Friday, January 12, 2018

Fandom Classics Part 239: Dead/Light

To read the story, click the image or follow this link.

Thank goodness for the snow day yesterday; it gave me a chance to get this review out.  One Man's Pony Ramblings: adored by brony literary snobs and, apparently, weather gods.

So with all praise to Ullr, head below the break to read my review of Lord Destrustor's Dead/Light.

Impressions before reading:  I remember reading this a long time ago--well, no more than three and a half years ago, going by the publication date, but it feels like a long time ago.  IIRC, I enjoyed it well enough, but didn't find the conclusion all that satisfying.  We'll see if that holds up on re-read, or if I was remembering wrong, or if I just was wrong (it should go without saying that my review here will be 100% objectively correct in all matters).

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  After a magical experiment goes awry, Twilight wakes up in a coffin, with everyone convinced that she's dead.  But she isn't, because that's impossible--so why won't everyone just quit lying?

Thoughts after reading:  I think I can see why I wasn't impressed with the ending the first time I read it.  It's a timeskip epilogue, which is fine, but since the chapter preceding it ends right on the emotional climax of the piece, it feels like a lot of what should've been the emotional core of the story got passed over; the whole story is about Twilight's refusal to accept that she's dead, and there isn't so much "falling action" as there is just a "and here's what things were like after a sort of normalcy reasserted itself."  That said, I didn't find that it really bothered me this time; I would've liked some more post-revelation emotional material, but I didn't find the lack of it inappropriate to the story being told.  It's a story about Twilight not accepting death, and by the end, we see her... accepting death.  There's nothing wrong with that.

I wasn't able to really get into the story, though, and the problem was one of characterization.  Twilight is, in this story, willfully and absolutely obtuse; she refuses to accept that she's dead, because she can't be dead, and therefor anything suggesting that she is dead is a lie or trick of some sort.  That'd be a fine premise for a comedy, but Dead/Light is very much a serious piece, and her psychotic refusal to accept facts frankly doesn't fit the tone of the story at all.  A lot of that comes down to the first-person perspective; Twilight observes a lot of things that prove that she's dead--she doesn't just note things in passing which the observant reader can pick up on, but she actively points them out, which makes her seem less like someone desperately avoiding the truth and more like either an idiot or a genuine psychotic.

The latter interpretation is probably the more likely one, as she ends up being malevolent and violent--even murderous--to a degree that one can be forgiven for believing that perhaps this isn't Twilight after all.  This is where the story really struggled for me: it seemed pretty clear that "Twilight" was acting in ways that Twilight simply wouldn't, even under the admittedly extreme circumstances... and yet, there's never any explanation or justification for this.  Does death intrinsically change one's personality?  Are we so sure that this really is "Twilight" and not something else taking her body, perhaps without even itself knowing that it's not her?  These would be fertile questions for a dark story about self-necromancy to explore, but they are passed over altogether.  Given the totality of the fic, it's almost impossible to support any explanation other than it is supposed to represent a perfectly believable set of reactions on Twi's part.  And for me, that was a bridge too far.

On the other hand, I generally liked the reactions of Twilight's friends and assorted witnesses.  Although occasionally veering towards overdramatic, I thought the mixes of horror, confusion, and anger which the author pulled out through them felt very appropriate to the situation ("the situation" being confronting the walking, talking corpse of a recently-departed friend who's furious at you for not being happy to see them).  And where Dead/Light really shines is in the magic.  From the first descriptions of Twilight's unconscious journey to her various offensive spell choices, Lord Destrustor does a great job of clearly explaining difficult-to-visualize acts and events.  More broadly, stuff like what's actually being done in the epilogue feel clever for their inclusion, and give a sense of sense to what's happened, without ever spoiling the essential mystery of death (or undeath) on which a lot of the fic's darkness depends.

Star rating:

I may not have felt like I was reading about Twilight, and I may have felt that that fact was conspicuously passed over by the fic itself... and those may be two pretty significant gripes... but when the writing turns to necromancy, or any old -mancy at all, there's a lot to recommend it.

Recommendation:  If you don't mind weak characterization (and to be fair, it's strong internal characterization, i.e. Twi acts consistently within the confines of the story itself) and a poor tone/perspective mix, Dead/Light is the kind of story likely to be appreciated by fans of magic writing in general, and of magic-corpse-fiction (which I assume is a genre) in particular.

Next time:  Letters from a Secret Admirer, by Subsolar Drift


  1. Dang, that sounds like a fantastic concept for a fic, though. I wish it turned out better. :/

    Also, it's DestruStor.

    1. *squints* So it is. Better fix (unfix?) that spelling!

  2. Phew. I was starting to wonder about the long absence. Specifically, I was wondering whether the problem(s) you were having in previous weeks had gotten you down, or something to that effect. It's good to see you posting again.

    Yes, I agree with Present Perfect. A pity this one didn't meet expectations, because that sounds like a fantastic premise. Actually, it reminded me a little of Reaper Man, specifically when the wizard Windle Poons comes back from the dead and the other wizards can't stand having him around/try to "kill" him properly. So it's funny you mention it might have worked as a comedy...

    Also, finally someone who uses the word "psychotic" correctly. It's astonishing how often people seem to use it as a synonym for "psychopathic".

  3. That really is too bad, as it sounds like a great starting point, which ended up in an awkward middle ground in execution: too much done with the personality change for it to just be Twilight, not enough to justify it.

    Seems like that's a point made more salient by the fact we've seen her go through this kind of thing before in relatively early and very prominent episodes--dealing with something she can't believe in "Feeling Pinkie Keen," bashing herself against problems she can't deal with well in "Lesson Zero" and "It's About Time"--and even when she becomes dangerous or destructive, she doesn't seem violent or even particularly malevolent. And she's learning and getting better over the time frame we know this covers (through alicornization at least).

  4. The rotting flesh descriptions gave me the heebie jeebies.