Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Ponyfic Roundup 142: Carrot Top Edition

"More cheese is being eaten in the United States today than twenty-five years ago" – Avram Davidson, "The Sources of the Nile" (1960)

The above has nothing to do with today's post. I just found it an amusing thing to quote out of context. Right; let's get to the real business of the day.

Read it Later story count: 484 (nc)

The Amethyst Star edition of PR a while back was quite fun to do, so let's look at another of Ponyville's background heroes this week. Carrot Top (Golden Harvest in the merch world) has been rather hard done by in the show, having been robbed of the power of speech since Season Two. There aren't that many stories about her, especially as I'm not into the Lunaverse, but thanks in part to some recommendations from Chris (much appreciated!) I've put together what I hope is a decent selection to look at.

Talking of Chris, clearly one of his own Carrot Top stories had to be featured here, but two of the most obvious choices were out. I've already reviewed the very good Going Up (PR 36), while The Purloined Pony's highly unusual format makes it somewhat awkward to deal with in a conventional review. Fortunately, Even in Dreams fitted the bill, so that's what I chose. Observation: for the canon universe at least, established writers seem considerably more likely to write Carrot Top fics than less experienced authors.

Happy Ending by plumander
All in the Presentation by Pineta
Practical Nightmares Only by Impossible Numbers
Even in Dreams by Chris
Bitter Harvest by Esle Ynopemos

Adventures in Cake Making by TwilightFlopple
The Weed by PaulAsaran
Shoots and Roots by Bachiavellian
Monarchy of Carrots by Seventh Heaven
A Generous Hearts and Hooves Day by GrassAndClouds2

★: 0 | ★★: 3 | ★★★: 4 | ★★★★: 3 | ★★★★★: 0

Happy Ending by plumander
Carrot Top, Derpy, Dinky and Other [Written Script]
Sad/Slice of Life; 5k words; Mar 2014; Teen
I was pretty happy with my life. Then I got a filly. Now... I'm not so sure.
One day, it would be nice for a story with this title actually to be happy. This is not that story. It is RCL-inducted, though, so I had high hopes – largely fulfilled. Golden Harvest (so named) is a complicated character, which is impressive in a story this short. I didn't like her, but I couldn't hate her either. Her marriage, her not-actually-hers foal, the way Derpy affects her life, everything makes it a much more nuanced and layered story than most Equestrian yarns. There's a running "bubbles" motif, which has an obvious Derpy link but goes deeper. As an aside, I don't know where the author comes from (they avoid the question in their RCL interview), but they nail something about non-holiday train travel that many North American authors don't. Another aside: the first story I've ever seen that uses both "fucking" and "bucking" without looking like the author just couldn't decide. I didn't like everything: I'm not entirely happy with Derpy being used like this, a brief mention of Discord seemed odd, there are a few technical problems – and I kept asking myself how pony it was. (Eventual conclusion: enough. Just.) Absolutely worth reading, though, and bloody hell, that last line... ★★★★

All in the Presentation by Pineta
Carrot Top, Berry Punch, Twilight and Pinkie Pie
Comedy/Random; 1k words; May 2015; Everyone
Golden Harvest and Berry Punch redo their banner.
This was just what I needed after Happy Ending: a short, silly comedy set in the simpler world of S1 – specifically, "Swarm of the Century". This shows the "We couldn't fit it all in!" scene from the artists' perspective, and it made me giggle several times. I like that Twilight here is very much the early-S1 model, and so not quite as popular in town as she later became. There are a couple of inline pictures – rare in a fic this recent – but you don't need them, though the final one is amusingly chosen. ★★★

Practical Nightmares Only by Impossible Numbers
Carrot Top, Derpy and Dinky
Comedy/Slice of Life; 10k words; Oct 2016; Everyone
Golden Harvest always takes pains to be the sensible one for others, but that's easier said than done when Muffins has something "ambitious" planned for Nightmare Night.
Here's a long-standing author (joined Dec 2011) who I've seen favourably mentioned more than once recently, but who has under 100 followers. On this evidence, they deserve more. It's a fun take on Nightmare Night, with Muffins (yes, Muffins) playing off Golden Harvest nicely. The latter has a calm, sensible public demeanour, mixed with a mostly secret desire to communicate with her carrots. Dinky is the most interesting character here, though: rather than the "cute ickle filly" we often see in ponyfic, here she's a much more self-possessed individual; I was slightly reminded of Roald Dahl's Matilda. There are a few irritating stylistic quirks, especially the reluctance to say "book" when "tome" or even "doorstopper" are available. That happens often enough to tick the fic down from four to three stars, but it's high in that bracket and an entertaining read. ★★★

Even in Dreams by Chris
Carrot Top and Other [Lily]
Slice of Life; 1k words; Jul 2015; Everyone
Carrot Top and her friends use their dreams to help fight the Tantabus.
The biggest CT supporter of them all enters the arena: the very first words of this fic are "Carrot Top". As the short description suggests, it was prompted by something in "Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep?", but it mostly stays away from the Mane Six and Luna herself. Early on, there's an interesting question: why would you sleep in a dream? There's some satisfying silliness in the middle, and I did wonder about the absence of a [Comedy] tag. Mind you, the ending, which unsurprisingly stars Carrot Top, is rather touching – though actually I prefer the last line of the author's end A/N. For a little piece spinning off from an episode, this is certainly worthwhile. Another strong three. ★★★

Bitter Harvest by Esle Ynopemos
Carrot Top, Applejack and Minuette
Comedy/Romance/Slice of Life; 18k words; Feb–Mar 2014; Teen
Golden Harvest isn't jealous. Sure, her neighbor has glamor, adventure, friends and firm, toned flanks, but she isn't jealous. Nope, not jealous at all.
Again a story included in the RCL, so again I expected big things, and in many respects I got them. This fic focuses on Golden's denial of her feelings for her fellow farmer, and it did something not enough comedies do: actually made me laugh. A lot. Not all the jokes land (one early miss involves Pinkie) but the hit rate is considerably above average. GH's unreliable narration is nice, Minuette's pre-S5 personality works well enough, and there's even some actual social commentary sneaked in there when nobody's looking. On the downside, a swerve into a more serious tone late on feels very slightly out of place. Still, the epilogue makes up for that. Did you like Spring is Dumb (PR 52)? If so, it's odds on you'll like this. Great stuff. ★★★★

Adventures in Cake Making by TwilightFlopple
Carrot Top and Derpy
Adventure/Comedy; 9k words; Apr 2012; Everyone
Winning the title "Fillydelphia Baking Queen" is never easy.
This is a venerable fic: it feels even older than its publication date, not least because Minuette/Colgate appears to be called "Aquafresh", a name long since forgotten. It also pretty much requires you know that, in ye olden dayes of the fandom, Derpy emptying Carrot Top's fridge was a significant meme. The story itself is mildly amusing, and if you can forget about modern canon the adventure-ish stuff later on is interesting world-building. I'm really not sure about Derpy speaking along the lines of "My eyes not lazy!", though, even if (oddly) she's portrayed as a superb flyer. The ending is pretty much out of nowhere, too, and it isn't particularly satisfying. Add a sprinkling of irritations such as LUS, coloured text and "Luna's night" and this may not do that much unless you remember it from days of yore. ★★

The Weed by PaulAsaran
Carrot Top, Rarity and OC
Romance/Slice of Life; 9k words; Jul 2013; Everyone
Six years ago Rarity gave Golden Harvest the opportunity to be beautiful. It was the best moment of her life, and with help from a friend she might finally get another chance. She might even resolve her long-secret crush on the unicorn from her past.
Rarity was once Golden's foalsitter, but in the present (for reasons that are a bit vague) Golden has kept that crush going. This is one of the author's earliest stories, and it does show a bit: Rarity is described as an "aspiring fashionista" more than once. There's also an OC who's dating Rainbow Dash, which is a bit much – though the A/N tells me that he's an established character from one of PaulAsaran's other stories, so perhaps readers au fait with that would find him more convincing. There's some good stuff here, such as Fancy Pants' late cameo, but for the most part this comes across as competent but rather dull. ★★

Shoots and Roots by Bachiavellian
Carrot Top, Derpy, Dinky and Roseluck
Drama/Sad/Slice of Life; 6k words; Apr 2014; Everyone
Time alone can't heal all wounds for Carrot Top.
This came featured and recommended by everyone in sight, so it was a relief that it didn't let me down! The fic, which flicks effectively between present and past tense, only gradually reveals its secrets, but it does so in a way that is ultimately both satisfying and moving. The relationship between Carrot and Derpy is tremendously well portrayed, a lovely and realistic picture of true friendship in difficult circumstances. Really, the only tiny quibble I have is that I can't believe Dinky of all foals not knowing what "parcel" means. The rest is absolutely excellent. It didn't quite blow me away enough for a five-star rating, but it's a high-end four nevertheless, and the story I liked most this week. This was apparently Bachiavellian's "first real attempt at writing fiction". Sheesh. ★★★★

Monarchy of Carrots by Seventh Heaven
Carrot Top and Roseluck
Alternate Universe/Comedy/Dark/Random; 1k words; May 2013; Teen
Lord Harvest faces a pressing issue during her tyrannical reign.
Or Lady Harvest, as she actually is in the fic. Having forced her subjects to eat only carrots, she is discovering that this is not necessarily the route to success. This is potentially hilarious, but sadly it's nowhere near as ridiculous as a story with this premise should be. There's also a disappointing cop-out ending. ★★

A Generous Hearts and Hooves Day by GrassAndClouds2
Carrot Top and Rarity
Romance/Slice of Life; 4k words; Feb 2013; Everyone
Carrot Top and Rarity enjoy a relaxing evening together
Another RariTop(?) piece, though it's not really shipping in the usual sense. Carrot Top (who owns Golden Harvest Farms!) is preparing food for a special occasion. Rarity, who's with her, discovers that she and Carrot share something of the same approach to their work. This is a quiet, domestically focused story, and one where it's a bit of a shame there was no sequel. NB: I discovered after reading that this was in the "Lunaverse" group, but there's no note in the description to say it's not a canon-universe fic, so that's how I've reviewed it. ★★★

Next time on Ponyfic Roundup: a semi-random edition!

19 comments:

  1. I saw the post title and literally said, "Oh shit, son, the hype is real." :D You found some good stuff!

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    1. Half of these were mentioned by Chris, so he gets plenty of credit! But I'm quite pleased with myself for digging up the likes of Practical Nightmares Only on my own. :)

      Now to wait for Chris to wander by and tell me why I've got it all wrong. :D

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  2. Thanks for the review!!

    Yeah, S&R was baby's first fic, but I still do consider it my best one in a lot of aspects. Definitely spent the most time working on it, by far.

    Time *has* been something at a bit of a premium since I started full-time work. On the one hand, finances! On the other, a distinct lack of pony word production...

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    1. You're very welcome – it was a pleasure to read!

      And yeah, if only there were a way to create extra time out of thin air just for writing ponyfic. Star Swirl, are you listening?

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  3. When I think Carrot Top, I immediately think of this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2z5eizH0u1I

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    1. So do I to some extent, as that was one of the first brony music pieces I ever heard. :)

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  4. Replies
    1. Okay, fr srs now:

      Basically agree with the ratings. I'd have loved to see Bitter Harvest or Shoots and Roots take a five-star, but I get that you're pretty stingy with those. And I too have noticed that (non-Lunaverse) Carrot isn't a common choice for inexperienced authors--my first thought was that newbie writers naturally gravitate toward the main six and/or OCs, but Vinyl and/or Octavia, Lyra, Trixie, and others would seem to suggest otherwise.

      Like single-malt scotch, Carrot Top is best appreciated by the sophisticated palate, I guess.

      And thanks for the review! As I said when Titanium Dragon gave his thoughts on Even in Dreams this was a fic I expected people to read for a week or two in the immediate aftermath of the episode that inspired it, before it fell into total obscurity. Glad you liked it!

      Also, this whole post made my day. But you probably already knew that :D

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    2. Okay, but scotch is gross and now I want to write a fic where Carrot Top says that about herself and Derpy or someone tries scotch and is like, "You taste like old feet!"

      Obviously, the greatest fandom classic, 10 stars out of 5.

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    3. @Chris: Shoots and Roots came fairly close, and I did briefly entertain the notion of slapping a five on it. Four and a half stars, at least. Bitter Harvest, while a reasonably comfortable four, was never really in the running for more because of that slightly odd tonal shift.

      And you're very welcome, both for the review and for the post itself. Of course, unless I get into the Lunaverse (unlikely) there may not be any more CT fics reviewed for quite some while!

      @PP: Your taste buds are wonky. Whisky is wonderful.

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    4. Whiskey? No, whisky. Without an E. The Scottish version. Always the Scottish version. :9

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    5. Uisge-beatha, as far as Scottish Gaelic is concerned. :P

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  5. Uh oh. Someone's mentioning my name...

    "Here's a long-standing author (joined Dec 2011) who I've seen favourably mentioned more than once recently,"

    It's amazing what wonders you can achieve when you bribe the right people.

    "but who has under 100 followers."

    Honestly, I (at least partly) blame personal bad habits. About a quarter of my work is still unfinished, and nearly all of those fics are years old. "Come read a pretty good tenth of a fic" is not a snappy crowd-pleaser. Besides, I didn't really hit my stride until last year.

    "Dinky is the most interesting character here, though: rather than the "cute ickle filly" we often see in ponyfic, here she's a much more self-possessed individual..."

    I am so glad you highlighted this. "Cute ickle filly and nothing but" was the last thing I wanted. I think it's a lot more beneficial, both to writer and to reader, to depict a child character when you know they have minds and attitudes of their own, not all of which are necessarily innocent, cute, or good. And when they can slyly upstage the adults too, of course.

    "I was slightly reminded of Roald Dahl's Matilda."

    I'm flattered, but I would not aspire so high: Dinky as I intended to portray her has a snarky side and no particularly prodigious intelligence. I also imagined her as having a slightly nonconformist streak when it came to schoolwork, the opposite of an extremely dutiful genius. That said, Matilda is one of my old favourites of the Roald Dahl books, so I'm certainly not complaining about the comparison!

    Although Dinky with psychic powers would be kind of interesting...

    "There are a few irritating stylistic quirks, especially the reluctance to say "book" when "tome" or even "doorstopper" are available. That happens often enough to tick the fic down from four to three stars,"

    Ouch.

    Speak though I do from a position of obvious conflicting interest, I didn't think it was quite that bad. If anything, I'd have thought repeated use of the bland word "book" would have been a less commendable move to make. My intention was that the heavier-sounding "tome" and "doorstopper" would have better conveyed its plank-breaking physicality, especially when it does in fact break the planks.

    Maybe it's a matter of stylistic taste, or I'm missing something technical (for instance, I went too far the other way in being florid, or "doorstopper" is too informal to be mixed with "tome"). Biased as I most likely am, it seems a harmless enough fault. Especially when I was otherwise so close to four stars, too. I mean, that's just teasing.

    Still, it's such a delight to see my work described as entertaining, and to get a respectable score. If that's the least it does, then I'm in a good place. Thank you for the review. :)

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  6. Ouch.

    I rather regret my choice of words in the review – sorry for that – though I'm happy with the rating. I'm not sure whether it will make you feel better or not if I tell you that I felt it was right on the three/four boundary and so even a little thing could tip it to one side of the line or the other.

    Bearing in mind that I am generally strange when it comes to ponyfic (okay, not just then), I tend to prefer prose that doesn't get in the way, at least unless the style is an integral part of the story. This may well be because it's something I've never been very good at! I think I'd find "doorstopper" distracting at pretty much any time, at least without a specific reason why that word was being used. "Tome" rather less so given its shortness, but then it's used more in the fic.

    For what it's worth, I'll be reviewing another of your stories in the next few weeks. I won't give anything else away for the moment, and I haven't read it yet so can't give any hints as to whether I liked it, but I'm looking forward to it.

    Finally, you're welcome – and thank you very much for taking the time to comment here. For a reviewer, as for a writer, feedback is the thing that makes it all worthwhile. :)

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    1. No need for regret; they weren't harsh words at all. If anything, they point to specific aspects of my writing - prose construction and word choice - which I want to re-evaluate and check next time. Constructive feedback is always a valuable (if rare) commodity.

      "For what it's worth, I'll be reviewing another of your stories in the next few weeks."

      Yes! I look forward to that review with great anticipation.

      Lastly, you're welcome. I must say that both this review and your replying comment were pleasant surprises. Thanks again! :)

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  7. I've only read two of these, so I'll weigh in on them. But as a preamble, yes, Impossible Numbers deserves more followers than he has, and as soon as my horrible short-term memory allows, I'll add to that (impossible) number.

    "Shoots and Roots" was great, and I had the distinct pleasure of working with the author on it. There was only one minor-yet-significant effect I wanted to see happen in it, and it was that once Carrot Top leaves the griffon embassy, that nice theme of finding common ground with someone who'd initially appeared so alien went away. So I told Bach I wanted to see evidence that there was a lasting effect, maybe that she'd maintained a friendship with the official she met there, and the letter she sees from him near the end of the story is a great way to illustrate that a single sentence can make a huge difference in adding characterization and theme to a story.

    "Happy Ending" was a really mixed bag for me. The writing was good, but for my money, it played too coy with the characters' situations. Well, maybe that's not the right word. "Coy" implies it keeps stringing you along with information it knows you want, whereas I don't think this story realized I wanted it. A huge underpinning of how sympathetic you'll be to the characters is knowing how much of their troubles are of their own making. Is Derpy and innocent victim of untreatable mental disease? Someone who's there due to her own failings (neglecting to take her prescribed medication, or maybe she's in prison for a violent crime)? Is Carrot Top someone who volunteered to care for Dinky but now has buyer's remorse? Or was she forced into it (her husband volunteered her, Derpy didn't have any relatives available to do it)?

    The real tragedy, Dinky's situation, won't change for all those possibilities, but it does have a huge influence on which other characters I hate or feel for, and it's not even a case of being torn; I have no evidence to take a position at all. So while Dinky's obviously a victim, I have no reason either way to know whether Carrot Top or Derpy might be victims as well or villains.

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    1. Oh yes, I really did find it satisfying to reach the part where the letter arrived. As for Happy Ending, that's a fair point. I don't know whether it was a deliberate decision on the author's part not to give such details, but maybe a couple of gentle hints would have added some more flavour.

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