Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Ponyfic Roundup 17

It's Wednesday, it's eight o'clock... it's Crackerjack! Ponyfic Roundup! As usual, there are five stories under consideration this week. I haven't come across anything quite as outstanding as last week's Old Friends, but that would have been difficult. There are still some very worthwhile fics here to keep you reading. Since I don't need any more ados, then, let's get ourselves underway...

Pick of the fics

A Gift for 'Shy by Blazewing
Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Mane Six, Spike and Scootaloo
Slice of Life; 8K words; Dec 2012; Everyone
Fluttershy's birthday is fast approaching, but Rainbow Dash can't think what to get her. She goes to ask her friends for advice. Yes, it's a well-worn setup, but Blazewing implements it very well indeed. As well as some very nice FlutterDash friendshipping (much of it without 'Shy actually being present) there's a lovely, heart-warming Dash/Scoots scene. The author made a few changes recently, which I think improve the story. As such it rates 8.5/10.

Other stories

The Incredibly Dense Mind of Rainbow Dash by Chengar Qordath
Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Cloud Kicker and Other
Romance/Comedy; 27K words; Jul 2013; Teen
This is where the Winningverse began, way back in June 2012. (The more recent date given here is that of the updated and refined version of the story; both versions together make that 27K-word count.) It's broad, it's bawdy and it's actually a good deal of fun. Rainbow Dash can't work out why Pinkie wants to spend time with her, while Cloud Kicker and Blossomforth have their own plans. The thing that stops this being truly great is that Dash is so dense at times that it becomes almost ridiculous. 7.5/10

Love Your Difference by BronyDad
Mane Six and Zecora
Comedy/Adventure; 48K words; Mar 2014; Everyone
This story was written for a non-brony audience, which explains its biggest fault: the enormous amount of exposition on stuff that happened in the show itself. It's still worth sticking with, though, because under all that waffle is a really pretty decent story. Various of the Mane Six are magically affected and start acting like other ponies. An old idea, but quite well done. Characterisation is very good, and a later subplot with Fluttershy is well done. Might have managed a 7.5 or even an 8 without all that exposition. 6.5/10

A Rock and a Hard Place by JapaneseTeeth
Maud Pie, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie and Twilight
Comedy/Slice of Life; 4K words; Apr 2014; Everyone
Maud, as we all know, loves rocks. So it's only natural that she'd want to go one step further and actually become a rock for a while. Just to see what it's like. How? By asking Fluttershy to find a cockatrice to do the honours, of course. This is a very silly story, but it all somehow works. The first half is absolute genius, though it dips (very) slightly in interest later on. 8/10

Shiver by Sexy-senpai (author known as "2D-Kun" at review time)
Thunderlane and OCs
Tragedy; 7K words; May 2014; Teen
Set in a dystopian nearish future, this first-person story tells us what became of Thunderlane. Turns out he's living in a barren wilderness, going on mysterious trips every so often. But why? This fic is written in flowery language that more irritated than enthralled me, and it also suffers from some tense mixing. The story has been very well received on FimFiction, but it didn't really manage to get under my skin. Nice portrayal of Rumble, though. 5.5/10

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Comic review: MLP Friends Forever #7: Luna & Pinkie Pie

MLP Friends Forever comic #7 cover
"They didn't have sticks when I was banished"
Apologies for the delay in bringing you the latest My Little Pony: Friends Forever comic review. I had to order in this month's issue, and I've only just received it through the post. Anyway, this time around we have Jeremy Whitley doing the words, Tony Fleecs handling the drawing and Heather Breckel on colouring duties. There's certainly the potential for Luna and Pinkie to make a brilliant double act, but can they pull it off? You know what to do...

Friday, 25 July 2014

New story by me: "Kicking Back"

Kicking Back cover picture
"Why do I look like a squirrel?"
Okay, since I spend week after week recommending other people's fanfics, and I hope having the odd person read them (give me a wave, guys!) I reckon it's only fair that I should be allowed a little self-promotion from time to time. So, that's what I'm going to do right now. I bet you're excited, aren'tcha? No, don't answer that. I'm going to do this anyway, whether you like it or not. The power I hold is terrifying to behold! Mwahaha etc. So, here are the details:

Kicking Back by Loganberry
Cloud Kicker and OC
Comedy/Slice of Life; 2K words; Jul 2014; Teen
Cloud Kicker has reached the end of her tether. Hassled wherever she goes by ponies who insist on seeing her as the town trollop, in reality she simply wants to make friends and have a nice, fun time. Hoping to get Ponyville to see her as the mare she really is, Cloud Kicker hires one of Manehattan's foremost image consultants.

This is not a Winningverse story. That's kind of the point.

What? No, I'm not going to review it or give it a mark out of ten. I think it's rather fun, but then I would. Reviewing it is your job. (Well, assuming you have a FimFiction account. If you don't, you could just leave a comment here. Or eat chocolate biscuits. Your choice.) Go on; it won't take long. It's not as if it's one of those 274-chapter behemoths that infest litter grace FimFiction's vaults, now, is it?

Rather bizarrely, as things stand Kicking Back is easily my least successful story in terms of total views in its first few days, but easily my most successful story in terms of its views:upvotes ratio. I have absolutely no idea what to make of that, but I'd guess that general searchers ignore it because of the lack of Mane Six/CMC/Princesses/Boulder, but those who actually want a Cloud Kicker story with a difference enjoy it.

And because it is my story and this is my blog, I will end by shamelessly plugging it once again: please give Kicking Back a shot! Thank you!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Ponyfic Roundup 16

Could it possibly be time for some more MLP fanfic reviews? It could, you know! As usual, I'm looking at five stories this week. Also, as usual, they're a varied bunch. Still, I think the overall quality is pretty good this time round – and the week's top fic is really quite something. Read on!

Pick of the fics

Old Friends by RBDash47
Sad/Slice of Life; 2K words; Mar 2014; Everyone
The date is misleading; all but a 105-word deleted scene existed a year earlier. Whatever, this is a beautifully written one-shot, an exercise in restrained emotion. It relates the story of a mare's lifelong experiences with her oldest friend. If you don't see the reveal coming, and I didn't, it will assuredly knock the stuffing out of you. Very nearly scored a 10; in any case, quite superb. 9.5/10

Other stories

Bing Bang Zam! by Pegasus Rescue Brigade
Flim and Flam, Derpy, Carrot Top and OCs
Comedy/Slice of Life; 14K words; Dec 2012; Everyone
Flim and Flam, channel-hopping on their TV (in Equestria?) are startled to find another pony using their famous catchphrase. They decide there's only one place to head: to court! It's pretty funny and the OCs are well-drawn, if not all terribly sympathetic (by design). I'm not at all keen on the portrayal of Derpy, though, and that stops this from getting a really high score. 6.5/10

Flutterhug by Servant Phoenix
Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, Silver Spoon and Derpy
Slice of Life; 3K words; May 2014; Everyone
This was written in an attempt to write "the cutest, most heartwarming short story" possible. It succeeds nearly totally, and the fact that it doesn't quite do so is simply a function of its deceptive depth. There's a particularly satisfying subplot involving Silver Spoon, though I have to say I felt a bit sorry for Noteworthy. You'll see! 7.5/10

Princess Celestia Hates Tea by Skywriter
Celestia and Twilight
Comedy; 9K words; Oct 2012; Everyone
This one is interestingly written in what I assume is Celestia's "voice" of rather flowery language. It works pretty well, too. The Princess finally admits to Twilight, after centuries of drinking tea at formal occasions, that she can't stand the stuff. Unfortunately, her admission has unforeseen consequences. Good fun, with a memorable royal speech and an extremely well realised OC side-character. 8/10

A Simple Prank by Bob From Bottles
Twilight, Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy
Slice of Life; 1K words; Jun 2014; Everyone
Pinkie is getting all worked up about a prank that went wrong. Twilight and Fluttershy become concerned and go to speak to her about it. A lightweight, undemanding story that I found mildly amusing. It felt a little too short, though it was written for a minific write-off contest, so this may have been unavoidable. 6/10

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Comic review: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic issue 21

MLP:FiM comic issue 21, cover B
The excellent Cover B, by MLP new boy Bill Forster
The "Reflections" arc that came to an end last month really divided opinion. Some (hi there, 4chan) were wildly negative, some had mixed views and some (like me) loved the thing. This month, we're back to slightly more conventional My Little Pony fare. The first half of a two-issue arc from Ted Anderson and Agnes Garbowska brings back Trixie (not that she'd been gone very long!) and takes us to Manehattan. For more, come with me!

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Ponyfic Roundup 15

If you like My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fanfic, but are feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume, then Ponyfic Roundup is for you! In these posts, I take a (reasonably) regular look at a mix of stories old and new. And you know I said last time that I hoped to find another 9/10 (or above) story one day? Well, looks like "one day" came a bit quicker than I imagined!

Pick of the fics

You Can Fight Fate by Eakin
Twilight, OC and Other
Dark/Adventure; 62K words; Aug 2013; Teen
The rating for this one needs some explanation. I think its predecessor, A Stitch in Time (PR 14) is probably slightly the better read in itself, but this one rounds off the time-loop trilogy that began with Hard Reset (PR 8) in a very satisfying manner. The fact that all the varied plot strands and loose ends are gathered up is very impressive. For once in a ponyfic, the extended Author's Notes at the end are genuinely interesting, too. 9/10

Other stories

A Day with the Wonderbolts by AntiquatedAnnomaly
Rainbow Dash and Wonderbolts
Comedy/Slice of Life; 12K words; Dec 2012; Teen
Rainbow Dash's prize for winning Best Young Flyer was to spend a day with her lifelong idols. This fic tells the story of what happened that day. It's good fun for the most part, with some nice interaction between Spitfire, Soarin and Misty Fly. Dash herself interacts amusingly with them, too. Let down very slightly by a less than compelling ending, but nevertheless this is a pretty solid read. 8/10

Diamond Tiara's New Diversion by Yukito
Rarity, Diamond Tiara and Sweetie Belle
Comedy/Slice of Life; 15K words; Apr 2014; Everyone
Cheerilee tires of Diamond Tiara's feuding with Apple Bloom, and punishes them both. AB has to do farm chores... but DT is sent to work for Rarity. Sweetie Belle is horrified, feeling she's being pushed aside for a bully. Diamond, meanwhile, is – despite herself – getting into her new job. The odd "huh?" moment and some (U-rated) ship-teasing may divide opinion, but an interesting look at a character who's rarely given much depth. 7/10

The Grand Galloping Gallia by opuscon789
Mane Six, Celestia and Blueblood
Crossover; 2K words; Oct 2012; Everyone
This story's full title is (deep breath) The Grand Galloping Gallia (Opuscon789's Cinderella Mash Up), which tells you some of what you need to know. The rest? Well... basically, it's terrible. The characters bear almost zero resemblance to the ponies we know. An apple implodes 15 times a second. Pinkie barfs. Slavery is legal (but only if you're "paying her to"). It gets a point for giving us the most cherishably ridiculous Fluttershy line in ponyfic history. 1/10

Her Angel by Gumball2
Fluttershy and Angel
Sad/Slice of Life; 7K words; Jun 2014; Everyone
A potentially really interesting wider look at the shared life of Fluttershy and Angel, going back to before they even met. Unfortunately it suffers from an excruciatingly slow-paced opening section, as well as some slightly awkward phrasing. The story is partially redeemed by a rather satisfying ending, but you may not have the patience to get that far. This could have been great at half the length. 4/10

Monday, 14 July 2014

Book review: Pinkie Pie and the Rockin' Pony Party (G. M. Berrow; UK edition)

Pinkie Pie and the Rockin' Pony Party book, UK edition
But isn't Pinkie a pop-up pony in her own right?
I'd been resisting the temptation to buy Orchard's UK edition of G. M. Berrow's second My Little Pony chapter book for some time. For one thing, the original US edition wasn't the best in the series. For another, its predecessor (Twilight Sparkle and the Crystal Heart Spell) had been disappointingly edited for the UK. But when the Worcester branch of Asda had the things on offer at £1.50, well under half RRP, curiosity got the better of me and I picked the book up.

There's not a lot to say, really – other than yes, I'm afraid this book does suffer a similar fate. The title change, though mildly irritating, is (I suppose) reasonable given that "Palooza" isn't a very familiar term on this side of the Atlantic. The colour change for the cover background is love it/hate it, and I can't decide which side of the line I fall. On the plus side, Orchard's book feels much more sturdily put together than the LB Kids original.

But the editing kills it. There's even a chapter title change: "Between a Rock Farm and a Hard Place" becomes "Hard Times on Rock Farm". Much worse, though, is the condensing of the book to remove several of the most amusing asides (how could they remove the Nine Inch Tails reference?!) and the continuation of the idiotic replacement of "everypony" with "everyone". If you don't want words like "everypony" then, well, don't read MLP books!

The better physical construction and the very low discount price apart, there is no reason to favour the UK edition. The US original is available from The Book Depository for just over £3.00, with free p&p. Buy that instead. If you want to support Berrow (and you should) then buy two copies. But not the Orchard one. Even if this isn't the best of Berrow's books, she deserves to have all her words read. This is simply not good enough, Orchard.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

More reviews on the way!

I know I keep saying that this isn't entirely a review blog, and it isn't... but let's face it, it is mostly one! So, upcoming reviews:

Rarity and the Curious Case of Charity (G. M. Berrow) -- I actually bought this when it came out, but I just haven't reviewed it yet! Sneak preview, though: I liked it.

Applejack and the Honest-to-Goodness Switcheroo (G. M. Berrow) -- this comes out next week, which is why I'm feeling guilty about the Rarity book.

The Journal of the Two Sisters (Amy Keating Rogers) -- another book I've had since it appeared.

IDW comics: main-series #21 and Friends Forever #7 -- both out in the next couple of weeks.

That little lot should do to be going on with! Any more will have to wait until I have a bit more cash to spare...

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Ponyfic Roundup 14

It's time once again to delve into the often weird and sometimes wonderful world of My Little Pony fanfiction. My top choice this week is a sequel, and won't be a surprise to anyone who knows how much I enjoyed the first story in its series. Otherwise, there's a real mish-mash. One day I'll find another 9/10 (or above!) story. One day...

Pick of the fics

A Stitch in Time by Eakin
Twilight, Other, Luna, Mane Six and OCs
Romance/Comedy/Slice of Life; 71K words; June 2013; Teen
This is the sequel to the highly enjoyable Hard Reset (PF 8). Twilight is attempting to recover from the time-loop events in that story, but is shocked to learn that her actions have caused serious damage to space and time. Desperate to fix the problem, she calls in... Star Swirl. Yes, that Star Swirl. Generally written in a lighter vein than its predecessor, though there are a few exceptions, and those can be dark indeed. Would have rated 9 if not for a weird chapter involving Pinkie Pie which I didn't think worked too well. 8.5/10

Other stories

"Good Morning, Scootaloo." by ugugg93
Scootaloo and Luna
Romance/Slice of Life; 13K words; Jun 2014; Everyone
I'm not generally a fan of aging up foals so that they can be used in shipfics with a clear conscience, but this story mostly won me over. It begins somewhere just after "Sleepless in Ponyville", but covers a period of many years. The author isn't the best at OC names, and Rainbow Dash's future is, um, odd, but keep reading. The end is genuinely moving, and the best part of the story. 7/10

A Shining Winter by TooShyShy
Twilight, Shining Armor and Cadance
Slice of Life; 3K words; May 2014; Everyone
A simple, cute slice-of-life story giving us a glimpse into Twilight's fillyhood. She's introduced to the joys of the snowball fight by her brother, but gets a bit carried away. There's the occasional bump in the choice of language (even for a budding Royal Guard, "bedroom" would be better than "personal sleeping quarters") but it doesn't irritate too much. A nice ending, too. 7.5/10

Taking Back the Throne by JenkinsRevenge
Celestia, Luna and Other
Tragedy/Dark; 1K words; Aug 2013; Teen
That Other tag should actually be OC. This story, whose title is presumably a reference to the "Discord" song (though he doesn't appear) is a window into a dystopian future "after the princesses left". Unfortunately, it's far too short to give us much interesting detail. It also suffers from some tense mixing and a rather unsatisfying ending. 4/10

That Awkward Moment When... by Hyzaku
Comedy; 1K words; Aug 2012; Teen
This story has a hugely positive balance (+398/-3) but I'm afraid I didn't enjoy it as much as I'd hoped. For one thing, the author uses capitals after speech (eg "Hello." He said.) which drives me up the pole. I'm not sure breakfast can be a "simple ordeal", either. It does throw in an amusing misunderstanding involving two other mares, and there's a brilliant line about Rarity, but it rushes the ending too much. An interesting concept not really fleshed out. 4.5/10

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

It'll be BUCK, Jim, but not as we know it

I can't say that the announcement that BUCK in its present form is most unlikely to continue beyond this year took me entirely by surprise. The con's budget now runs into six figures (of pounds!) and that really is huge for an event in what, in the UK at least, is a bit of a niche fandom. It makes me even more disappointed that I can't go this year, but I'm also even more glad that I made it to last year's edition. (Besides, nothing this year will match the Bridgewater Hall's auditorium for sheer grandeur!)

There have been some fairly heavy hints from the BUCK team that there will be something from them in 2015, but that it won't be what we've known up until this year. It'll be interesting to see whether that's enough to stop anyone else trying to set up their own con. If they're going to do that on any sort of scale, I don't think they can risk waiting months until BUCK makes a final decision. On the other hand, there's clearly a limit to how many MLP cons this country can support in a year.

Now for some musing on the future of British cons. UK Ponycon is probably the safest, since it's long-established and as a multi-gen event doesn't depend entirely on we fickle bronies. BronyScot is an interesting newcomer, on what seems a sensible scale, and I really hope it goes well. GalaCon in Germany seems likely to be where "big con" devotees will head from now on, but that still leaves, to my mind, a gap for a medium-sized con in England or Wales. That gap may end up being filled by "BUCK Redux", of course.

As in so many other things, I'm often out of the mainstream, so a con tailored to my own preferences would probably be a disaster from a financial point of view. But since this is my blog: I don't think I'll ever forget singing "Winter Wrap Up" with hundreds of others in one of the greatest concert venues in the world. Of course the people were the main thing, but they weren't the only thing: the posh venue did make a difference. Similarly, I really like the look of the four-star hotel UK Ponycon will be using this year.

Similarly, the Lunar Eclipse. When I'm not kicking myself (again) for missing most of EileMonty's set, I'm revelling in the memories of hearing Acoustic Brony do "I'll Fly Higher" in that auditorium. It was more special than it would have been in a plain big hall. So my dream would be a standalone brony music event in a place like that, or Birmingham's Symphony Hall. Will it happen? Unless a passing oligarch turns out to be a brony, almost certainly not, on cost grounds. But if it ever does, put me down for a ticket right away.

Going back to BUCK, though: I'm glad they're taking the sensible, professional route here. Pushing on into 2015 and risking having the thing fall apart and the BUCK brand dragged through the mud would have been absurd. In the end, finances have beaten them: no matter how much your costs rise, you can't keep putting prices up by 30% a year and expect everyone to keep shelling out. So yes, BUCK as we knew it will die at the end of August. Hard though it is to say, that's probably for the best in the circumstances. Here's to the future!

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Ponyfic Roundup 13

Will number 13 prove unlucky this week? Actually, no. I've got a mixed bag of stories to feature this time round, one much longer than the others, but there should be enough in here that most people can find something to enjoy. I won't ramble on quite as much as usual as I can't think of anything to say (what do you mean, that doesn't usually stop me?) so let's get on with things.

Pick of the fics

It's a Dangerous Business, Going Out Your Door by Jetfire2012
Rainbow Dash, Applejack, Rarity and OCs
Adventure/Alternate Universe; 147K words; Apr 2014; Teen (Gore)
This well-known story is actually much older than its FimFiction publication date, pre-dating the site itself. It's a classic adventure in the Tolkien mode (the parallels are obvious, occasionally blatantly so) in which three of the Mane Six set out to find what they need to save Twilight's life. Heaps of ideas and interesting OCs, and would have been an easy 9 if only it didn't have a terrible case of Lavender Unicorn Syndrome. Don't be scared off by the Gore tag; it's not too bad. 8.5/10

Other stories

The Birds and the Bees by theworstwriter
CMC and Mane Six
Comedy; 4K words; Oct 2011; Everyone
The Cutie Mark Crusaders want to know how foals are made. So they ask the ponies they think will know best, which is to say the Mane Six. This leads to... well, a lot of silliness and misunderstandings. Poor old Rainbow Dash, that's all I can say! A really, really silly ending, but that's no bad thing. Lightweight fun. 7/10

The Defender of Ponyville by Purple Dalek
Other, Apple Bloom, Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon
Comedy/Slice of Life; 2K words; Apr 2014; Everyone
A short, light comedy starring an oft-neglected background pony, Archer. Actually, I don't think I've ever read another fic with her as the main character. It reads quite like a story aimed at foals, and that's no bad thing. The odd thing niggles, but there is a rather well judged ending. 6.5/10

I Need You to be Brave by MidnightDancer
Twilight, Spike and Discord
Sad/Slice of Life; 3K words; May 2014; Everyone
Quite an odd tale, this one. It's told in first person by Spike, and is set at some unspecified point in the future. As the story goes on, it becomes clear (well, clearer) what's happened. Discord's part in the fic is rather strange, but I suppose that's reasonable for him. A rather moving ending. Hard to rate, but 7/10.

Why Did You Forgive Me? by Fluffy Rose
Fluttershy and Discord
Sad/Slice of Life; 1K words; Apr 2014; Everyone
Set after the S4 finale, this story has Discord ask Fluttershy the question in the title. It's a potentially fascinating one, but sadly a sometimes sweet fic is let down by rather poor writing. The first paragraph is especially off-putting, with several glaring errors. One rather strange reference to "Dragonshy", too. A story that keeps threatening to become something much more, but never quite does so. 5/10