Ponyfic Roundup: back to a selection of several short fics, and probably nothing as uncomfortable as this one. Probably.

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