Fanfiction – Ascend

This time, I decided to go for something full-length, but My Little Pony… because that’s just the mood I’ve been in recently.

Ascend by xTSGx

This one’s noteworthy because it beat canon to something that evoked quite a bit of fan controversy, but did it in a way which was self-aware and amusing: What if Twilight Sparkle became an alicorn?

In the My Little Pony setting, Celestia and Luna were originally portrayed as “gods in the literary sense” and, when Twilight Sparkle became one, it was seen by many as a sign that the quality of the series was falling in the wake of Lauren Faust moving on, merely as an excuse to pump out more merchandise.

In this story, it’s played in a much more appropriate setting: One morning, Twilight wakes up to find herself with wings to complement her horn. Naturally, her imagination runs away with her, she panics, and her plan to keep it secret sets the stage for Murphy to try his hand at comedy.

(And, importantly, it’s a novella-length “What if?” dedicated to the concept, rather than a sudden change in canon which usually has to time-share with normal episode-to-episode conflicts.)

Right out of the gate, her first solution is to reverse-engineer changeling magic to hide her new wings… and, sure enough, what should arrive in the mail just after she succeeds, but a subpoena to appear before the committee investigating the events which led up to Queen Chrysalis’s failed invasion attempt.

To quote Spike, “Looks like that implosion’s gonna happen sooner than I thought.” followed not long after by “Oh, come on! That’s so contrived!” when he tries to tell Princess Celestia anyway.

That said, aside from that one lampshaded contrivance, this is the polar opposite of those stories where events just keep getting drawn out through liberal use of the idiot ball or a refusal to just @#$%ing communicate. Instead, any mistakes which move the plot along are either of the “I might have made the same mistake in her situation” variety or the “Oh, Twilight. Why you gotta be so you?” variety. That helps to keep things satisfying.

The end result being a narrative in two phases:

For the first half, it fits its Slice of Life tag beautifully, with the vast majority of the narrative following Twilight interacting with her friends on what they see as an ordinary day. Events just sometimes lead some of them to discover her secret.

Shortly after the mid-point, that then changes when Twilight’s deception is revealed in the most public way possible. The second half is then dedicated to the aftermath of Twilight’s ascension coming out… a country populated by a species that produced the Flower Trio.

Humour-wise, it ranges from fairly typical humour (such as the thing that’s bubbling up within Twilight turning out to be a burp… in addition to the expected panic) to genre-savvy, trope-aware jokes which sometimes lean on the fourth wall without breaking it. (Including some “Spike voicing the readers” moments in the middle of the range, such as when Twilight rebuffs Spike’s efforts to prevent another Lesson Zero, and he grumbles about how he should just take a vacation and see how long it takes for a “Ponyville Exclusion Zone” to be established.)

Of course, my favourite joke has to be the history of the term “alicorn” that Twilight rambles off while trying to collect her wits after Rainbow Dash discovers her secret.

On the other end of things, I’m not a big fan of the dream interludes. “Flashing forward” to Twilight’s visions of how things could go wrong in the middle of something I’ve been primed to want more of just makes me want to skip past them… especially since each one’s significance to the primary story arc could be summed up in a paragraph or less of “after Twilight woke up” text.

That said, there is one exception. I love the joke which ends the dream sequence in chapter 9. So you don’t have to read the entire dream sequence if you don’t want to, here it is:

Pinkie looked somberly at the purple alicorn.

“Twilight, there’s something I have to tell you.”


Pinkie grabbed hold of Twilight and faced her.

“It’s eight o’clock in the morning and you’re listening to Everfree Radio.”

As for the mentioned subpoena, the pacing of the story is such that Twilight actually going to Canterlot is an “on the horizon” thing for the vast majority of the fic. That said, the story does have a tonal thread of “Equestria is a real place with real politics” that surfaces occasionally… as evidenced by a scene where Twilight has to head off an argument between Rarity and Rainbow Dash over who’s the bad guy in one MP’s fight with the Cloudsdale Weather Factory. I’m neutral on that.

The story is complete at 61,412 words, with an incomplete sequel half as long. I’d rate it at a 4.2 out of 5. (4.3 if you edit out the interludes so they don’t disrupt the flow of the story.


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Fanfiction – Needless Gender Confusion

Needless Gender Confusion by Sarah1281

This is another crackfic oneshot, because I still haven’t had time to take notes on anything longer… specifically, it’s a Naruto oneshot which was probably inspired by the variety of reactions in the Naruto fandom to the “By the way, I’m a boy.” “No way! You’re prettier than Sakura-chan” reveal.

The basic premise behind this 1,334-word fic is that Haku is a girl… pretending to be a boy pretending to be a girl… and Zabuza is as confused by that as you are, except we get to laugh as his frustration mounts in a very Abbot and Costello-esque fashion.

Again, it’s hard to write a long review for such a short fic, but here’s a brief quote to give a taste of the character of the story:

“With long hair, I could pose as a girl!” Haku realized.

“You are a girl,” Zabuza felt the need to remind her.

“That’s certainly an advantage I have, then. Because – no offense – you really couldn’t pull cross-dressing convincingly off,” Haku said honestly.

As crackfic oneshots go, I’m not sure whether I’d give it a 4.5 or a 5 out of 5. I need to re-read more of them to regain my sense of perspective.

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Fanfiction – Uhhhhh ok

The last week has been a mess for me and I didn’t have time to prepare a review of a full-length story. However, I don’t want to leave you with nothing, so here’s a oneshot I’d been saving to include in a list-form post:

Uhhhhh ok by Ringmaster

This deranged little comedy explores a simple hypothetical: What if Shinji Ikari decides to help Rei Ayanami learn about her emotions… by playing a prank where they act like Beavis and Butthead.

It’s just a single 1,216-word scene and it’s one of those things that gets its power from the reader imagining it as they read, so it’s hard to say much more about what actually goes on.

That said, as far as crackfics go, it holds a special place in my heart and I’ve re-read it at least four or five times over the years. A top-notch crackfic oneshot through and through.

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Fanfiction – Dreaming of Sunshine

Now for something I should really dig through my archives and re-read more of: Good self-insert fanfiction.

In this case, Dreaming of Sunshine by Silver Queen.

The story starts when our heroine gets reincarnated as Nara Shikako, twin sister of Nara Shikamaru.

On the whole, the story’s strength is finding a balance between novelty and the strong currents which drive canon events while also doing a good job of making the OC main character an interesting person to follow and explore in her own right. For example:

She winds up on Team 7, but only after she concludes that displacing Sakura from her “destiny” is the best of a bunch of sub-optimal options. (Others she considers include dropping out, which the culture would make as attention-getting as refusing a lottery prize,  and going into the medical corps, which wouldn’t give her the self-defensive training she desires.)

She saves Haku and Zabuza, but in a way that follows naturally and in an unremarkable way from the simple detail that she has different skills than Sakura. (Unpredictable, but obvious in hindsight… like all good writing.)

At the same time, it has an excellent balance of “This is an OC who watched Naruto” and “This is her life now, and her old memories have faded”, which leads to foreknowledge noteworthy in-the-large by how consistently the individual events draw minimal attention.

That said, it really feels like the first novel or so worth of text is significantly better than what follows, so I think it’d be best to review the story in two parts:

For the first novel worth, it’s got some really elegant twists to its writing, such as the way she gets Naruto to stay interested in playing Shogi with her, and some memorable but characteristically unassuming-yet-sharp quotes like this one:

To a civilian bright, blinding orange wasn’t an appropriate colour for a ninja. Therefore, it was actually a perfect colour for a ninja. Oh, sure, it stood out like hell in a forest, but the fact was, most of our time spent hiding wasn’t among trees – it was among other people. The best ninja is one you can’t tell from a civilian.

It confounded their expectations. A tall guy dressed head to toe in black carrying a small armoury? Ninja. Small, loud blond kid in orange? Are you kidding? Ninja were invisible not because of jutsu (most of the time) but because they looked just like normal people.

(Also note the clever way in which that quote counters the fanon cliché that the orange Naruto wears is part of some plot by the villagers to get him killed by only selling him “kill me”-coloured clothing.)

I don’t want to make this review too quote-heavy, but it also has the most elegant explanation I’ve ever seen for the Naruto-verse’s schizo-tech.

It does have the occasional flaw, such as the OC drawing attention to the difference between short names like “Suna” and “Konoha” and formal names like “Village Hidden in the Sand” and “Village Hidden in the Leaves” because the author didn’t recognize that “Suna” is a shortening of “Sunagakure no Sato” (Japanese for “Village Hidden in the Sand”) and likewise for “Konoha”. That said, it’s quite uncommon for me to find a fanfic based on a Japanese source which has this few mistakes like that.

However, after the first novel worth of it, the insight, snark, and clever world-building really fade away, leaving a story which feels decent, but not exceptional. If it weren’t for Shikako’s occasional acquisitions, discoveries, and creations in the field of sealing, I’d probably have lost interest for the same reason I lost interest in Detective Conan. (The subplots I actually cared about progressed far too slowly.)

According to TVTropes, this fic has “attained legendary status among the Self-Insert Fic community” for how well it achieves this balance of familiarity, originality, and insight. (specifically, through the mixture of snappy dialogue and having the OC remain focused on her inner struggles while mostly relegated to the role of observing canon events) That said, I seriously wonder at what point in its development that status was earned, because I only see that within the first part.

Still, I certainly do agree with that assessment for that first bit. When putting in the effort, Silver Queen is very good at fleshing out what canon tells you of the Naruto setting in ways which you then want to mix back into your headcanon and Shikako definitely feels like an engaging character.

All in all, I’d give the first part a 4.7 out of 5 and the rest a 4.0 out of 5. Read it up to when the anime filler arcs come in, then decide for yourself whether it’s still interesting enough to keep going.

Admittedly, I still have about a third of it left to read, but, given how long the story is, given how long it’s been since my impression changed, and given that I don’t see how future chapters could significantly affect what I’ve written so far, I’m willing to risk having to revise this review as I continue to work my way through it.

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Fanfiction – Preliminary Recommendations of Very Long Stories

This time, I’m going to try another experiment: There are several fics that, while good, are very long. I’m not sure when I’ll find time to read them all the way to the end, but it doesn’t seem fair to leave them unmentioned when I’ve already read and enjoyed at least twice the amount of text that many completed fics would have.

So, here are three very long fics that I’m still working through:

Living an Indoctrinated Dream by Aberron
Length: 1,088,123 words (and counting)
Fandom: Mass Effect
My Progress: chapter 53 of 89
Let’s start off with a do-over/Peggy Sue fic… one featuring The Illusive Man.
What makes this fic special is threefold: The characterization, the degree to which the author is willing to flesh out the cast to show off said characterization, and good use of intrigue.
Aberron really writes an interesting and sympathetic Jack Harper and pairs him up with a cast of original characters (both major and minor) who are enjoyable in their own right. (Such as the daughters he winds up having and the minor mention of one of their friends… a volus who’s a hardcore extranet MMO player.)
I wasn’t taking notes while reading it, so I don’t feel comfortable writing a full review, but it was quite engaging and I didn’t stop at chapter 53 because I lost interest… I stopped because, as is typical, I burned out on it after multiple days of spending my leisure time doing nothing but reading the same fic. I’ll come back to it sooner or later.
Probably a 4.5 out of 5 rating, but a final verdict will have to wait until I’ve caught up.
Re:Gamer by Akallas von Aerok
Length: 421,851 words (and counting)
Fandom: Naruto, Re:Monster
My Progress: chapter 76 of 115
First, I should be clear in saying that I’ve never read Re:Monster, so I don’t know how much of the fic is the author’s original creation and how much is just taken from the source material.
That said, coming in from the Naruto side, it’s certainly interesting and entertaining… and that’s usually the point authors fail on when copying too heavily from canon.
Again, one I didn’t think to take notes on. The gist of the story is “Take Re:Monster and substitute Naruto as the main protagonist” and, given Naruto’s canonical goals (become Hokage, protect his precious people), it fits surprisingly well.
This story, I temporarily stopped reading not because I burned out on it per se, but because I was only mildly in the mood for a Re:Monster story to begin with and other events in my life distracted me with more appealing options. I do still plan to come back and finish it when I’m in the mood again.
I’d rate this at 4.0 out of 5 and it shows no signs that my verdict will change when I read further.
Dreaming of Sunshine by Silver Queen
Length: 684,229 words (and counting)
Fandom: Naruto
My Progress: chapter 63 of 143
First, let me admit that this fic is actually the reason I don’t have a normal review this week. I am working on a review… I just can’t complete it until I catch up… so, here’s a summary of the relevant bits of the draft:
The story is a self-insert, but one novel enough that TV Tropes claims it’s got quite a bit of fame in the fandom.
As a concept, the main character is Shikamaru’s twin sister. She’s smarter than in her previous life (which causes a moment of emotional distress when she realizes that), but not as brilliant as her brother. Her memories of Naruto as a work of fiction have faded, and she lacks any kind of special SI powers.
What results from that is an entertaining story which I can certainly believe to have earned acclaim.
For one thing, It does the most impressive job I’ve ever seen of coming up with explanations for oddities in Naruto canon that you then want to add to your own headcanon.
More generally, Instead of stomping all over canon, it’s a story as much about the heroine’s inner struggle as her outward actions. She becomes a ninja… because it’s her only chance to possibly gain sufficient self defense skill after she paints herself into a corner career-wise.
In relation to canon events, she walks a tightrope where she makes the details novel, while the broad strokes seem to remain unchanged… and that fact worries her to no end. At the same time, she has some delightfully snarky mental MST3K-esque reactions to canon people, places, and events.
So far, I’d rate it as a 4.7 out of 5 because it gets all the technicals very right, but I’m still likely to only ever read it once for some inexplicable reason. (Compared to NGE: Nobody Dies, which I read as it was coming out, re-read a few years ago, and am considering re-reading again, despite it being nearly 600,000 words long.)
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Fanfiction – Dark Horse

I was quite busy this week, so how about something a little different than usual, in that I’d normally put it in my recommendations group and call it a day. (I try to limit my inclusion of My Little Pony fics on this blog, for a variety of reasons, including having best-in-class tooling for finding something to read and some readers preferring to avoid it on principle.)


Dark Horse — A Five Score Tale From The Dresden Files by Lord Of Dorkness is a Dresden Files – My Little Pony crossover which does an amazing job of capturing the Dresden feel while blending it into a “Five Score” fic.

…and now to explain what a “Five Score” fic is. Five Score, Divided By Four is a My Little Pony fic in which the main character, an ordinary human, gets an unwanted 25th birthday present when he discovers that he’s turning into a character from My Little Pony. It turns out that he (and countless other humans) are actually reincarnated ponies from the My Little Pony setting who were cursed by Discord, a former villain who wasn’t really as reformed as he claimed. The story touched off an explosion of spin-offs by various authors, some canon to the original and some not.

That’s the main thing you need to know to enjoy Dark Horse since, as long as you’re willing to either pay close attention or do a Wikia search for various character names, the story is significantly more Dresden Files than My Little Pony.

Prior to the story’s start, Harry Dresden winds up turning into Fluttershy, who, in addition to canonically being a cute, soft-spoken wallflower, shares a surprising number of characteristics with Harry Dresden. As Lord of Dorkness puts it, “Far too kind, a thing for animals, strange magical powers the average pony/human doesn’t posses… Oh, and yeah. Unholy horror once actually angered!”

The story proper starts when Harry Dresden receives a visit from someone claiming to be a friend from a past life… things go downhill from there as the cast who remember their past lives are so caught up in their certainty that their perception of the situation is correct that they completely botch the contact and come across as either villains or under the sway of villains.

What then follows is a very Dresden-esque sequence of events in which he winds up picking up Rainbow Dash Nemo Schwartz as as a fellow cast member and getting the better of their pursuers. (This works well, narratively, because most of what has already been written functions as Act 1 and making a habit of trouncing the antagonists he can see is only complicating things for Harry when the later acts start.)

Now, because this feels like act 1 of a significantly longer story, it’s hard for me to really summarize high-level plot details which are relevant. This is, again, one of the stories where the specialness comes from how all the fine details fit together to make for a satisfying reading experience.

There are also a few twists I don’t want to spoil… though I will say that I love what’s revealed in chapter 7 about the natures of Dresdenverse magic and Equestrian magic. It’s an elegantly clever bit of world-building and very satisfying to boot.

All in all, while not the only Dresden – My Little Pony crossover I’d consider good, this is certainly the one which feels most strongly like a Dresden Files story that had My Little Pony injected into it, rather than the other way around.

Admittedly, it does have a bit of a “you’re only seeing a small portion of what you want to see, despite how many words you’ve read” effect, so I’ll have to mark it down for that.

Given that this is my second time re-reading it, how uncommon it is to find something which tries to follow Jim Butcher’s style this well, and how much I enjoy reading it, I’ll say that it’s a 4.7 out of 5 if it never updates again and a 5 out of 5 if it does manage to progress significantly.

It’s just a shame that, as of this writing, Lord of Dorkness wants to work on the next chapter, but is being wrung dry by his job.

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Fanfiction – Harry Potter and the Price of Being Noble

While I was looking up Harry Potter & the Curse’s Cure, I also ran into the other Harry Potter harem fic I first encountered around the same time, so why not a review for that too?

Harry Potter and the Price of Being Noble by DriftWood1965

The major problem with this story is that, while the story starts out reasonably strong, it has a major dip in quality near the beginning that can drive people away before it rebounds.

As far as the plot goes, the story diverges from canon at dinner, before the selection of the Triwizard champions, when one of Fleur’s schoolmates takes the last of the bouillabaisse to spite her, and she comes over to the Gryffindor table to ask if she can take theirs. In doing so, she takes notice of Harry (and his non-reaction to her allure) and all of the rest of the differences ripple (subtly or obviously) from that point.

The story then follows Fleur until the second task, as her opinion of Harry develops from liar, to honestly not wanting to be in the tournament, to both noble and impressive beyond his years, to finding him appealing despite knowing that he’s too young.

It’s during their ascent after recovering their hostages that the main portion of the story begins, with Gabrielle undergoing a truly magical growth spurt at the worst possible time. Harry winds up being instrumental in saving Gabrielle’s life, while risking his own, and both Fleur and Gabrielle wind up impulsively naming Harry their bondmate.

(Bear in mind that, through the magic of long chapters and an abridged retelling of canon events, this is all within the first three chapters of this 52 chapter story.)

Unfortunately, like Harry Potter & the Curse’s Cure, this story requires you to bear with some less-than-ideal writing while it’s setting up the main conflict. However, in this case, it’s especially noticeable because it represents a drop in quality from the Fleur scenes which preceded it.

When the story’s perspective switches from Fleur to Harry, it’s just in time to receive an exposition dump. The writing quality drops significantly, with the exposition seeming so rough and formulaic that the the nature and legal status of the bond feel somewhat contrived and copy-pasted from a story of much lower quality. Give it a little time to find its feet there. However, like Curse’s Cure, it does improve if you either skim or soldier through those bits.

I should also mention that circumstances later result in Hermione being added to the group.

As far as problems go, the only one which really comes to mind is the aforementioned dip in quality… but roughly half a dozen chapters where the quality has dipped to 3.5 out of 5 (+0.5  on a scale from -2 to +2) and is trying to climb back up are nothing to sneeze at… especially when you’ve had a much better first impression to compare them to.

On the plus side, while the story is no “Effects and Side Effects”, it does start to provide a steady stream of original-feeling elements and around chapter 11. Examples of this include:

  • I’m not sure I’ve seen any other stories where, upon discovering Harry’s childhood, Dumbledore seeks to improve Harry’s opinion of him by proposing that Sirius and Remus enact harmless pranks on the Dursleys in retribution.
  • Dumbledore freely admits to keeping Harry’s inheritance tied up in the courts because there were problems (of an interesting nature) when James and Lily’s wills were unsealed and, if Harry gets his inheritance before his age of majority, the Dursleys have to be notified and might get control of it.
  • Fleur gives Hermione one of the best explanations of the house elf perspective that I’ve ever read.
  • The plethora of alternative interpretations for the prophecy is pruned away with one simple piece of information from Dumbledore: It is a known fact that prophecies are always given using the language and cultural context the seer is most familiar with.
  • Taking inspiration from what became of Bertha Jorkins, Amelia Bones takes the opportunity to leave Lucius Malfoy in a room alone for 20 minutes, then obliviates that time in the hope that Voldemort will assume it must be a false memory.

As in Effects and Side Effects, it has Harry selling the Basilisk’s corpse though, in this case, it’s at Dumbledore’s urging since, if Harry doesn’t accept the money, it’s likely to be embezzled away by Voldemort’s allies.

All in all, I’d say that, once you get over that initial hump, the story is definitely a 4 out of 5 and worth a read. (If you have trouble with the low-quality chapters once it switches away from Fleur’s perspective, try reading the recap in chapter 14 and then skipping to chapter 10 or 11.)

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