Sunday, 21 January 2018

It feels so good to be writing regularly again

It really is working. Chapter 2 of The Danger Within was published yesterday, making this only the second time on Fimfiction (after Where They Understand You) that I've managed a multi-chapter prose piece. As I've said before, the way I'm writing it and the speed I'm publishing at mean it's not going to be any kind of masterpiece, but the simple fact of being able to get at least some words down every day is reward enough for me. If readers enjoy it, and so far at least a few seem to have done, then that's a bonus.

I do, as it happens, have a one-shot taking shape in my mind, and The Danger Within is making it more likely that said one-shot will actually appear eventually. This is a story inspired by "A Health of Information", in particular the part of it dealing with how swamp fever works. I originally wanted to call it Fever Dreams, but as The Descendant has an anthology with that title I'm now using the working title All Set About with Fever-trees, from Kipling's The Elephant's Child. It may well be called something else again by the time it's actually published.

Friday, 19 January 2018

Where it all began

I can't remember how I found it, but someone has a Google album of the 1981 Hasbro Toy Fair catalogue. About two-thirds of the way through, under Hasbro's "Romper Room" brand and just after "MacBath the Silly Sea Slurpent" (I want one!), is a certain My Pretty Pony. The opening words of the description are interesting: "My Pretty Pony is every little girl's dream come true." So even if Bonnie Zacherle didn't mean for the toys she designed to be gender-targeted, Hasbro was on that case right from the start.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Since someone asked..., I don't review all the ponyfic I read. Most, but not all. Every so often, I like just to enjoy reading something. This often happens when the author is someone I know personally, as I tend to find it awkward to review those pieces unless said author has specifically asked me to. After all, if I read such a fic and think it's terrible, I wouldn't enjoy saying so. (I never do, but especially so where the author is a friend.)

The other stories I read but don't review are those which are ongoing. I tend to keep quiet about them as when (if) they are complete I sometimes want to write a review after all. However, one in this category that I will mention is xjuggernaughtx's Cheerilee's Thousand. It's wonderful fun and definitely recommended, but its format (and the demands on its author's time) mean it may never be "finished" as such.

I'm actually just about to start another story that I won't be reviewing, at least not for the foreseeable future: PresentPerfect's The Princess's Captain, described as a "slow-burn romance" featuring Tempest Shadow and Twilight, with considerable emphasis on the "slow-burn" bit. This is being written in serial format, as a series of separate stories, so I may even be able to keep up with it. The setup appeals to me, anyway.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Ponyfic Roundup 187: Go with the Wyvern

The Danger Within has had a reasonable reception so far, though as I expected the fast pace of release has meant a few rough patches. It's got me writing again, though, so it's doing its job. Chapter 2 should be out within a week.

Read it Later story count: 372 (-6)

I don't think this week's title is Googleable, so I'll mention that "Go with the Wyvern" was the slogan used by the now-defunct Midland Red West bus company that operated in Worcestershire in the 1980s and '90s. (Yes, that was part of the inspiration for The Ballad of Wyverns' Rock.) Anyway, here's today's small collection of stories under review:

The Concerns of Butterflies by Jaisen
The Time Twilight Pranked Celestia by Skijarama
Wormy by Fluttrick
My Queen by Bootsy Slickmane

★: 0 | ★★: 1 | ★★★: 2 | ★★★★: 1 | ★★★★★: 0

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Viking ZX's article on "The Indie Hypocrisy"

I was alerted on Present Perfect's Fimfiction blog to this fascinating op-ed article by Viking ZX (known as Max on that site) entitled "The Indie Hypocrisy". It's well worth the read, as are the comments on his Fimf post plugging it. Yes, that's right: a Fimfiction comments thread contains considerably more signal than noise. It does happen occasionally!

The gist of this article is that there's an odd disconnect between the general feeling that indie games, indie movies and so on are great, and the general feeling that indie books are bad. Viking ZX even gives an example where indie books were slagged off in a thread devoted to praising indie games, and reasonably enough feels irritated by the inconsistency.

Various people in the comments (there and on Fimf) who know much more about this than I do have made some fine points, for example the general lack of trustworthy curation for indie books – but one that struck me particularly is one that most certainly applies to fanfic as well. Many people, including me, have made it before in various situations, but it bears repeating:

Assessing writing is time-consuming.

Glance at a picture and you can generally tell within a few seconds whether it's any good and, more to the point, whether you like it. Listen to a song and you probably won't have to wait much longer to form an opinion. But writing isn't like that. A few stories are so good they grab you immediately and never let go. A larger chunk are so bad you know after a paragraph that they're rubbish. But there's a huge slice in the middle where you'll need to spend, at the very least, ten or fifteen minutes seeing how things go.

There is a flip side to this, as ocalhoun mentions in the Fimf comments: writing has a really low barrier to entry. If you can string a few words together, you can publish a story. You're not going to be able to create and publish an indie game unless you have some idea of the fundamentals of programming and design. As such, it's much easier for rubbish to get published in writing. By fanfiction standards, Fimfiction's "write 1,000 words vaguely on-topic and in coherent English" is quite a high barrier, by virtue of being a barrier at all.

Several commenters express sadness that in the Big Wide World of Original Fiction there's nothing really like Fimfiction's community. If you're a voracious reader of ponyfic, how do you decide what to read out of the 100,000-plus fics on the site? In most cases, recommendations will be part of the mix. On the whole, these work fairly well – if a fic is plugged by several people, not all close friends of the author, that's usually a good sign. You might not like the story, but it's rarely objectively bad.

A number of the people commenting on Viking ZX's piece are Proper Writers, in that they write (or seriously want to write) original fiction and sell it to people who have never seen a pastel pony in their lives. But even from my point of view as someone without such ambitions who is comfortable in the easy world of Equestria, I still found it thought-provoking. There is a difference between how indie games and indie books are treated: to what extent does there need to be?

Monday, 15 January 2018

UK Pony conventions old and new

My conbooks from BUCK 2013-14 and UK PonyCon 2014-15-16-17
So... much... nostalgia value
2018 is shaping up to be a very interesting, and potentially record-breaking, year for the UK as far as My Little Pony conventions are concerned. While much of the news from America over the last few months has been of cons calling it a day – Nightmare Nights and EQLA being two big names to do so – here in Britain we're apparently going in the other direction. There are two established cons to consider and two newcomers, so here's what we know so far.

UK PonyCon: venue TBA, date TBA
This is the biggie, being both the longest-running (by far) and the largest British MLP convention. It is unusual both as a multi-generation event and for its extremely strong family-friendly ethos, but as it's sold out three years in a row that approach clearly works. Plans are already well under way, with committee applications having closed earlier this month. I'm biased, having loved almost every minute of UKPC 2017 in Bristol, but this is the convention I'll be aiming at as a priority in 2018. Last year's con was in mid-October and details were announced in late April.

BronyScot: venue TBA, date TBA
Last year, BronyScot in Glasgow was the only specifically brony-targeted convention in the UK. I don't think I've seen any definite confirmation that the con will happen again this year, but BronyScot will have a presence at Hearth's Warming Con in the Netherlands in February. That's a pretty good indication that we can expect a 2018 iteration. Last year, for various reasons, some details were very late in arriving, but with luck that won't happen in 2018. Last year's con was in late November and ticket sales opened in August.

Griffish Isles: venue Manchester, date 19 May 2018
Now we're on to the new conventions. This is a one-day event organised by HypnoHooves, a name well known to many from other conventions and his organising of the regular Lancashire meets. Although exact locations have not yet been revealed, the con website states that there are two, both walking distance from Manchester Piccadilly station. The only reason I can see for having two venues at a single-day con is a separate music event, as with Rock Nessie at BronyScot. Mention of hotels on the website does hint at an evening component.

Sparkle Nights: venue Bristol, date TBA
The fourth UK con of 2018 doesn't have a date, though "sometime in May" was mentioned on its Twitter, but it does have an exact location: the SGS College WISE Campus near Bristol Parkway station. With a team headed up by another familiar name on the UK fandom scene, Jollyoldcinema, this con is aiming for "laughs and fun" and describes itself as "a more teenage/adult event", though a reference to a target age group of 14–25 seems to have disappeared since I first checked the site. Sparkle Nights has the most eye-catching and detailed website of all four cons at the time of publishing.

Some personal thoughts past the cut.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Pony Music Library 50: "My Little Pony Theme (Extended Version)"

PML is 50 not out! I wasn't really expecting to get this far in the series when I started it back in April 2016, but here we are – and I suspect some of you guessed what I'd be featuring to mark the occasion.

What? "My Little Pony Theme (Extended Version)"

Who? Daniel Ingram, Lauren Faust, Anna Bryant, Clifford "Ford" Kinder and Barry Harman

Which? Extended version of FiM opening theme

When? February 2012

Why? Although the video for this says "Leaked", it was officially released that same month as an extra on The Friendship Express DVD. The show theme itself is something many of us skip these days (although not usually me) but it's also a hugely important part of Friendship is Magic. It's barely changed since S1, and though people sometimes complain about that I'm glad. This extended version adds some really nice extra lines about each of the Mane Six, and "We'll make it special every time" is one of my favourite lyrics in any My Little Pony song. The video is also very much in the style of early-fandom PMVs.

In February 2014, Hasbro uploaded a new version to its official account, but in usual Hasbro "music video" style its visuals vary substantially from the original. Besides, it doesn't have the nostalgia value that the original does – after all, that one was only a few weeks old when I came into the fandom. Love it, hate it or somewhere in between, the show theme is at the very core of FiM; after all, the tune's beginning (both here and in the short show version) seems to be hinting at a continuation of G3-style Pony but it then goes far more upbeat and marks a clear break with the former style. As such, it seems an entirely appropriate song to induct on this particular occasion.

Friday, 12 January 2018

And here we go with The Danger Within

Yes! That's right! Logan has actually managed to publish something. It's not going to set the world on fire, or even make it smoulder slightly, but right now I don't care. Right now I'm just so happy that I've got a new bit of ponyfic out there in the big wide world (aka Fimfiction), and that it hasn't instantly attracted 109 downvotes and no likes at all. As I've said there, it will doubtless have its fair share of problems, but I hope it will at least give some of its readers a bit of enjoyment.

This is going to be a longer fic than is usual from me. Well, since I've only ever written one multi-chapter story (Where They Understand You) it doesn't take very much to do that. But The Danger Within will go on for quite some time. And yes, I know there are plenty of downsides to posting the first chapter of a fic before you've actually finished writing it. Tough. The way things were going, it was either do it this way or continue the dry spell for months more. I wasn't prepared to do that.

The Danger Within by Loganberry
Fancy Pants, Fluttershy and Rarity
Adventure; ongoing; started Jan 2018; Teen
A magical accident at a castle garden party leaves Fancy Pants, Rarity and Fluttershy apparently alone in the middle of... somewhere. But where, and how will they make it home?
Yes, it really does have that unoriginal a setup. Again, it was part of the price I had to pay to get myself writing anything again. After all, if I write nothing at all, the probability of ever coming up with something good is zero. As such, no regrets. Join me for... Adventure! With Ponies!

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Ponyfic Roundup 186: Spotlight on The Skyla Pseudonym

I'd enjoyed the first three parts of iisaw's rip-roaring adventure series: The Celestia Code (PR 59), The Luna Cypher (PR 72) and The Twilight Enigma (PR 118), so this fourth instalment was always going to attract my attention. A little later than planned, here are my rambly thoughts on the fic.

Read it Later story count: 378 (+4)

The Skyla Pseudonym by iisaw
Twilight, Flurry Heart and OCs
Adventure; 90k words; Feb–Aug 2017; Teen
Young Flurry Heart has no interest at all in being a prim and proper princess, and would much rather have wild and dangerous adventures like her Aunt Twilight.
This is the best Flurry Heart story I have read. That's rather faint praise I know, but happily in this case it's proper praise too. If you're like me and love the airship pirate bits of iisaw's earlier books, you're in luck as there's plenty of that. However, the world Flurry – now a teenager – and Twilight fetch up in is one which nicely blunts Twi's magical ability and gives a fresh feel to the derring-do. There are several memorable new OCs to savour, too, and the writing is really good in giving a sense of adventure. I'm still not a huge fan of the really wide canvas (to say more would be spoilery!) and the ending feels slightly abrupt, but on the whole it's as epic as I'd hoped. You probably could jump straight in here, but I wouldn't recommend it unless you want to spend the time wondering why the hay there's a kirin on board and what the deal is with Twilight's appearance. Besides, you'd be missing out. It's very very good, and be it understood, you should put it in your queue! ★★★★

I'll expand on this below, although you should expect a lot of spoilers there, so don't proceed unless you've either already read the fic or don't mind reading quite a bit of what happens.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Adventure! With Ponies!

A few days too late, really, but over the last week I've been watching the 1984 BBC adaptation of The Box of Delights. Not just because the railway scenes were filmed down the road from me, either! Obviously the effects are showing their age (though they were almost cutting-edge at the time) and John Masefield should be ashamed of himself for the final scene, but the whole thing has such a seasonal atmosphere to it.

Anyway, on to the main topic of this post:

I am damned if I am going to go a year without publishing anything on Fimfiction, so I am going to write a story. I was originally going to push myself into something and just keep it for myself, but a couple of friends convinced me that someone might enjoy my even-worse-than-usual ramblings, so it'll be published for the world to see and frighten their kids with. (Even if they don't have kids, yes. Don't argue.)

This won't work like an ordinary story. Even mine usually get looked at a bit by other people before they go up, but this is going out as quickly as I can get it down. We're not talking Austraeoh pace or anything, but still, pretty fast. I think I can trust myself not to write anything that actually breaks Fimfiction rules, but this does obviously open me up to the risk of making silly blunders with the story itself. Worth the risk.

Because I couldn't bear the thought of saving a document called Unsaved Document 1,* the story file was first called Adventure! With Ponies!, but a quick skim through a few possibilities to see whether they'd been used for ponyfic before and I settled on The Danger Within. There is a reason, which I'll keep quiet for now. As that title suggests, it will be an adventure story, and one of the old school: a small group of characters making their way through—well, that bit I will also leave unexplained for a while.

* Turns out I'd misremembered and that LibreOffice would have called it Untitled Document 1, which may or may not be any better.

Oh, and the main protagonist will be Fancy Pants. Why? Because I like him and enjoyed writing him in Ever Let the Fancy Roam. Don't worry, he'll have a few other ponies with him so it won't be a monologue. Actually, in keeping with the old-fashioned approach, it will use that somewhat antiquated device known as third-person narration. It won't use coloured text, either, or be written in iambic trimeter. Sorry.

The Danger Within may well be a total mess. But if it's a total mess that gets me writing again and leads to my producing something down the road that's not a total disaster, I think it will be a decent trade-off.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

PMV: "Jump Up Super Star"

I was a bit down recently when HN reported that PinkiePieSwear's PMVs had been made inaccessible. Not just unlisted as they were for a while, but entirely gone from public access. Admittedly "Flutterwonder" is hardly going to disappear from the internet, but not everything is that lucky. There's so much history bound up with them that's gone now, perhaps for good.

So, the appearance of the PMV above, created by Foxy Lee, came as a real tonic. Apart from its subject matter (the movie) this feels like something that could have been made five years ago – and that's a compliment. It harks back to simpler times when PMVs were rather more about having a good time than about spectacular technical achievement. She clearly had fun with this, and so did I.

As it happens, Foxy Lee has also moved her older PMVs away from her main channel, but she's set up the Foxy Archive channel instead. I'm grateful to her for taking the trouble to do that – although it still means the years of old comments are no more (not always a bad thing on YouTube, admittedly), at least those who want a nostalgia hit can still get it.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Fandom events and personal safety

A few days ago, horizon made a blog post over on Fimfiction entitled "The elephant in the equine room", in which he told an alarming tale involving women having their drinks spiked at a BronyCon 2017 room party – with what is mentioned in the comments as being rohypnol. And yes, in this case it really was. Thankfully horizon and others acted swiftly to make sure everyone was safe, but that might not have been the case. Please read that post, in full, before continuing here.

This being Fimfiction, the comments section on horizon's post has been a mixture of serious contributions and, frankly, politically-motivated point-scoring (though horizon has been managing this pretty well), but let's be blunt here:

Our fandom is not magically immune from bad people who want to do bad things. As such, good people need to step up sometimes.

This is a long post, so cut coming up.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

No Ponyfic Roundup today

However, there will be one next Wednesday – when, all being well, I shall be turning the spotlight on iisaw's The Skyla Pseudonym, the fourth in the adventure series that began with The Celestia Code. You're getting no clues now as to what I thought of it; you'll just have to wait another week for that!