Well, turns out Earth and Sky gets better. I managed to finish it and enjoyed the ending. Below the break is my further thoughts on the story. Plenty of spoilers, and probably some major ones below the break. So I’ll sum up. Pretty good, major flaws at the beginning, ending is much better. I’m still not sure if I’d recommend it because the second half doesn’t quite make up for the first half. It does pair up Applejack and Soarin though, if you like that particular romantic pairing. It’s long, but if you get past the halfway point you’ll probably enjoy the rest.
Really, this story would be just wonderful to take apart paragraph by paragraph and line by line as an editing exercise. To see what worked and what didn’t. There’s just a lot of good and bad not working against each other, but more like at overlapping 90 degree angles to each other. A bit of editing and polish and this would be a great story.
This one was curious. I liked it and thought the author had some interesting stuff, but I’m not sure I would recommend it. The first third or half of the story is a fairly slow slog to get through. I almost didn’t finish it several times. It picks up at about the 60% point and the rest of the story was a much easier read. I’ll cover the bad bits first, then the good ones.
For the bad, this story has the worst case of lavender unicorn syndrome I’ve ever run across. Even at the end I sometimes struggled with who was speaking or doing things at any given point. It’s not so much that the ponies were referred to by their color, that would have been fine. The ponies would be indicated by their color, their mane, job, or even their emotional state once or twice. Sometimes using the same phrase a few times in one scene, then switching to another one in the next scene. I think it was hiding, either on purpose or accident, a weakness in the author’s skill. Just replacing all of them with each character’s name would have those names popping up all over the place. Which means that things need to be edited and re-written to be clearer, not simply use a different word and/or phrase instead. Now, I don’t know if I got used to it or it happened a lot less, but the last quarter of the story I wasn’t noticing it as much. Given the other improvements in the writing, I suspect the author simply got better as the story progressed. Or maybe got a new editor.
A more minor one, this story had dialects up to the gills. Really heavy apostrophe-thick dialogue for the Apple family was the worst. We are talking an average of one ‘ for every two words. Seriously. It was so bad I pretty much skimmed all of Applejack’s and Apple Bloom’s dialogue for a majority of the story. A similar example was Princess Luna being very cool and hip to the extreme. Her use of slang and casual behavior was cool at first, but got a little too much after a while. There is a hint that she’s doing it over the top on purpose, so I’m happy to cut a little slack in that department. Just wanted to mention it as a warning. Still, I enjoyed the Princess Luna in this story. Fun version.
The third big thing was the pacing. It was kind of wonky. Not in a bad way exactly, but still wonky. A lot of the relationship stuff seemed rushed and other stuff seemed really slow. Nothing really seemed missing. The best analogy I came up with is a animation where you take out every other frame of art. The result is still basically the same, but things look jerky and semi-stuttering. Plus we have the trouble of the classic shipping troubles of everypony pretty much falling in love with their partner at first sight, then boom they are in a relationship. The one involving Soarin and Applejack gets a decent arc through the whole story, but in general things could have been built up more.
The last thing I’d want to comment on as a annoyance was word choice. For the first half of the story or so the author used very odd word choices. Nothing incorrect. In fact, overly precise terminology was a major factor. It stopped me from getting immersed in the story when every other sentence or so used an unfamiliar word my brain had to consciously decipher before moving on. That, more than anything else, is probably what made reading the start of the story so slow. The odd word choices made it impossible to get lost in the story, which meant I was noticing all the other flaws with the writing.
Enough of that, on to the good stuff! Which there actually was a decent amount.
First, all the characters were well characterized. None of the ponies got deep and complex personalities, but everypony had a personality and motivations. Even most of the side characters we didn’t get much time with projected a sense of being actual characters and not just plot devices. A few of the really minor characters were somewhat close to cliche, but even the one-note joke ones managed to avoid seeming two-dimensional.
Second, the plot was pretty neat. Pacing issues aside, the actual events of the story were all pretty good. Interesting concepts and a few clever little twists to things. The events made sense and the story itself felt like it was firmly in the thematic and emotional area as MLP. For example: There is a scene when a battlion of royal guards are attacking the bad guy’s airship and a hatch pops open and a gatling gun pops out. I was a bit worried that the author was going to try to add violence into a fairly fluffy pony story. Then it turns out the gatling gun was firing puffs of sneezing powder that merely disabled each guard. Then another gatling gun popped out the top to take out the pegasus guards from that direction and it was shooting poison joke. So, I’d say this author is great at keeping pretty close to pony in that respect.
I also really liked Fluttershy as presented in this story. She was using The Stare a bit too much, but her behavior as a mother with her foals was very nicely done. As was Pinkie Pie as a mother. All of the mane six were presented well enough that they were recognizable and felt like time had passed since the events of the series. As for other characters, one of my favorite parts of this story is how it treated Princess Celestia and Princess Luna. The royal pony sisters had a wonderfully demonstrated relationship. It’s probably one of the best I’ve seen, particularly in a story that isn’t focused on them. Plus it had Princess Celestia losing her temper in a grand divine fashion. Her anger tinting the color of the sun, and at one point exploding the building she was in. In a comedic fashion and not a tragic one. The villains, a deranged version of the Flim Flam Brothers, are proper cartoon villains.
Lastly, the author did a good job presenting a pegasus culture. We don’t actually see much of it, but I got a strong sense that it was there in the background. Just how some of the pegasus characters reacted to various things in a consistent fashion. As well as pegasus themed curses and oaths. The biggest example is that all the pegasus cussing and curses were simply bad weather terms, things like ‘sleet and hail’ when something went wrong. The good luck phrase ‘clear skies’ which I’ve seen in other fanfics, but it has a casualness in this one that really sold it. Really, the consistent casualness of it worked well. I really did feel like the pegasus characters were drawing on a weather-and-sky based culture for their expressions of various emotions. Much like a ‘standard’ American might draw on Christian based imagery such as ‘damn’ or ‘bless you’.
Anyway, the good ponies win, the bad ponies lose and get chances at redemption, and things turn out awesome. With some major editing this could easily be a MLP movie.