Saturday, 28 February 2015

Royal Canterlot Library

Royal Canterlot Library header showing It Doesn't Matter Now
"Aren't you milking this a bit?"
So, this happened. Looking at the RCL's "Upcoming Features" box, I see that next week it's Aquaman, who won the EQD "Outside Insight" contest in the summer. On alphabetical order, I slot in next to Lucky Dreams, who wrote what may be my favourite fic in this or any other fandom. And then there's me, the "Spike at Your Service" of the RCL. (Hey, that episode had a funny sequence about fanfic! What more do you want?)

Anyway, something that happens when you get featured (he said, trying to sound blasé about the whole thing and failing spectacularly) is that they give you a little exam interview about your writing, some fandom stuff, where all the Biros go, etc. And you can read my interview here. As I said on Fimfiction, there's a virtual biscuit in it if you catch the reference at the end. (The whole quiz thing, not just the final question.) I expect you all will, on account of being clever.

Finally: my interview is almost twice as long as the story itself. There's bound to be a moral in there somewhere, but I'm writing this in the middle of the night, so you'll have to find it yourself. I'm probably busy dying of Better Than Life anyway.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Ponyfic Roundup 46: Allsorts

Not allsorts of the liquorice type, I'm afraid. No, this week I'm looking at another mixed bag of ponyfics. As usual, there are six stories under consideration here, which as it happens were all published in 2014. This was a pleasingly strong week, with several fics which had the credentials to be considered as my Pick. In the end, though, one of them did stand out from the rest, and that's the one I'll be talking about first.

Monday, 23 February 2015

New story by me: Ever Let the Fancy Roam

Cover picture for "Ever Let the Fancy Roam" showing Fancy Pants
Adapted from Fancy Pants by The-Smiling-Pony; CC by-nc-sa 3.0
It's been a couple of months since I published a full-length story, so it's time to end the drought. This was written as a bit of an experiment: the "Characters That Need More Stories" group is running a contest called Making the Most of the Mundane, and I've also found myself writing quite a bit of Slice of Life ponyfic recently. So, I decided to put the two together and make this as slicey a Slice-of-Life story as I could manage. No-one gets murdered, or married, or in a sticky situation over a pound note. Here are the basics:

Ever Let the Fancy Roam by Loganberry
Fancy Pants and OC
Slice of Life; 3K words; Feb 2015; Everyone
Fancy Pants' place in Canterlot's social hierarchy gives him certain obligations. One of these is the hosting of a number of balls, dinner parties and so on. Tonight he will be putting on a small, intimate "At Home" affair for just a few guests. Sadly, Jet Set and Upper Crust will be among their number. Before all that, though, Fancy Pants and his faithful butler, Silver Cloud, need to make the final preparations.

Reaction to this fic has been muted but interesting. Slice of Life is never the easiest genre to write in if you want to attract attention; combine that with a side-character-plus-OC focus and I'm not startled by the fact that it's gaining views more slowly than anything else I've written. So far, I've had three commenters, two going into some detail. First there was a guy called Dzerzhinsky, about whom I know nothing; they were fairly brutal in their assessment, and hated the dialogue. Then there was the rather better known Themaskedferret, who made some pertinent criticisms but loved the dialogue! :P

Weirdly enough, neither Dzerzhinsky nor the two people who upvoted the aforementioned negative comment actually downvoted the fic itself. As I type, it has a +8/-0 thumbscore with a couple of people favouriting it, which I'm fairly satisfied with. It's not my best story, but I think it has some nice elements to it. Don't read this if you're looking for utter hilarity, wild explosions or spine-chilling terror. If you like fics of the "window on somepony's world" variety, though, you might enjoy it.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Writing contests

For a long time, I refused to go anywhere near fanfic-writing contests in the ponyfic world. (Or anywhere else, for that matter.) Part of it was that I was nervous of the competition, part of it was that a lot of them didn't seem very well thought out, part of it was that a lot more of them ended up with two or three entries if you were lucky. So I wrote my stories, put them up on Fimfiction and just generally cruised along. I didn't really give any thought to the idea that I might start entering any fic-writing competitions myself.

And then, last summer, there was the EQD "Outside Insight" contest, whose prompt ("Write a story about ponies from a non-pony's perspective") caught my interest. And so I wrote We Who with Songs Beguile, which ended up making the final. I was very pleased by that, especially considering the quality of the opposition I was up against. And, since then, I've entered several more, albeit on a much smaller scale. I've even managed to win one: It Doesn't Matter Now took the honours in a small contest organised by UK of Equestria.

I'm still not a full-on contest enterer. I completely missed the original "Most Dangerous Game" contest, which is a shame as I'd probably have tried that one. (Its sequel was of much less interest, unfortunately.) And before anyone mentions them: yes, I know about the Writeoff Association's write-offs (guys, what's with the non-agreeing hyphenation?), but they really seem to demand more time than I tend to have available. I need competitions which are pretty much write story, submit story, wait for results!

So, I suspect that I'll continue in much the same vein as I do now: entering the occasional contest simply because the setup catches my eye. Whether I'll ever win another one, who knows, but I think I would encourage other fanfic authors to give the thrill of competition a go from time to time. Just don't worry too much if it all goes horribly wrong: The Light that Ignites in the Dark was one of nine entries for a contest. It came, er, "lower than seventh" along with a fic by a guy named JMac. You may have heard of him. :P

Maybe one of these days I might even try to set up a small-scale contest myself. That sounds like it might be quite a train-wreck fun, actually. Especially as then I wouldn't have to think of anything to write for it! :P

Saturday, 21 February 2015

That S5 premiere date rumour

Okay, so a couple of days ago, the IMDB page for S5 of FiM was edited to put its release date at 4th April. Now, we all know to take things on IMDB with the annual salt output of Middlewich, but this rumour does actually seem to have some legs. It's Easter Saturday, for a start, and a holiday weekend would be a decent place to start a season. Also, given that EG3 is now confirmed for the autumn, an early-April start date would give the S5 finale room to breathe before the film arrived. Rather like what happened with S4 and Rainbow Rocks, actually.

I rather suspect that the first I'll know of a confirmed release date for S5 is when someone notices it in their TV listings guide, a happening which should only be a few weeks away. But if it is 4th April, then it'll be interesting to see how much busier things suddenly become. I'm willing to bet we'll hear rather fewer "The fandom is dying!" laments from then on. (Not that it is anyway. A fandom with 516 new fanfics posted on Fimfiction in the last week is not "dying" in any way I would understand the term.)

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Ponyfic Roundup 45: The Land Before Time

A while back, I reviewed some stories published in the first month of Fimfiction's existence, July 2011. This time, we're going even further into the past and looking at the first six fics to receive Equestria Daily's long-abandoned "6-star" rating. Since most of the stories aren't on Fimfiction, my headings for each story will depart a little from the usual format. For example, I'll decide on the appropriate character tags for myself, and EQD has slightly different genre tags from Fimfiction. I'll also be reviewing the stories in chronological order, though I'll still nominate one as my "Pick of the fics". Finally, there won't be the usual Everyone/Teen/Mature age-rating field, since EQD doesn't use that.

(This is a one-off, by the way. I don't intend to review all the 6-star fics that still exist online; I have too much else I want to read, and besides, Chris has done it very well already, over here on One Man's Pony Ramblings.)

Junior Speedsters Forever! by Pacce
Rainbow Dash and Gilda
no genre tags; 13K words; Jan 2011
Well, here it is: the very first 6-star story, from more than four years ago. It gives the backstory of how Rainbow Dash came to know Gilda and, actually, it's quite a bit better than I was expecting. The relationship between the two principals is interesting, the writing is reasonable, there aren't too many typos, there are some rather nice old-gen references and we even get a brief Derpy backstory – not bad considering that when this went up on EQD, the newest episode was "Call of the Cutie"! It has its problems, notably the excessively long letter that provides the story's climax, but it's better than many a more recent fic. In its day this was both remarkably good and remarkably long. It's no longer either of those, but Gilda fans especially should give it a look. Very nice cover art, too. ★★★

Ponies Discover /co/ by Slywit
Mane Six
Normal/Comedy; 15K words; Feb 2011
I'll confess that I groaned when I saw the title of this one. Yes, it's metafic (of a sort) in which the ponies chance upon a "scroll" from the 4chan board where the fandom was born. To be fair to it, this isn't just a collection of memes past and present – there is some actual story in there too. Some of the references still work, such as the Applejack "silly pony" song; some don't, such as a thankfully-forgotten candy-related meme. This is written like an episode, to the extent of having the credits pasted in after a "cold open", which is jarring these days. Packed with typos in the last third or so, and it's just too much like watching someone else's private jokes for me to enjoy this. Probably fun for the really old guard; for the rest of us, it's a period piece and little more. ★★

Chasing Rainbows by Phoe
Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy
Shipping; 3K words; Mar 2011
Actually a sequel (to Fluttering Heart), but this stands alone well enough. Fluttershy confesses her feelings to Dash, but Rainbow doesn't react as she'd hoped. There's not a lot to this story, and the pacing is a bit too fast for comfort at times, but it's cute and inoffensive. The existence of its prequel reduces (though doesn't entirely solve) the eternal fanfic problem of Suddenly Shipping Syndrome, and there are some genuinely affecting sections. The writing isn't too bad, either, and FlutterDash fans might well find it an interesting, if quick, read. ★★★

Bubbles by anonymous
Derpy and OCs
Sad; 3K words; Mar 2011
Surely the most famous anonymously-written story in the fandom, this is a tear-jerker of a Derpy backstory fic. It's written from Derpy's POV (though in third-person) and does represent her as having learning difficulties, but I don't think it belittles her in that respect. Rather, it gives us her limited view of what the reader will come to find is a larger and sadder story than Derpy realises. I could easily see some people hating this story and finding it a bit on the emotionally manipulative side. I don't take that view: I find it moving and strangely beautiful. It takes the Pick of the fics award for this week. ★★★★

Memorial by Buxton
Sad; 2K words; Mar 2011
Yes, two sad Derpy-POV stories in a row. In this fic, Bright Eyes (as she's called here; I don't think I've ever read another Derpyfic that's used that name) makes her annual pilgrimage to her mother's grave. A straight comparison with Bubbles has only one winner, and it's not this story – Derpy's voice isn't as well captured, for one thing – but I do quite like it, even so. It's a gentler story than its predecessor, and the ending isn't particularly memorable, but I do find Derpy's friendship with Apple Bloom rather touching. ★★★

Constellations by The RPGenius
Normal; 4K words; Mar 2011
The only one of this week's stories that is on Fimfiction (here), the premise of this fic has dated badly. It's about the returned Luna (S1 Luna, of course) coming to terms with ponies' feelings about her night. It's very, very tell-y, and indeed it seems to be written as though being recounted by a storyteller. It also has minimal dialogue. Luna is given an idea which is very interesting, especially in the light of... later Lunar developments, and this provides some interest. I don't like the ending, though, which just seems silly. ★★

Monday, 16 February 2015

Wait for it...!

As one or two of you noticed, I accidentally posted the opening section of Ponyfic Roundup 45 a little while ago. Just an error on my part: I'll be putting the complete set of reviews up at 8 am (UK time) on Wednesday as usual.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Little things can mean so much

Cadance and Fluttershy with the songbird choir
Cadance's foreleg looks worryingly dislocated here
Do you recognise the screenshot above? I'm sure you do: it's from the little montage near the end of "A Canterlot Wedding", in which the real Cadance joyously oversees preparations for her marriage to Shining Armor. This particular scene lasts about three seconds. The reason I'm posting it here, though, is to illustrate something I think can really help with making your fanfic work: picking up on little details.

In my fic We Who with Songs Beguile, I write from the perspective of a rather crotchety old blue jay named Mazarine. He's the guy you can see perching on Cadance's tail in the picture. Late on in the story, he talks about his continuing grudge about what happened at the song rehearsal you see above. (The story itself is set rather later, in the latter part of S3.) Here are some extracts from his rather long-winded moan about it:
I was ... with five of the others – including Roseate ...  [Cadance] was right there, and for some bizarre reason we were made to perch all over her ... [Fluttershy] really wasn’t messing about: the big stick. Teeth bared. Eyes closed. Wings flared ... I was actually allowed to perch on the alicorn’s tail
All of that – every last bit – fits in with what you see in the picture above. Mazarine is there: check. There are five other birds: check. Roseate is also present: check. (He's the reddish bird above Cadance's ear.) Perching all over the alicorn: check. Fluttershy: check. Big stick, bared teeth, closed eyes, flared wings: all check. Mazarine perching on Cadance's tail: check. I actually watched this scene about six times while I was writing the story, to make sure I hadn't messed it up.

Now, you may think that's a lot of effort to go to for a three-second scene. But I disagree: it's those little things that make a story believable within the confines of the FiM universe. Take another example: if you have Applejack call Rainbow "Dashie", at least outside a certain sort of shipfic or just to wind Rainbow up, you've lost me. Because she doesn't. Only Pinkie Pie ("Over a Barrel" and "Too Many Pinkie Pies") and Fluttershy ("Keep Calm and Flutter On") have ever used that particular nickname in canon.

I'm sure that someone who read through all my ponyfics could find places where I'd made similar mistakes. I'm usually quite good at Mane Six characterisation and dialogue, but I'm certainly not infallible. Even so, I think what I've said here remains valid: that attention to this sort of detail really does pay off.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Here's the official Season 5 trailer (spoiler alert: includes S5 footage)

And about time, too. We still don't have a better release date than "Spring 2015", which makes me think it's unlikely it'll be before Easter. But on this evidence, it's going to be worth the wait. The animation looks great, the story looks "epic adventure-y" and we do indeed get a proper callback to one of the defining moments of Season 4. It looks as though those who yearn for a return to the S1 days are going to be disappointed, but those of us who loved S4 could be in for a real treat. Now, Hasbro: get on and give us a proper release date!

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Ponyfic Roundup 44: I've Never Been Here Before!

I originally decided not to (read: couldn't be bothered to) pick a theme for today's edition of Ponyfic Roundup, and was going to just pick a motley collection of fics. Then I realised that I could make this a themed post: none of the authors whose stories are reviewed here have appeared in Ponyfic Roundup before. I've been quite lucky once again, with a pretty decent hit rate of good stuff. Of course, you may not agree with my assessments, but that just means you're wrong. :P

Pick of the fics

A Figment of Her Imagination by PaulAsaran
Daring Do, Twilight, Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash
Romance/Sad/Slice of Life; 23K words; Dec 2013; Everyone
Twilight's spell to summon Daring Do from her books results in more than she'd bargained for. A fascinating story, and one I found moving in ways I wasn't expecting. There's some moral ambiguity here: I still have conflicting feelings about Rainbow Dash's part in the whole thing, but her story was certainly interesting. There are a couple of things I don't like, such as aspects of Rainbow's physical behaviour; still, if you can deal with PaulAsaran's sometimes very tell-y style, this one comes warmly recommended. ★★★★

Other stories

Carousel Designs, LLP. by Taialin
Rarity, Fluttershy and Angel
Slice of Life; 10K words; Sep 2014; Everyone
Rarity is increasingly snowed under with work. Fluttershy is increasingly strapped for cash. Could there be a mutually beneficial solution? This, Taialin's oldest story, has quite an interesting premise and I like the explanation for Fluttershy's lack of bits, but it is a little rough technically: some dialogue isn't correctly capitalised, while there are also a few stylistic flaws. Not at all bad for a first fic, though, and Taialin is a writer who shows promise. ★★★

Cutie Mark Crisscross by Everyday
CMC, Discord, Mane Six and Other
Comedy/Slice of Life; 11K words; Nov 2014; Everyone
After more crusading failures, the CMC ask Discord to make them "better ponies". He takes an unorthodox line: is he truly trying to help, just having fun – or both? This is Everyday's first ponyfic, and on this evidence I hope it won't be the last. It's pleasingly cute (Rarity's scenes with Sweetie Belle are adorable), it's amusing throughout and Discord in particular is written much better than usual. A few minor typos, but this still deserves a lot more than its current 200-odd views. ★★★★

Dream by Cascadejackal
OCs and Celestia
Sad; 3K words; May 2013; Everyone
The story of two lovers long ago, and what became of them; very much a storyteller's fairytale. This fic seems to divide opinions a bit, but I fall on the "pro" side of the fence. The rather dense writing style (one sentence has seven commas) will put off some, but it works for me, though it does just occasionally get within sight of the point at which it might become an overblown parody of itself. The ending is good enough, but it isn't quite as captivating as I'd hoped it might be. ★★★★

A Little Push by LuminoZero
Rainbow Dash, Soarin, Scootaloo and OC
Romance/Slice of Life; 7K words; Jan 2014; Everyone
Rainbow Dash and Soarin's son, Prism Bolt, is scared of heights. Can anything be done to help him? The first in a series, this story turns out to be a bit of a mixed bag. The relationships between the characters are cute, and I like Scootaloo's part in things. It does suffer a little technically, though: the opening scene is basically one huge exposition dump, and comma splices are not exactly conspicuous by their absence. As such, it only just scrapes a three-star rating. ★★★

Luna Just Learned About The Play "A Hearth's Warming Carol" by Singularity Dream
Celestia and Luna
Comedy; 4K words; Jan 2015; Everyone
Best known for maintaining the Big Master Review List, and for his own reviews, Singularity Dream makes his writing bow. Three debut stories in one PR! As the (overlong) title suggests, this fic takes liberal inspiration from a certain Charles Dickens story, and it does so with some nicely-judged humour. There's also an appropriately warm feel to the ending. It's a little lacking technically on occasion (there's some tense-mixing and the odd sentence fragment), and 600-word chapters are very short by any standards, but this is quite a promising debut. ★★★

Monday, 9 February 2015

Bostin' Berrow Book Bulletin

Covers of the six G. M. Berrow chapter books
Fluttershy continues her quest to be more adorable than anything ever
I now have all the Mane Six chapter books by G. M. Berrow! I'm aware that I've got horribly behind with reviewing those things, and I really do intend to publish my thoughts on the Applejack and Fluttershy books. (As well as the Journal of the Two Sisters.) But my real reason for making this post is to express my happiness that the series will continue! So far, a Celestia book and the long-hoped-for Discord book have been announced; whether there will be more after that presumably depends on sales.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Ponyfic Roundup 43: #FebFIMFanFicLove edition

Yes, an extra one; something a little different today! Thanks to the estimable hawthornbunny, who came up with the idea of the Fic Exchange for Tag-a-Long's Book Club, I'm posting a rather more in-depth review than I generally do. If you're used to Ponyfic Roundup, you'll see the similarities and my usual rambly style; it'll just be a bit longer than the waffle I usually inflict on you lot. The star rating comes after the first paragraph, as usual for my long reviews, but read on for some more in-depth thoughts.

Sun, Moon, and Stars by FifthAlicorn
Celestia, Luna and Nightmare Moon
[no genre tags given]; 22K words; Feb 2012; Everyone
In a nutshell, this is the story of Luna's banishment and exile, Nightmare Moon's return and the final triumph of the Elements of Harmony. A familiar story to all of us, I'm sure – but with the twist that this fic looks at it from the dark side, as it were. I'll admit that I was a little underwhelmed when I read the synopsis, as rather too many of these older fics turn into "New Lunar Republic" propaganda, and quite frankly that concept doesn't do a thing for me. Still, this story was selected for the Fic Exchange by Foals Errand, whose opinions I respect – and, indeed, it turned out to be a cut above many of the run-of-the-mill Royal Sisters fics I've read. ★★★

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Ponyfic Roundup 42: To Those Who Wait

It's that time of the week again, the time when I pick out a few fanfics and write reviews of them for no other reason than that I feel like it. :P This time around, I'm giving some attention to the stories that have been stuck on my Fimfiction Read it Later list the longest. Thankfully, they're all reasonably short! A decent enough week overall, with more pleasant surprises than disappointments. Here we go...

Pick of the fics

The Name Game by Brony Tom
Apple Bloom, Applejack, Chrysalis and Cadance
Dark; 9K words; Oct 2012; Everyone
Apple Bloom finally has her cutie mark... but her memory seems to be going. Why? Complaints first: this probably ought to be rated Teen. And I didn't like Apple Bloom being nicknamed "Bloom" rather than "AB". However. However. The story itself is outstanding, a genuine chiller that doesn't take the easy way out and rely on gore. It's truly worrying at times, but that's achieved through excellent descriptive writing. You may well see one twist coming; you probably won't see others. Prepare to be disturbed. ★★★★★

Other stories

Fluttershy and Celestia Play Chess by BronyWriter
Fluttershy, Celestia and Luna
Slice of Life; 4K words; Sep 2012; Everyone
Fluttershy doesn't like the idea of the crowds at Canterlot's Wonderbolts show, so she stays at the castle and plays chess with Princess Celestia. This story isn't one of BronyWriter's best efforts: although I like the concept and it's solid slice of lifery, the chess bit seems rather hurried: one or two more games would have made things more satisfying. I'm also not keen on a certain technological note, while a late Pinkie cameo seems to be more for the convenience of the writer than anything else. Worth a glance, especially as a break from flashier stories, but just didn't click with me. ★★

Honey Pie by DeiStar
Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle
Slice of Life; 4K words; Dec 2012; Everyone
By chance, two stories with the same name in two weeks! They're completely unrelated, though. Scoots and Sweetie share a delicious honey pie, and get to talking. They end up discussing quite deep matters. This is a nicely observed character piece, with atmospheric writing and a good message. It also anticipates canon that didn't exist at the time of publishing. The cover pic is a little unfortunate, as it implies a foalhood romance that isn't actually present. The writing is a tiny bit stilted, which precludes a five-star rating, but it's still very worthwhile. ★★★★

Nightmarish by Lurks-no-More
Luna and Celestia
Comedy/Slice of Life; 2K words; Jun 2012; Everyone 
A sort of prequel to Luna's appearance on Nightmare Night in "Luna Eclipsed", showing how she prepared. A fairly slight story, more of a vignette really, but it's pleasant enough to read and has both alicorns acting nicely in character. It's not screamingly funny, but is gently amusing at times. Not a bad choice if you're after a Royal Sisters fic for a quick tea break. ★★★

Patience, She Said by TheMessenger
OC, Others and Spike
Sad/Slice of Life; 5K words; Feb 2014; Everyone
Glitter Belle really should have listened when she was told by grown-ups not to go near the large dragon that's appeared nearby. She didn't listen, and now she's about to encounter it. I can't say a lot about this one without giving away a major plot point, but it's a rather satisfying little fic that deserves its Twilight's Library spot. I hesitated between awarding this three or four stars, but in the end the way canon references were scattered with a light touch swung it the way of the higher score. ★★★★

To Catch Up With the Sun by Dark Avenger
Zecora, CMC and OC[no genre tags given, but it's Adventure]; 15K words; Oct 2013; Everyone
After escaping from a timberwolf attack in the Everfree Forest, the CMC are relieved to make it to Zecora's hut. Once inside, they proudly tell the zebra that they now have their cutie marks! Zecora, in return, tells them the story of her mark. I mostly enjoyed this fic, and especially Zecora's backstory – which wasn't what I'd expected at all. As usual, her rhyming does get a bit wearying when carried on for page after page, while one or two references were rather distracting. The section breaks link to YouTube videos, useless on my e-reader. Still, Zecora fans should probably check it out. ★★★

Monday, 2 February 2015

Comic review: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic issue #27

IDW My Little Pony comic, issue #27
Andy Price's Cover A is one of this issue's highlights
It's My Little Pony comic review time again, and once more Level Seven did me proud with selling and posting me the thing. With the announcement of April's five villain-tastic Fiendship is Magic comics, the main series will be taking a short breather after the one-shot issue #29. Here, though, we have a new two-issue Cook/Price/Breckel comic arc. Cook especially didn't cover herself in glory with the Western-themed arc last time, so can she and her colleagues produce something a bit more satisfying this time around? Read on, MacDuff!