Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Ponyfic Roundup 148: Spotlight on Vinyl and Octavia: University Days (and University Nights)

A quick plug first for FanOfMostEverything's Imposing Sovereigns contest. It's explained over there, but in brief it's all about writing princess stories. (Interpreted quite liberally: Ember can count, and even Big Mac.) There isn't a chance in Tartarus I'll think of something in time, and in any case many slots are already taken – but do give it a look.

Two reviews for the price of one in this Spotlight! Well, actually one and a bit, as the second one isn't really a standalone. I was going to review University Nights separately, but I feel it's too closely attached to the main story for that. So you're getting it here! I quite like school (well, uni here) stories, even though I didn't much enjoy real-life school, so that won't count against Days. Let's go!

Read it Later story count: 479 (-4)

Vinyl and Octavia: University Days by DawnFade
Vinyl Scratch and Octavia
Comedy/Romance/Slice of Life; 71k words; Apr 2012–Jan 2014; Teen
Vinyl Scratch and Octavia go to university.
Oh yeah, you're thinking. I know where this is going. And you're right: you do. From very early on, it's clear that this is a "how they got together" fic. It doesn't do much that's particularly startling, an important character is poorly drawn, the ending is very rushed and there's a fair bit of LUS. Sounds like a waste of time, right? Wrong. What lifts this fic above that level is its likeable central characters. They're not terribly thrilling, but I enjoyed spending time in their company. Not just Vinyl and Octavia themselves, but Lyra and Bon Bon (who play a decent supporting role) and an OC who's more interesting than he at first appears. This is very definitely easy reading rather than world-shaking literature, but sometimes easy reading is all you want. Days could easily have been a mediocre two, but that sheer pleasantness nudges it into the threes. ★★★

University Nights by DawnFade
Vinyl Scratch and Octavia
Romance; 3k words; Aug 2012–Jan 2014; Mature (Sex)
A collection of tales of debauchery from the students of West Manehattan University.
This piece is not actually as wide-ranging as the description makes it sound; it's simply a couple of sex scenes that would doubtless have been included in Days had that been given an M rating. I feel the first is the better, almost startlingly realistic for a short clop scene. The second is okay, but doesn't really bring anything new and is rather awkwardly fitted into the the Days timeline. Worth reading if you like, but in no way necessary to enjoy the main story. Four stars for the first chapter, two stars for the second, so overall another ★★★.

Come past the break for some more detailed discussion of University Days, together with plenty of spoilers. I won't say any more about Nights, as I think I've mentioned everything I want to about that bit.

As my non-spoilery review makes clear, I enjoyed reading University Days a bit more than I expected that I would. I'd put this story off for so long partly because I thought it would be a slog; I still haven't forgotten the utter disappointment that was (most of) My Roommate is a Vampire (PR 63). A slog is exactly what this story wasn't. Although I groaned a bit at the clich├ęd use of an argument between characters who would obviously go on to become lovers, it didn't take long before I was rattling through the pages.

The progression of Vinyl and Octavia's relationship is a bit unevenly paced, but it's far from terrible. They don't jump into bed the first time they see each other, they're not instantly expert lovers – see Nights for proof. They make rather fewer silly errors in their relationship than I'd have expected, though. Once they're officially fillyfriends (a word used almost throughout, though at least one "marefriend" does slip through) I can generally accept them as such.

Lyra and Bon Bon aren't too bad, either. I do find Lyra's low-level feud with Vinyl more tiresome than amusing, and Bon Bon is much the more attractive character of the two. There's still quite a lot we don't know about them by the end of the story; I wonder whether a sequel to Days was ever planned. The hurried ending, with its final mention of Vinyl's parents, suggests so – but since DawnFade left the ponyfic scene long ago, we may never know.

Psych is the main OC, and I'm still not sure what to make of him. I don't know what Equestrian professional bodies' codes of ethics are like, but I can't imagine he's following all their rules. It doesn't actually matter that much in the context of this fic, though. I disliked Psych a good deal at first, when he was getting Vinyl and Octavia to fight, since I can't stand that sort of knowingly manipulative behaviour by authority figures. But later on, he becomes far more sympathetic and eventually something close to a minor hero.

My least favourite subplot is that concerning Octavia's mother. Although we do get a little bit of backstory very late on to explain why she's so unpleasant towards her daughter, it's not enough to save her from feeling like a cookie-cutter villain. She's a bad mother who's been manipulative and unpleasant to Octavia all her life, and there's not much more to it than that. She's almost a prototype Spoiled Milk/Rich, and is easily the flattest major character in Days. It's a real shame.

The actual writing style is, as I've said, easy rather than impressive. I don't think that's a problem for a story like this. It doesn't have any pretensions to literary greatness, and why should it? Not every fic needs to be Joycean in its technical brilliance. Look at Days like a short novel for young adults and all of a sudden things fall into place. There is an awful lot of LUS, but even that is largely a case of "the cellist" and "the DJ", rather than anything more distracting. Octavia and Vinyl also "lean in for" kisses rather a lot.

University Days is tagged [Comedy], but it's not actually all that funny for the most part. Entertaining, yes, but not often funny ha-ha; I doubt you'll end up rolling on the floor in uncontrollable mirth. There are some mildly amusing moments, quite a few of them involving Psych in some way, but the romantic and slice-of-life elements are considerably more important to the plot. I don't think you could really advertise this as a "romantic comedy" without stretching the definition a bit.

Bits and pieces: technology (mobiles, computers, internet) is everywhere, and normally that would drive me up the wall. Not here. Maybe the Manehattan setting helps. The footnotes to each chapter vary between mildly interesting and mildly annoying. The mystique about Vinyl's eye colour has really dated now. DawnFade is apparently not American: university is often "uni", phones are "mobiles", mother is "mum".* And there's a truly cringeworthy reference (thankfully very short) to bronies.

But on the whole? University Days isn't an amazing fic, but it is better than I was expecting, and a cut above many similar stories. It just goes to show how much you can do simply by making a story easy to read.

* Insert my usual rant to the effect that people from my own neck of the woods (the West Midlands) do traditionally spell it "mom", and get pretty sick of other British people telling us not to use Americanisms. :P

Next time on Ponyfic Roundup: another lucky dip of fics from Dear Ol' Santa Logan. Or something.

8 comments:

  1. This is almost exactly what I thought of the story. :D

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    1. I just read your review. So it is! :D

      Actually, when I mentioned to someone that I was going to review this fic, they told me to think of it as a YA novel. It's more than possible they'd read your review earlier. :)

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  2. I can't really argue with you on any of this. I'd forgotten about Lyra and Bonbon being part of the story, but I do remember finding Octy's mum annoying. Talking of that, I never knew some parts of the UK spelt it 'mom'.

    Glad you enjoyed reading it overall. I think the simple writing style is my kind of thing to be honest; not being much of a literary expert.

    The first chapter of 'nights' has always stuck out to me as being pretty well done.

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    1. I can't really argue with you on any of this.

      Aww, how dull. :P

      I never knew some parts of the UK spelt it 'mom'.

      I think the W Mids is the only place that does. You see "mam" quite a lot in the north, of course, but most people know about that one.

      I think the simple writing style is my kind of thing

      I think this is something we reviewers can forget sometimes: that many people (including me) often read for relaxation, so don't want to be hugely challenged. University Days is comfort reading, but I know I do plenty of that myself!

      The first chapter of 'nights' has always stuck out to me as being pretty well done.

      Yeah; it's the fact that they're not miraculously assured and accomplished lovers the first time they sleep together. It's a problem plenty of clopfics have, even within the relatively small number I've read. I really appreciate that this one avoids it, at least in that first chapter.

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  3. I personally consider this to be in my bottom 5 of worst fanfics I finished reading. I get the appeal, but I couldn't get past how one dimensional the characters were (although I did like Lyra & Bon Bon), or how long the story takes to get anywhere. An while before we get to Octavia mom's I was mildly annoyed, from then on it legitimately cross into "infuriatingly bad" territory for me.

    Still better than "My roommate is a vampire", however.

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    1. Stories about foal rape are better than My Roommate Is a Vampire. <.<

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    2. No.

      But it is a pretty dreadful fic after the opening section.

      I'm now wondering what my bottom five fics are – bearing in mind that I never DNF a story. The Canterlot Conference would be in there, and probably four variations of Cupcakes :P

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    3. I find it's hard coming up with a bottom five, or any number, and I get asked things like this a lot.

      Because when you read as much as you or I do, all the bad fics start blending together. Not to mention there are different versions of bad: bad because it's loathsome (Fall of Equestria), bad because the writer is young/has learning issues/isn't a native English speaker, bad because it's a good idea executed poorly, etc. But not only are there so many fics I've read that are bad, but most of them are bad in very forgettable ways. It takes something like My Roommate Is a Vampire to be bad in a squelchy, sticks-to-the-ribs sort of way, and to have enough bad stuff going badly enough through its run that it's worth including on that list.

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