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Pony Stories 201

18 Aug

I’ve been pondering the criticism of stuff I liked vs criticism of stuff I don’t like. Or more precisely, what kinds of things I tend to put in my reviews. It seems that reviews of even stories I liked are, by volume and/or wordcount, more about the flaws of a story than the strengths. I’ve noticed in in other people’s reviews of things in general, not just pony stuff. It just seems much easier for people in general to talk about what is wrong with a piece than what we liked in it. At least in any comprehensive way. I think about this from time to time. This time around it was prompted by the PresentPerfect stories I had in yesterday’s post. I liked all of the stories I read, but if you read the reviews you might get the impression I didn’t like one or two of them if you weren’t paying close attention to catch the one line of praise in five lines of complaints in at least one of them.

Part of it, for me, is that I don’t have any training or practice in analyzing things deeply. I can usually point out what’s wrong, but for some reason I find it nearly impossible to compliment a story in precise terms. I usually know what I like and can point it out, but not nearly as precisely as I can point out what went wrong in a story. No real insight here. Just me rambling about something that has been rattling around in my brain for a day or two. A reminder that I need to think a bit more positively and do my best to articulate the good things in a story as well as the bad.

Stardust by Arad

I liked this a lot more than I expected. I’m a huge fan of the xcom games, both the original and the (proper) remake that this story is based on. So I had some doubt that this crossover would pull off the combination of xcom and pony. It wasn’t quite as good a mix as Fallout: Equestria was, but I’d call this a close second. It did a good job of taking the basic xcom plot/setting and sprinkling in the pony stuff. If you like some scifi with your pony, this is a story I would recommend. If you really like xcom, I’d also recommend this. Aside from one exception, the story bits told in reports and scientific observations were handled quite well. The one exception was a huge info dump that I think was nearly as long as all the previous reports put together. I ended up just skipping through the last half of it because it was all just exposition with no story or character development.

I would give a warning that the pacing might be a little slow. For about 2/3rds of the book it’s almost a slice of life where nothing really happens. Well, most of it. We do get scenes of danger and action, but pretty much everything involving Twilight Sparkle is just sort of meandering fluff. Which is somewhat the point. The contrast between the almost enforced bland slice-of-life the humans make sure to surround her with contrasts nicely with the life-and-death horrifying struggles of the human race fighting against the aliens outside of Twilight’s experiences. The last bit of the story suffers from almost the opposite. Lots of stuff happens at once and the plot just gets crammed at the reader like it’s trying to make up for the majority of the story being fluffy.

I’d highly recommend this one if you don’t mind video game crossovers. Not sure how much someone who doesn’t know xcom would enjoy this, but I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t be completely lost. I’d give this the highest compliment a video game crossover can get, at least from me. I not only enjoyed the story, but it made me want to play the game. In fact I ended up playing xcom while reading a good portion of this. Which is how I discovered how awesome the Long War game mod is. So that’s a double win in my book.

Broken by Arad

A mini sequel to Stardust. Not nearly as good as the previous story, even taking into account the brief nature. It isn’t bad, just a little flat. The time loop trilogy by Eakin did this subject so much better. Still, not a bad story. Just reading it right after Stardust was perhaps a mistake. Comparing really good to pretty decent.

Fortitude Amicitia by Arad

Pretty good. Dusk Guard crossover with Stardust. No reason to read unless you like the Dusk Guard. The story is basically a single action scene. If you liked Stardust and you like the Dusk Guard stories, you should give this a read. If neither of the above is true, you should not read this.

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7 Comments

Posted by on August 18, 2014 in Books 2014, Ponies, Reviews

 

7 responses to “Pony Stories 201

  1. inquisitormence

    August 18, 2014 at 8:55 am

    Actually, I think this is a normal approach to providing feedback. I’m not saying it’s the best approach, just normal.

    I mean, if you can spend an hour reading a story and have nothing to complain about, then frankly, it’s probably a decent story. People are into the idea that happiness and enjoyment can be treated like they have a base of zero: in order to be positive one must have positive things. This, however, is not an accurate description of reality.

    Without going on a long tirade about brain chemistry, it is a basic physiological fact that human being are shiny, happy people until something taints the experience of simply being alive. Reading is something you do, and if a story is not proving to be a worthwhile experience, then you’re going to feel like your time isn’t being well spent, and you will naturally focus on the things that stood between you and the perfect, happy experience you would like. Only when there isn’t much in the way do we naturally tend to focus on the positive things. Look around you in the world – this is pretty much how most of our species operates.

    Which, of course, doesn’t mean we can’t train ourselves to do better than that, but I wouldn’t want anyone to get stuck with the idea that such an approach was overly negative, biased, or unhealthy. For me, accepting such basic truths goes a long way towards becoming less bound by them. Trying to do something better is a more rewarding frame of mind that trying to do less of something you have framed as demeaning or ‘self attacking’. Why waste time with all that bad energy when you can just re-frame the question in the positive?

    Personally, I embrace the approach. If I iron out every glitch that spoils a reader’s engagement that I possibly can, regardless of whether I am playing critic or author, then whatever is left is probably pretty good. Seems to work.

    -M

     
  2. Viking ZX

    August 18, 2014 at 10:33 am

    I think one of the best, most honest comments made regarding critics and reviews comes right from Pixar’s Ratatouille:

    “n many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”

    The majority of novice critics out there (and 99% of those who aren’t doing this for a living are novices) live the first half of that quote to its fullness. They thrive on negative criticism. They don’t want to talk about the reasons a work is good. In fact, that hardly enters their mind. To them, the entertainment, the joy, it all comes from telling someone how poor their work is, drawing the creator’s and the public’s attention to everything that is wrong with it.

    These people aren’t truly critics. They are people pretending at being critics, and only those who know little about the subject in question every actually pay attention to them. True critics, those who really sit back and understand their craft, when they like parts or the whole of a work, praise something rather than tear to shreds, and what flaws they do find are often pointed out with the caveat that they weakness is easily offset by other elements of the work. When they find something they dislike, they offer strong points still, as well as the off-setting flaws and the explanation of why the flaws overcame them.

    Of course, having the education and the understanding, in addition to the critical thinking, needed to actually do something like that is pretty difficult. The requirements to do so are quite high (which is why real, well-known critics are paid very large amounts of money). And again, 99% of critics found on the web have neither the education nor the understanding to be taken remotely seriously in their “criticism” of whatever they happen to be talking about. Most quickly boiled down to “I liked this/I didn’t like this” with the “critic” clearly searching for reasons to justify that decision, rather than create a real critique of the work in question.

    And, of course, the cold hard truth is that the average piece of junk is far more meaningful than the criticism designating it so. Even true critics have found that their own words mean little when compared to the works they pass judgement on. Critics are, in a strange sort of way, a parasite. They only exist when others do all the heavy work of creation, and only gain attention by attaching themselves to it. And the majority of people will never see the critic, only the work itself, which they will enjoy or not enjoy regardless of the critic’s opinions one way or another. Those 99% especially have a very difficult time acknowledging this. They want to believe that they’re independent, that they’re serving a more meaningful purpose.

    Most of them aren’t, and in the long run, they will often be outlasted by those who they declare to be of little worth.

    The ultimate point? True critics who know and understand their craft and approach it with a reverence to produce good quality critiques? Few and far between. Even Ebert was guilty of letting his own opinions flavor his critiques from time to time (his dismissal of Wreck-It Ralph as a shallow, worthless film solely on the judgement that it was about video games and therefor could NOT be a movie worth watching was about as far from the truth as he could have gotten). The average “critic” is quite often, by the creators of content, blissfully ignored in favor of more worthwhile things.

     
  3. Griffin

    August 18, 2014 at 11:37 am

    Both of those are true, to an extent. I’m thinking of a more practical matter though. I’m aiming for less criticism and more consumer advice here. So I am thinking that I need to better express myself in the stuff I put out. If I liked a story, then the review of it should be mostly positive things. Not one line of ‘this is good’ and three lines of nitpicking the few flaws.

    Additionally, I think that a balanced review is simply better all around from a learning how to write viewpoint. I have to believe my own writing will be better if I can analyze and express my thoughts about the good parts of a story as well as the bad parts. Better skill through understanding, in all things.

    Another part of my belief, to more directly respond to InquistorM, is that if you go about removing all the flaws that gets you a very polished blandness. In general anyway. I prefer stories that try to add in interesting stuff rather than remove the flaws. I would rather have a interesting story with really good bits and really bad bits than a story that’s just slightly above average all around. Probably one of the reasons I enjoyed Fallout Equestria.

    Also, from what I’ve read the human brain actually tends toward light dissatisfaction. No matter how good things are, the brain tends to level out your perception so that you aren’t quite happy. Would you mind sharing a source (link or book title or whatever) of info about what you said above, that it is a basic physiological fact that human being are shiny, happy people until something taints the experience of simply being alive, so I could see where the disconnect between my information and yours is?

     
    • inquisitormence

      August 18, 2014 at 1:22 pm

      But blandness is a flaw, so that can’t be true.

       
      • Griffin

        August 18, 2014 at 1:26 pm

        Hmmm. I suspect you have a different definition of flaw than I do. Once again showing that it’s all about perception.

         
      • bchandler2

        August 18, 2014 at 2:22 pm

        What one considers a flaw depends largely on what one wants out of something. If I’ve been throwing up for the past hour, and I’m finally trying to put some food in my stomach, I want it to be bland. If you’re really tired after a long hard day of work, you probably don’t want wild kinky sex, you want light cuddles and to fall asleep (this you is hypothetical; I certainly don’t have anyone to cuddle with.). Sometimes, blandness is what’s desired. So I’d hesitate to call it a flaw. You may even want it in a story, for example, maybe for contrasting Celestia’s boring day with Luna’s exciting night.

         
      • Griffin

        August 18, 2014 at 2:36 pm

        That’s pretty much my feeling on the matter. Most of what I call flaws are mostly technical stuff (spelling, etc) for that very reason. Everyone likes different styles. No objective standard for what makes great art, just some commonly held rules and different priorities. I remember reading the first Lensmen book (old scifi story) which is nearly 100 years ago at this point. By most of the standards today it’s not that well written. Yet it was still fun to read and followed all the basic conventions for writing that kind of story at the time. So I like to think about 100 years from now, what will people think looking back on the stories we are writing today.

         

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