Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Regarding my upcoming Power Ponies Annual review:

Just to mention that I will not be addressing the whole Ted Anderson/Glitter Punch/etc/etc/etc drama storm. I'm interested in reviewing the comic as a comic, and that's what I'm going to do. If you want to know about the other stuff, hit up this EqD post for the details. I'll try to get the comic review itself up sometime later this week, though it may have to be at the weekend. No later than Sunday, though, if I can help it!

Sunday, 28 September 2014

In praise of Level Seven Comics

As some of you will know, I've generally been buying my My Little Pony comics from Nostalgia & Comics in Birmingham. I like that shop as I've always had pleasant, friendly service. However, it is a bit of a trek, and recently they seem to have been carrying only one or two copies, making the journey something of a risk. So, I've been casting about for a new source. There's eBay, of course, and I've mostly had good luck with sellers on there, but I've now discovered another option.

Level Seven Comics is a new venture by a couple of the admins from UK of Equestria, and based on my experiences so far, they deserve to succeed. Very competitive prices, ridiculously fast delivery (my last comic was in the post less than two hours after ordering, and arrived the following morning) and excellent, secure packaging make a winning formula in my book. My Power Ponies annual (review soon, but it's good and you should buy it!) came from there. So will my next comic.

(And no, this isn't a paid or sponsored review or anything like that. I'm posting this because I genuinely think Level Seven deserves to succeed!)

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Comic review: MLP Friends Forever #9: Granny Smith & the Flim Flam Brothers

Okay, public service announcement first: there will be no Ponyfic Roundup this week. My apologies for that: I just haven't had time what with real life intruding so much (work stuff, the Scottish referendum and being unwell over the weekend). Don't fret, though: I intend to return to fanfic reviewing next week, when all being well I'll be bringing you a special edition of PR. This will discuss a much longer fic than you're accustomed to my talking about. Clue: not Background Pony, Anthropology, Past Sins, Eternal or On a Cross and Arrow.

MLP Friends Forever #9 standard cover
Only two covers this time: I bought Amy Mebberson's Peanuts homage
All right, with that out of the way, let's get down to business. As you've doubtless worked out by now, that means my review of the most recent IDW comic, Friends Forever issue #9, which brings together Granny Smith and the Flim Flam Brothers. We have a brand new writer this time around in the shape of Christina Rice. The ever-busy Tony Fleecs handles the drawing, while the equally omnipresent Heather Breckel does the coloury stuff. Does it work? Your guess is as good as mine... so here's mine:

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Ponyfic Roundup 23

Well, I suppose it had to happen sometime: a week when I really wasn't bowled over by any of the fics I chose to read for review. On the plus side, none of them were terrible, either. They were just... there, with the odd spark to lift most of them marginally above mid-score territory. The winning story is at least quite interesting, so let's get to it.

Pick of the fics

I'd Like to be a Tree by electreXcessive
Fluttershy and OC
Sad/Slice of Life; 3K words; Sep 2013; Everyone
A collaboration with Midnight Dancer. In the show, I generally find that co-written episodes do poorly (eg "Power Ponies") so I was iffy about this one. The title didn't help, either. But actually it's not bad: Fluttershy herself narrates, explaining why this tree is so special to her. I found it rather sweet and even moving at times, though it sometimes tries a little too hard for emotion. Also, and I know the show gets this wrong too, "lie" and "lay" are not the same word. Perhaps I'm being kind, but 7/10.

Other stories

Don't Be Too Hasty by yellowstripedflutterbat
Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy
Romance/Slice of Life; 2K words; Feb 2014; Everyone
This is a tale of two halves for me, which takes some doing when a story's this short. I really rather enjoyed the opening section, which has some nice interplay between the Pinkie and Fluttershy. Unfortunately (for me, anyway) it later turns into a gentle, but rather standard, shipfic of the sort that usually makes my attention wander. Worth a look if you enjoy that sort of thing and like this pairing, though. 6/10

A Hell of a Time by Aragon
Celestia, Luna and Cadance
Comedy; 4K words; Jun 2014; Everyone
A really, really silly fic about the travails of the three princesses in Tartarus. Nothing wrong with silliness, but on this occasion at least, it just didn't quite click. There are some good laughs to be had, and a character repeatedly complaining about her face hurting is made surprisingly amusing. The author acknowledges that it was written on the fly, though, and that does show sometimes (Cadance/Cadence being one example). Also, what exactly is "a pompous swift"? Quite entertaining, but no more than that. 6/10

Reading Rainbow by Corejo
Rainbow Dash and Twilight
Comedy/Slice of Life; 7K words; Mar 2012; Everyone
This tale of what happened when Rainbow had to read a storybook in verse to a hospitalised Twilight is a massively popular story, to the extent of being considered a fandom classic. I don't entirely go along with the adulation, though it's a nice concept and the poem's underlying story is okay. The writing isn't always that smooth ("[RD] said quickly with a suspicious smile") and the poem itself feels a little forced, relying too much on the word "did". Not bad, but nowhere near classic status for me. 6/10

Scootaloo's Secret by Alaborn
Scootaloo, CMC, Mane Six and Zecora
Slice of Life; 7K words; Oct 2012; Everyone
This is one of those "Where does Scootaloo actually live?" stories, which I suppose is acceptable given its age. It does have an unusual twist ending, though, albeit one which borders on the unbelievable, and there are a few other nice touches. I'm not entirely sold on the characterisation of the CMC, though, and it's really distracting to have "Twilight Sparkle" written out in full every damn time. (Yes, more so than AJ's Ah-speak.) Also, what's that bizarre loose end regarding Sweetie Belle all about? This is just too rough to be convincing. 4.5/10

Sunday, 14 September 2014

BUCK report: Sunday

(L) Worshipping at the Fluttershrine; (R) In my Derpy scarf, eating appropriately!
I've taken much longer than I'd hoped to get this done, but at last here is the third and final part of my BUCK report. Sunday dawned very cold (for August) but at least it was dry and bright. Unfortunately, the uselessness of Sunday morning trains meant that I couldn't get to Manchester Central in time for doors-open, which in turn meant that I missed the Flash Fanfic contest. A shame, as I got an honourable mention in that last year. Oh well.

Instead, I took the opportunity to ease myself fairly gently into the day, meeting up with existing friends, talking to a few new people and doing some merch hunting. All of these continued all day, of course: I didn't buy a huge amount of stuff, but I couldn't really resist the deal I was offered for a Derpy scarf and a plush parasprite. Well done, Pegasus Embroidery UK: I'll keep your name in mind for the future!

In fact, I didn't attend any formal, timetabled events all morning. Instead, there was a lot of singing at the karaoke, as well as guiding one or two people towards the VIP autograph sessions I'd been to the previous day. Lunchtime arrived, and BridleTimeout, Vcgriffin and I decided to have lunch together. After a rather longer walk than we'd been expecting, we ended up at a Subway sufficiently far out that there were hardly any other bronies there. :P

(L) Heather Breckel's panel; (R) Griffin, Bridle and me with Diamond Dog
Although it was sunny and quite warm at the time, things started to cloud over as we finished lunch and the temperature dropped, so we headed back to Manc Central. I chose to attend Heather Breckel's panel/presentation on digital colouring: not being a terribly artistic pony I didn't understand that much of it, but it was quite interesting nevertheless. (If I hadn't gone to that, I'd probably have been to the community VAs panel in a side room.)

A big highlight of the con now: Dave Polsky's presentation. He was brilliant, with a wide-ranging talk taking in the likes of Goethe and Einstein, and even those of us who don't list him as their favourite writers were favourably impressed. It's by now well known that he dealt very professionally with a very difficult question about "Twilight Time", but that was only one element of an all-round excellent performance. A shame this clashed with Pipsqueak's stand-up comedy, which I enjoyed in 2013.

Then, a bit more of the impromptu singing (see Saturday's report!) when we realised that we hadn't done "Smile", something that needed rectifying at once. I did drop in on the Cadence [sic!] Stage for lesser known musicians occasionally, but the only one who really caught my attention was a guy named Vocal Score. His excellent acoustic cover of "Make a Wish" was what sealed it for me, and I'd recommend giving his music a listen.

(L) A collection of fursuiters; (R) It's getting very near the end
The final regular event of the con was the joint VIP panel. All three of them sitting on sofas being interviewed by one of the con staffers, and it worked very well. They all seemed relaxed and the intended "friendly chat" atmosphere was what we got. After that, all that was left was for everyone to be silly in the main hall for a while before the closing ceremony. That was as you'd expect, right down to the mass choruses of "PFUDOR" and "Winter Wrap Up". And this year I actually managed to take part in the huge group hug at the very end!

So, that was BUCK for this year. There won't be another one for at least two years, if there's one at all, so I'm glad that 2014's edition took us out on a high. Not everything was perfect, and I don't think the venue had quite the sense of occasion that the Bridgewater Hall had, but I'm still extremely happy that I was able to go. As with last year's event, I'll keep some of the memories from BUCK 2014 with me for a very long time. Good con? Good con.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Comic review: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic issue 23

IDW MLP:FiM comic #23 Cover B
Sara Richard's wonderfully striking Cover B
The MLP comics are coming thick and fast at the moment: Friends Forever #9 is already out, and the Annual appears later this month. But for now, it's back to IDW's main My Little Pony comic. This time we have a one-shot, written by Jeremy Whitley and drawn by Amy Mebberson, with Heather Breckel on colouring duties. As well as being a self-contained issue, this one's unusual in that it stars the ponies' pets. Does the risk pay off? After the break, we'll find out!

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Ponyfic Roundup 22

Here we go again! Although I'm not including the EqD contest finalists in these lists, I am going through them steadily. It may be some weeks before I get to the end, but I already know that I'm going to have one or two mildly controversial opinions. Back to this week's batch of stories, though, and it was a generally rather disappointing collection this time round. One standout, however.

Pick of the fics

Tea Time by Einhander
Celestia and Cadance
Slice of Life; 5K words; Mar 2014; Everyone
Far and away the best story this week, this is a deceptively simple tale about... well, what the title says: Celestia and Cadance talking over tea. A clever use of changing perspective and some really interesting points made almost in passing. (Even Sombra gets a name-check.) On the surface, there's not a lot to this, but then that's the case when making a cup of tea as well. Only just misses a 9, but I'm more than happy to give this 8.5/10.

Other stories

Airshipping is Magic by Blueshift
Trixie and Twilight
Romance/Random/Comedy/Alternate Universe; 1K words; Jan 2012; Everyone
This one came up at the BUCK fanfic panel, of which Blueshift was a member. It's one of his earliest "Pony is X" type stories, and is a shipfic starring Trixie and Twilight as airships. Well, of course. Originally published in spring 2011, it's not nearly as good as Blueshift's more recent work, and even has a genuinely distracting repeated typo. (Is it "Trixieburg" or "Trixieberg"?) Still amusing, but not hilariously so. 6.5/10

Behind Closed Eyes by memphisgurl
Slice of Life; 1K words; Jun 2014; Everyone
A very short piece in which a pony alleged to be Snowdrop explains how she understands the concept of colour. A fascinating idea, but it doesn't quite work, largely because the narrator really doesn't sound at all like the Snowdrop we see in the Silly Filly Studios animation. I did like some of the phrasing: "White, the impossible color" for example. Frustrating because it could have been so much more. 5/10

Flying Hard by terrycloth
Twilight and CMC
Slice of Life; 1K words; Jan 2014; Everyone
Another PR, another really popular story (+23/-0) that didn't convince me. The newly ascended Twilight ponders, in her usual scientifically wordy way, the problems flight presents. As is no secret, I don't usually have a problem with wordiness in itself, but here it gets irritating because the story doesn't really go anywhere. (Well, apart from the afterthought-ish CMC stuff.) Readable but not very memorable. 5.5/10

The Nightmare in Ponyville by FluttershyFan5
Mane Six, Celestia, Luna, Discord, Spike, Derpy and OC. [Phew!]
Comedy/Random; 3K words; Feb 2012; Everyone
When I read it, this was one of the worst-rated fics on the site (+0/-16), though it's since picked up a couple of upvotes. It's certainly not good, with a confused plot based on a letter from Celestia, lots of technical errors (speech tags especially) and some truly weird OOC moments. (Fluttershy is almost unrecognisable at times.) But it's not, quite, as bad as its rating suggests and does at least have a fairly interesting concept at heart. 2.5/10

Saturday, 6 September 2014

BUCK report: Saturday

(L) Welcome sign outside; (R) Those pony convention essentials, cider and muffin!
At long last, I have time to post this!  Saturday dawned chilly (especially for August) and rather drizzly, which was a bit of a pain. I got the train into Manchester and walked the few hundred yards to Manchester Central at almost spot-on nine o'clock. Registration was already in full swing, so despite having to wait for the priority-ticket holders to be processed, I wasn't really in the queue for very long. I noticed one or two friends, which made a change from last year and settled my nerves a bit.

Once inside, there was a bit of a wait until the opening ceremony at 10.00, so (like most people) I busied myself with talking to friends, browsing the merch stalls and wrestling the venue's free wifi into submission. I felt immediately at home this year, which was lovely: in fact, every time I walked through that front door all weekend, there was a feeling of "Yes, I belong here." The atmosphere was wonderful: busy and cheerful, but without the crush and overheating of BUCK 2013.

The opening ceremony passed off without much incident, so after a few minutes' more shopping (and some My Little Karaoke, naturally) I headed off to one of the side rooms for the "Word Crimes" Fanfic panel. This was well attended and had an interesting line-up, headed by FIMFiction top man Knighty and prominent author (and occasional Worcester meet attendee!) Blueshift. The hour passed by very quickly, and other than maybe giving the panellists a dais so we could actually see them, I don't think I'd have changed a thing.

(L) Button Mashes karaoke-ing "Don't Mine at Night"; (R) Fursuiters and, er, Space Marine
Next up was the first of the VIP panels, from G. M. Berrow on "The Magic of Creativity". After a slightly shaky start (she told us she was a Powerpoint novice, and it showed!) she gave a really interesting presentation on how she approached writing the successful MLP chapter books. For example, the very first one (Twilight's) was written in a deliberately more juvenile way than those that came afterwards, and she uses a three-act format to mimic the show's own episodes.

It was about 1.30 by the time Berrow's panel finished, and Manc Central's catering options were... limited (though they had a superb range of muffins!) so I linked up with Hawthorn (who some of you will know via furry) to get some food. Well, the nearby McDonald's, anyway, where we gorged on Big Mac meals, in my case making Twilight's table manners look good. The place was packed with bronies, and we got into a very interesting chat with a Hungarian guy who had some trenchant opinions on just about everything!

Back at Manc Central, it was charity auction time! You know how these things go, I'm sure, though having Mic the Microphone on MC duties may not have been the best idea given that he has (by his own admission) terrible eyesight! I bid on a couple of items but didn't win any: a nice Flutterbat print started at £20... then someone shouted out "£300!" and every single other person folded! Still, it was good fun all round and we raised over £11,000 for JDRF. Top item: a custom Chrysalis plushie, £1,100.

(L) Mic the Microphone at the charity auction; (R) G. M. Berrow's autograph
Then it was autograph time! I got into the queue 45 minutes early, and had to listen to a rather boring argument about Scottish independence between fellow waiters a few feet away, but hey ho. The actual signing session was extremely well organised, with all three VIPs (the others being Dave Polsky and Heather Breckel) doing their stuff in one big room. £10 per signing, and I had Berrow sign my copy of Rarity and the Curious Case of Charity, which she did with a lovely message (see photo above).

Having got that done quickly, I did catch the last part of the cosplay competition, and then (for some utterly insane reason) Bridle Timeout, VCGriffin and I decided to have a bit of an impromptu public singalong. We picked up a couple of others during our dodgy performances, at least one of whom joined the UK of E forums as a result, so it can't have been all bad! Actually, it was a huge amount of fun, and something else that I would never have done in most circumstances.

Finally, there was the Lunar Eclipse concert. This wasn't as much to my taste as 2013's iteration, with more hardcore noise (Davhors!, JackTHerbert, Teithepony and Cavi) and less orchestral and vocal stuff. Even so, I was very glad to be there for a brilliant set from RainbowCrash88 that rocked the whole venue. By a bit after nine, it was a repeat of Friday night, ie I'd stopped understanding the music, so it was time to get back to Bolton. Once again, Northern Rail were hopeless, but I made it in the end.

(L) Guiding Breeze cosplaying as Daring Do; (R) Adorable sleepy Flutterplush

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Okay, I think I'm going to do this

I'm going to read the other 22 finalists in the EqD Outside Insight contest. I have them all downloaded already, to make sure I read them as they were submitted, as I expect a few will be tweaked in the near future. There were over 100 submissions to the competition, so I'm certainly not going to read all of them, but doing the finalists seems manageable.

And yes, I'll report back. I won't put them in a Ponyfic Roundup, and I may not even give them scores, but I'll try to work out my personal top 10 from the list. I can tell you right now that "I Am Demon" (which won the contest) is up against it from the start for being the only fic that I'm going to have to plough through on a computer screen rather than my trusty Nook...

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Ponyfic Roundup 21

Before I forget: yes, I am still going to upload the other BUCK posts. I've just been horrendously busy lately. Meanwhile, let's return to the standard format for Ponyfic Roundup. A rather mixed week this time around, and at one point I thought I'd be struggling to find a really worthy Pick, but then I discovered a really excellent – and shamefully under-viewed – story, one that was an absolute shoo-in for the position.

Pick of the fics

The Railway Ponies: Highball by The Descendant
OCs and Others
Sad/Slice of Life; 24K words; Mar 2014; Teen
This ludicrously under-appreciated story (under 800 views, for a writer with 2,200 followers! Maybe it's the OC thing) is the satisfying, moving tale of ace engine driver Highball, told in first person by a more junior colleague. Despite the fact that you can see Highball's ultimate fate coming and a (very) few minor typos, this is superb, especially for those (like me) who have some knowledge of steam railways. There's a twist late on that may divide opinion, but I thought it worked. I did find the American railway parlance distracting: unfair on the author, but I score on my own enjoyment and having to mentally translate "engineer" to "driver" and so on did hurt the immersion a little bit. It would have been 9.5 otherwise, but please read it anyway. 9/10

Other stories

Accolade by Cereal Velocity
Trixie, Luna, Twilight and Celestia
Romance/Comedy; 7K words; Jul 2011; Everyone
The oldest extant story on FimFiction, barring a 300-word snippet by Sethisto. It's... not terrible. There are much worse stories on the site, certainly. A rather predictable comedy shipfic involving (but of course) Trixie. This is a perfect example of a "meh" story for me: it was almost completely unexciting, for either good reasons or bad. Occasionally fun, but balanced out by poor proofreading. As such, I'll give it a similarly unexciting 5/10.

Friends Forever by Doctor Perseus
Twilight, Mane Six, Celestia and Luna
Tragedy/Sad/Dark/Alternate Universe; 9K words; Mar 2014; Teen
Twilight didn't finish Star Swirl's spell properly and paid for it with her life. She's now a zombie, still visiting her friends and insisting they spend time with her. A straightforward setup, but a potentially interesting one and at times we do get glimpses of the real chiller this could have been. Unfortunately the tone isn't consistent: there are intrusions of inappropriate silliness, while a scene with Spike and Discord doesn't really work. 5/10

Just a Little Prick by Greatodyer
Fluttershy, Angel, Twilight, Pinkie Pie and Applejack
Comedy/Slice of Life; 4K words; Mar 2013; Everyone
ObDisc: Greatodyer used to be a fellow mod on UK of Equestria. This is a silly story about Fluttershy's attempts to give Angel his yearly shot. (Injection, not bullet. Sorry to disappoint some of you.) Some pretty amusing and well-timed comedy, especially of the more physical sort, but the story could have done with a bit more proofing. For one thing, rabbits aren't rodents. 6.5/10

The Last Crusade by Paradigm Shine
CMC and Celestia
Sad/Slice of Life; 3K words; Feb 2012; Everyone
Most definitely one for the feels brigade, this is a story about saying goodbye. It teeters on the edge of feeling overly emotionally manipulative; I thought it just about kept its balance (most of the time), but it was a very close call. I'm not entirely convinced by Sweetie Belle's position, and there's one example of the dreaded "Applebloom", but otherwise it reads okay. 6.5/10

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Comic review: MLP Friends Forever #8: Applejack & Rarity

MLP Friends Forever #8 Amy Mebberson cover
Rail replacement bus services are magic
Well, I said that I'd be getting this comic reviewed before the next one came out, and so I am! Okay, only by one day, but who's counting? This issue of Friends Forever, with the slightly forced title "Reins, Trains and Carts with Wheels", has been eagerly awaited ever since it was announced: the Cook/Price/Breckel team (despite a mixed reaction to the "Reflections" arc) is generally still considered IDW's top squad – Breckel came to BUCK and was well received – while Applejack and Rarity usually make for a great double act. Past the break for more!