Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Ponyfic Roundup 161: Spotlight on One in a Million

Read it Later story count: 440 (-2)

One in a Million by ocalhoun
Scootaloo, OCs, Twilight, Rainbow Dash and CMC
Drama; 54k words; Dec 2013; Everyone
Scootaloo finally finds her special talent. It's the worst week of her life.
Scoot discovers that she can teleport, and an astonished Twilight pulls strings to get her into Princess Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns. Unfortunately for the filly, she's confronted by racist teachers, a bullying room-mate and her own feelings of unbelonging. This is basically a boarding school story, albeit on a much shorter timescale than the Harry Potters of this world. Scootaloo herself is quite nicely drawn, and I do celebrate her little triumphs and commiserate with her when she fails. My problems with the fic are twofold: one, that just about everypony in authority is appalling. It gets a bit wearing after a while. And two, that a major secondary character's dialogue is written in a thick dialect I find tremendously annoying; it's much worse than Applejack's "ah-speak". If you can slog through that, though, and if you can accept Scoot's eventual destiny (which I just about can), Best Filly's own strength of character makes this fic worth the read. ★★★

Come past the break with me for a more detailed, and spoiler-filled, look at some aspects of the story that caught my attention.

Let's talk about Sugar Cookie. He's by far the most sympathetic OC in the entire story, and without him Scootaloo would never have made it through the week. He's likeable, he's wise and he's a spy for Princess Celestia. Conveniently, he's only just been recruited to that role, despite having been working at the school for 25 years, which means the story doesn't have to explain why Celestia hasn't noticed the unpleasantness of the staff all this time. Didn't she have any say in their appointment? If not, why not?

But back to Cookie. His "Dey done told me dat" dialect felt really uncomfortable to read. I think this may be because I'm British, and over here we only really see that sort of dialect written in old, racist books poking fun at "dem darkies". I don't for a second think that's why his voice is like this here, but given that racism is a running theme in One in a Million, it bothered me. Even without that, though, it was deeply annoying. I'd much rather Cookie's speech had been written out normally with just the occasional touch to remind me of how he was speaking.

The awfulness of Scootaloo's time at the school is my other irritation. There aren't any teachers who actually seem to like her. Sure, not everyone is as bad as Herald Dust, the headmaster, but you'd think there would be one or two nice guys in there. (Again, compare and contrast with Harry Potter.) When you add in the way River Star bullies Scoot and her stepsister Night Whisper with impunity, it does get a bit wearing. There were points at which I thought, "Yeah, yeah, she's being picked on, I get it, now give us something else."

So why three stars? Because there are also plenty of aspects I liked. River Star stops just short of physically attacking Scootaloo, though it's scary to think what might have happened had she succeeded in sabotaging her exam flight. Night Whisper turns out not to be quite the S1-Fluttershy doormat she appears, and actually was the OC I ended up liking the most – yes, more than Cookie. The revelation that River was Trixie's sister stretches things a bit with 2017 canon but works better with a 2013 mindset.

And then there's Ruby Shine. You're never quite sure whose side he's on, and you get the feeling he isn't either. The long sequence in which he pretends to fancy Scootaloo, only to reveal it as a River-inspired prank just as Scoot is about to kiss her, hit me harder than anything else in this story. Maybe I should have seen it coming – but I didn't, and so it really worked. After that, I was constantly on tenterhooks to see whether there'd be yet another twist in that relationship.

I suppose it's a bit obvious to have Scootaloo struggle with her final practical test but ultimately triumph, but I still prefer it to having her fail. What I might call the "Scootic Rainboom" feels a bit silly and over-the-top, but I did cheer for her when she showed Herald Dust up in front of everypony else. Having her destiny be fighting against pony racism felt a bit clunky and contrived, but I swallowed it in the end – and again it's possible this has resonances for American readers that it doesn't for me.

One in a Million is a story that gave me what I was hoping it would: Scootaloo succeeding against the odds. Despite the occasionally tedious passages of her facing one misery after another, despite Cookie's voice, despite the mildly annoying ending, it kept me reading and wanting to know how Scoot's tale would end. It gets a three largely because of that. Also, I was hoping Celestia herself would appear eventually to ruin Herald Dust's day, and I was so happy when she did!

Next time on Ponyfic Roundup: among other things, both a fic and an author with "Horse" in their name.


  1. Man. I think I hate this story. The premise looked interesting, but the unrelenting awfulness of the boarding school made me want to quit reading. The only reason I persevered was because the lack of "sad" or "tragedy" tag convinced me there was supposed to be a happy ending, and I knew it would bother me forever if I left this version of Scoots before she got her happiness.

    Even then, the happy ending didn't really satisfy me. The school was so overwhelmingly bleak that "Only the Author Can Save Them Now" set in. I think it happened when Scootaloo secretly sent a help message out to Twilight—tricking the school staff and her evil roommate in the process—yet the message had absolutely no tangible effect. That was the moment that made it clear that no matter how resourceful Scoots was, the universe would conspire to keep her miserable. So when she finally passed her magic exam in the end, it felt to me less like she triumphed through perseverance and ingenuity, and more like Ocalhoun finally lost interest in smashing her face into the dirt and decided to let her win for a change.

    (Hell, Ocalhoun even threw in that early part of the exam where Scoots had to illuminate the object with her magic, and her glow wasn't visible until a cloud obscured the Sun. Congratulations, Scootaloo: in spite of all your hard work, you still would have failed if the weather hadn't cooperated.)

    But what really cemented my desire to never read another Ocalhoun story again was another story of his, "On Wings of Love". Which was explicitly intended as a feel-good Scootaloo story to make up for the abuse from One in a Million, though not set in the same universe. But in that fic, Scootaloo's "best day ever" is when Twi uses that spell from "Sonic Rainboom" to give Scootaloo those magic butterfly wings. Because even in a Scootalove fic, Ocalhoun takes it for granted that Scoots will never fly like normal. Ugh.

    1. in spite of all your hard work, you still would have failed if the weather hadn't cooperated

      After writing this review, it occurred to me that this part of the story could be seen as a subtle hint that Rainbow Dash was involved somewhere in the background. After all, she is originally a weather pony... I really doubt it's what was intended, but I may adopt it as after-the-fact headcanon anyway!

      I've never read On Wings of Love, but it's so short that you may actually have encouraged me to read it! I'm a huge Scoots fan, but unlike many others I don't actually mind if she never flies, so that alone probably won't bother me.

    2. Yeah, I don't mind "Scootaloo will never fly" per se. It's just, in that context—a feel-good slice-of-life fic meant to make up for the abuse from that other fic—it felt really out of place.

      If my friend Bob wrecked my car by accident, then paid out-of-pocket for a replacement, I'd think he's a cool guy (though I wouldn't let him borrow my car again). If my friend Dave promised me a really nice birthday present, and then his gift turned out to be deliberately smashing my car with a sledgehammer before buying a replacement—then I probably wouldn't stay friends with Dave for much longer.

      Ocalhoun's work feels to me more like Dave's gift than Bob's.

    3. Right, I get your point now. I still doubt it will bother me, but I can see why not everyone will feel that way. I detest actual Scootabuse, but I tend to see that term as referring more narrowly to the disgusting "it's fun to hurt Scoots" stuff of a few years ago. I can't find it in me to be more than mildly annoyed with ocalhoun's actions in this story, though.