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!

All right; let's start with the good stuff. As I mentioned in the spoiler-free review above, Conner does a generally quite decent job of characterisation, with the usual caveat that these are S1-era ponies. The Mane Six, and their male counterparts, are painted with fairly broad strokes, but they're perfectly recognisable. Twilight probably comes off worst, and can feel rather more like a bossy teacher than the rather more agreeable pony she was even back when this fic was written. The R63 counterparts are decent, though, especially female Applejack. The CMC were okay, too, and ditto most of the background ponies. Even Celestia is better handled than she is by many writers.

And now, since it's what many (most?) people read this for, let's deal with the shipping. This is hugely variable in quality, and can depend on how you read it. Rarity's pursuit of Elusive is sometimes hilarious if you don't take it seriously, but it can feel quite squicky otherwise. The question of whether romancing another pony who is, effectively, yourself counts as incest isn't really tackled properly; The Equestrian Gentlecolt's Perfect for Me (PR 19) did something similar with more skill. Probably the most believable relationships in this story are Pinkie and Bubble's, almost a sort of proto-"Pinkie Pride" at times, and the first one we get: Fluttershy and Butterscotch. Their interactions are actually rather sweet.

The real problem I have with the shipping, though, comes with Twilight and Dusk. To be precise, the epilogue, wherein Solaris (R63'd Celestia) tells the Princess that he'd been watching Twi and Dusk as they shared a bed – for sleeping – to make sure that nothing "untoward" went on. This little passage made me feel more uncomfortable than anything else in the entire story! It felt much worse than the notion we have these days of Luna watching ponies' dreams. Mind you, Celestia's own romance reminds me a little, despite obvious differences, of her love for Good!Sombra in the rather controversial Reflections IDW comic arc.

Let's now turn to the writing. Most writers who make this many basic errors in things like punctuation and word choice (consistently using "t'aint" for "ain't" is just weird) are poor storytellers all round. Conner isn't; his words are often nicely chosen, especially when he's writing comedy. (One other problem this fic has is that it's never quite sure how funny it wants to be.) This all pales in comparison to the hyper-LUS, though: while avoiding names is occasionally necessary given that there are two Applejacks, most of the time it's wildly overdone. "The bookfilly", "a butter pony", "the femme" etc etc. (Conner latches on to "femme" in the second half and uses it ridiculously often.) These are used intensively, even when a pony's name hasn't yet been mentioned in a scene!

This is a truly ridiculous concept for a story, and when it's being written as such, it can be good fun. But some of the bits that are supposed to be terribly dramatic (eg in Rainbow Blitz's house) or terribly emotional (eg some of the farewells) just aren't, partly because the technical problems are so intrusive. I normally dislike listening to audio readings of stories, but I half-wish I'd made an exception for this one, as a good reader could have reduced a lot of the annoyances. It is possible for a shipfic to hold my attention (eg The Games We Play, PR 1) but On a Cross and Arrow only just kept me reading to the end. I don't think I can recommend this unless you love R63 or want to read it for its historical significance.


  1. Sadly, the reading I heard did nothing to alleviate the writing issues, and only helped highlight some of them. :/

  2. I agree. ^^

    OaCaA is not an especially well written story, but it'll always hold a dear place in my heart. The reason I love it so much is that for me, it captures a sense of innocent, joyous adventure that I haven't felt since my youth. In fact, I think I may have subconsciously compared it to The Magical Faraway Tree - a group of friends on a magical adventure in a world that's ever so slightly not like our own. I love the bizarre emotion that suffuses the atmosphere of the whole thing, at times baffling even the characters themselves.

    Oh and there's male versions of the mane six and it's so gosh darn cuuute. ^^ I've never read an R63 story since that ever managed to capture the same feel (aside from the story's own sequel, which sadly might never be finished at the rate it's being updated)

    1. I was never an Enid Blyton fan, so maybe that's part of my problem! ;)