Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Ponyfic Roundup 68: My Fine Four-Fetlocked Friend

Today's spotlight falls on a fic that I've known about for a very long time – as, I suspect, has just about everyone in the fandom – but which I just hadn't got round to reading until now. Part of that was because the prospect of reading 361,000 words about Cloud Kicker's sex life didn't appeal all that much. When I finally did read it, though, I discovered that it's rather more complicated than that...

The Life and Times of a Winning Pony by Chengar Qordath
Cloud Kicker, Derpy, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy and Others
Romance/Comedy/Slice of Life; 361k words; May 2012–Mar 2014; Teen
Cloud Kicker has a wild life, and Blossomforth gets dragged along for the ride.
This fic, narrated by CK herself, more or less created her fanon reputation. and it's not at all what I was expecting. The genre tags – and, indeed, the opening chapters – make it appear as though you're in for a knockabout comedy full of innuendo-laden gags. The jokes are present and correct, but this is really a relationship drama, with a side order of adventure thrown in.* A little tedious in the middle, but nevertheless it has parts which pack a real emotional punch. Notable for making Derpy a major character and not focusing on her clumsiness. A top-end three, just kept from a four by several stylistic annoyances, including pervasive use of the word "plot". ★★★

* This fic's appeal to casual browsers is harmed by knighty's stubborn (and wrong) insistence that [Slice of Life] and [Adventure] can't apply to the same story. Using both tags would have been appropriate here.

If you don't mind spoilers, come past the break for more!

Winning Pony's opening chapters are light-hearted, but things get considerably more interesting once Cloud Kicker hooks up with Derpy. Actually, one of my favourite things about this story is Derpy's portrayal: it's a fairly rare example in that neither her clumsiness nor her job as a mailmare are central to the plot. Instead, it's her kids – teenage Sparkler and little hug machine Dinky – that really matter. I did get a little squicked by the occasional use of "muffin" in a sexual context in the same scenes that the word was being used about Dinky, but still.

Blossomforth starts out as a fairly stereotypical "let's make fun of the prude" character, and takes quite a while to get interesting, but does eventually manage it – to some extent, at least. Rainbow Dash is reasonably convincing in her weather manager role, though I'd have liked to have seen a little more of her and Pinkie together. Fluttershy, despite having considerable history with the others, is perhaps slightly less interesting, at least until quite late on in the story. She's generally portrayed well, though.

Okay, talking of that history: the Flight Camp flashback. One thing that surprised me about this fic was the occasional intense violence: the Sticks and Stones bar scene is the first occurrence, but that's entirely overshadowed once we reach chapter 9. The description of the fight between RD and CK is brutal and quite tough to read, but it's important as its reverberations very much affect the present-day narrative. The heavy hint that the fight left Dash unable to have foals isn't directly addressed, though it may help explain Rainbow's fondness for being a "cool aunt", not to mention her hesitant approach to sex.

The other Mane Sixers don't appear all that much: Applejack is almost invisible after chasing CK away from Big Mac early on and Twilight is mostly confined to the show scenes. Rarity is around a little more, but is still very much a side character. I don't have too many problems with their characterisations, though "Does this mean I'm a pimp now?" is probably the eternal winner of Unexpected Rarity Quote of the Day. I'll lump Luna in here, since she doesn't really do a great deal other than (possibly!) bang Cloud.

Princess Celestia is another matter, and comes into her own late on, before and after the changeling attack. Although it's obvious it's coming due to the fic's adherence to S2 show canon (which I'll come to in a minute), Nimbus Gust's death still has power, while the attack on Canterlot makes good reading and is quite convincingly portrayed. It's interesting to see what that day might have been like from a completely different perspective to the one we see in the show. I like the fact that Cloud Kicker thinks Twilight was the changeling until the very end.

The timeline of Winning Pony is (more or less) the same as that of later S2. We see small pieces of "Putting Your Hoof Down", "It's About Time" and "Dragon Quest", but the big set piece is "Hurricane Fluttershy". I was pretty sceptical about this section to start with, but actually I quite enjoyed it. It does seem to take longer in the fic than it does in the show (especially regarding Fluttershy's training routines) but it works out in the end. Oddly, "Ponyville Confidential" and "MMMystery..." are ignored.

The main reason I didn't enjoy this fic as much as I might have done was the middle section. It was, as most long fics are, in need of slicing by a tough editor. It really did get tedious following the principals as they wound up for yet another round of arguing, nearly making up and arguing again. You might argue that it was realistic, but it still didn't help the story. Although I never got to a point where I had to force myself to keep reading, I did have to take the odd break during this bogged-down section.

On to the stylistic annoyances I mentioned. The worst is the use of "feather" to mean... well, it's taken from Fluttershy's "flying feather" comment in "Putting Your Hoof Down", but it just doesn't work very well as an all-purpose swear word. This is usually only a minor irritation, but it actively harms the story at a crucial point: Rainbow's furious outburst at Cloud Kicker in the Flight Camp flashback. It's just not possible to take a phrase like "you feathering featherer" seriously. (Oddly, though, we get "motherbucking" at one point.)

In the early chapters, CK refers to Rainbow Dash as "the boss", rather than by her name, so many times that I have to class it as an unusual type of LUS. I'm also not at all keen on the nickname "Eepy(squeak)" for Fluttershy, which is a problem as it's used any number of times. Alula is "'lula" early on and then "'Lula"; just "Lula" would have been less distracting. Finally, there are a few (thankfully only a few) clunky memes and fandom references tossed in: Lyra having a hand spell, "love and tolerance" and even "toaster repairpony".

This is such a long story that there's plenty I haven't touched on here, whether it's Sparkler's character development or Princess Cadance or Blossomforth's backstory or Cloud's unsuccessful attempt to gain Shadow's Armor. One thing I do want to pick out, though, is a specific aspect of the story's worldbuilding: I really like the titbits of Kicker history and mythology that are scattered through the fic – the Lunar Rebellion, little asides about how clans work, etc. A lot is left unexplained... but then that's just where other fics come in!

In the end, Winning Pony, rather like its protagonist, is far from flawless but is nevertheless enjoyable company.


  1. I pretty much agree with you on this. The story has it's fair share of problems, but was overall a fun read. I still use the wedding/invasion bits of the story as the example for how to do show events properly in fan fiction. It manages to have tension and importance for the story characters while not undermining or being overshadowed by the show.

    - City of Doors guy.

    1. Hi, City of Doors guy. :P

      Yeah, now I come to think of it, I've read a lot of poorly written show scenes in fanfic. I guess some people think it's easy to write them because of what's already known, the same way they think writing for existing characters is easy.

  2. I think that this story gets a lot of flak from people judging the whole thing from its first few chapters. While it certainly could use quite a bit of editing down, it isn't just a long string of scenes where you are invited to laugh at how much Kicker loves sex.

    Also, I think that the Slice of Life label fits it much more than the adventure tag. While there are quite a few of more adventurous situations, all of them seem to be there as an excuse for Kicker to have a conversation and deal with her problems – Like how the whole changeling situation is more about her dealing with her feelings regarding her mother, or the Shadow Armor existing as a way for her to confront her issues responsibility.

    1. Given the forced choice that currently exists on Fimfiction then yes, SoL is more appropriate than Adv. If Fimf allowed primary and secondary genre tags, then SoL for a primary tag and Adv for a secondary tag would fit, at least IMO.

      If I'd read the fic earlier, I'd probably never have written Kicking Back. Some may therefore wish I had read it earlier!