Einhander’s “Royals”

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Today’s story is a rarity: a rich romance between an unexpected pair.

Royals
[Romance] [Sad] [Slice of Life] • 14,210 words

Rarity always wanted to be Lady Rarity. Over time, it became more clear it was not meant to be. But she’s fine, she’s got a successful business in Ponyville, her fashion line showing in Manehattan and she has her friends, even if most of them are moving on with their lives. A prince sweeping her off her hooves was just not meant to be.

So how in Equestria did she end up on a date with the richest pony in town?

Confusion, feelings and wine mix for a potentially explosive, heartwarming (or rending?) evening, along with a pinch of generosity.

FROM THE CURATORS: Any romance writer can tell you that mashing characters’ lips together is the easy part — and this is a story that makes the hard parts look effortless.  “Royals follows Rarity as she goes on a date with Filthy Rich,” Soge said in his nomination, “and what follows not only is a delightfully well-constructed romance on its own right, but also an amazing exploration of what makes both characters tick, and an exploration of the nature of fame and success and what those mean in the greater scheme of things.” On its way to a rare unanimous approval, that was far from the only praise it accumulated.  “This does a flawless job of selling a ship I’d never even considered,” Horizon said. “Within a scene and a half it had endeared me to both characters AND shown me their chemistry.”  Present Perfect, meanwhile, noted that “excellent romance needs to be built on relationships, characters and dialogue, and this has all three in spades.  This is what romance should always be like.”

Even in the details, we kept finding things that surprised and delighted us.  “I adored the clever touches around the main plot: Diamond Tiara reacting to Rarity, the reason for her name, even just getting to experience a pre-season-five fic [before the show canonically made Spoiled Rich his wife] again,” Present Perfect said.  Horizon added that “the dialogue was never anything less than sharp and stellar,” while FanOfMostEverything was impressed by how casually it made its stars shine.  “The story even celebrates both characters at their best even when they’re not trying to romance each other,” he said, “from Mr. Rich’s drive to save Sweet Apple Acres to Rarity’s Bisonian moment in the last flashback. (‘For you, it was the greatest day of your life. For Rarity, it was Tuesday.’)”

That exemplary character work extended throughout the story, and drew praise from every one of us.  “I’ll just add how well the author draws even the background characters here,” AugieDog said.  “The flashback in chapter two give us a perfectly written Applejack, for instance, and it’s in a scene that’s nothing but dialogue.”  All in all, as Horizon said, that elevated it into a story with broad appeal: “As sweet as the romance was, these two characters could have been watching paint dry and it still would have held my attention.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Einhander discusses belated tinkering, short circuits, and universe sharing.
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brokenimage321’s “Celestia XVII”

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The crowning achievement of today’s story is a look at some royal growing pains.

Celestia XVII
[Drama] [Slice of Life] [Alternate Universe] • 56,413 words

Being seventeen is hard — especially if you happen to be a Princess.

I’m Princess Celestia, but everyone calls me Cece. My life has been crazier than normal lately — my big brother Blueblood is a selfish jerk, my best friend Twilight just moved away to Ponyville, and, oh yeah — Nightmare Moon turned out to be my long-lost somethingth-Great Aunt, Princess Luna. No biggie.

But, no matter how my life is going, I’m still Princess. I’ve gotta keep it together. Somehow. I can make it at least until the Grand Galloping Gala in a month-and-a-half … right?

FROM THE CURATORS: “It’s no secret that I love a good alternate universe, and this is a truly fascinating one,” FanOfMostEverything said in his nomination.  “It all stems from a simple question: ‘What if alicorns were mortal?’ The resulting dynastic Equestria is at once familiar and strange, especially when seen through the eyes of a seventeen-year-old version of the Celestia we know, forced to take the throne and the wings far too early.”  And that core concept got accolades from every curator.  “Wow, just wow,” Soge quipped, while Horizon said: “This is proof that, seven years in, the fandom is still capable of coming up with unique ideas.”

Not only that, but we found the writing polished enough to show that idea off.  “It is one of those fics that shines in the small details,” Soge said, “like the small changes in Twilight’s and Blueblood’s characterization, the way it subtly restructures character interactions, and how it twists oh-so-subtly the scenes the fic cribs from the show.”  Horizon commented on that too: “I appreciate the author trusting their audience to know canon rather than to recapitulate each beat of the episodes it’s re-envisioning.”  That allowed them to keep their focus tight, Soge said: “More than anything, the execution here was spot-on … it is slow and methodical, plumbing the depths of characterization built through the course of the novel.”

In some ways, the story sold its vision of the setting almost too well.  “Is it weird if I say that this fic is one of the few pony stories I’ve ever read which could work better humanized?” Horizon said.  But, AugieDog noted, that just reinforced how perfectly it captured the true core of show canon.  “For all the ‘bipeds or quadrupeds’ moments, it’s a very Pony story,” he said, “with multiple characters learning multiple lessons and coming to realize how much they need each other. And the AU is simply marvelous — these are simultaneously the characters we know and characters we’re meeting for the first time.”

Read on for our author interview, in which brokenimage321 discusses skill theft, sisterly subtext, and purring cars.
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Metool Bard’s “The Truth Hurts”

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With today’s story, idol hooves are the devil’s workshop.

The Truth Hurts
[Dark] [Sad] [Slice of Life] • 4,914 words

Lightning Dust has been in a bit of a rut ever since getting kicked out of the Wonderbolt Academy. Day after day, she’s been sticking to a strict exercise regimen under the guidance of Cloudsdale’s premier personal trainer, Haymaker. Her hope is that she’ll unlock her true potential and show Haymaker how awesome she is, thus prompting him to use his connections to get her back into the Wonderbolts. No matter how many times Haymaker tells her it’s impossible, Lightning simply refuses to listen.

Then one fateful night, Lightning Dust’s training is interrupted by the appearance of her greatest idol, Wind Rider. It turns out he too has difficulty accepting reality, and he has his own, more nefarious schemes to get himself back in the game. Haymaker sees this as his last chance to save Lightning Dust from walking Wind Rider’s path. And if that means rubbing salt in a few wounds and shattering a few dreams, then so be it.

FROM THE CURATORS: Sometimes, a story’s brilliance lies in expressing one of life’s greatest rarities — a truly original idea.  “Lightning Dust is a character I tend to forget was ever on the show,” Present Perfect said in his nomination.  “Therefore, it’s maybe easy to see why no one ever considered comparing her to dethroned Wonderbolt Wind Rider before.  But it’s so obvious in hindsight.”  Soge agreed, and added: “Having read the story, it really surprises me that this is the only fic tagged with both characters on the site.”

Though there was some curator dissent on the quality of the execution, there was none on what made it exemplary.  “What makes this story work, beyond that excellent premise, is the portrayal of the characters,” Present Perfect said, echoed by Soge: “The concept is strong enough to make it memorable, and it is executed perfectly well, thanks to the snappy dialogue and pitch-perfect characterization.”  And FanOfMostEverything pointed out that it wasn’t just the protagonists done well: “Haymaker really ties it all together, knowing when to offer wisdom and when to just shine a spotlight on bullcrap.”

And ultimately, the story talked about redemption in a way that reflected the core of the show.  “I can’t help but draw parallels between Lightning Dust and Sunset Shimmer here,” FanOfMostEverything said.  “Both prodigies, both arrogant, both humbled by a member of the Mane Six. The difference is that Twilight gave Sunset a support network. Haymaker tries to act as that for Lightning, but she’s not yet seen the error of her ways. Seeing Wind Rider’s true colors is, appropriately enough, her rainbow to the face.”  Soge summed it up: “I got left with the feeling that Lightning Dust has a real shot at redemption here, so long as she is able to change her path radically.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Metool Bard discusses dark mirrors, pegasus partiality, and never-ending hurricanes.
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Phaoray’s “Complex Apartments”

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Today’s story drives home the difficulties of odd roommate choices.

Complex Apartments
[Equestria Girls] [Drama] [Romance] [Sad] • 9,829 words

Choosing an apartment to live in is important and requires good planning. Location, needs, cost, a lot must be taken into account when looking.

One girl looks to her animals and peace, hoping to have a quiet, fun time with her friends as she goes through high school. For her, the apartment is cheap, comfortable, allows pets, and is close to school. Perfect!

The other is looking to take over a high school, enslave everyone inside, and bring war to another dimension all in the name of proving her mentor wrong. A small, cheap apartment near the school to plan in is all she needs.

Fluttershy really should have met the neighbors before signing her lease…

FROM THE CURATORS: While My Little Pony is excellent about showing sympathy and redemption to its villains, one of the ways that fanfic complements the show is in offering the nuance that children’s programming can lack.  “What got me wanting to feature this in the first place is the careful depiction of Sunset as reluctant bully,” Present Perfect said in his nomination.  “She’s fueled by vengeance, not evil, and as we watch her first tentative steps toward driving CHS into the friendless chaos Twilight found in the first movie, you start to think that maybe being cold, heartless and manipulative doesn’t exactly come easy to a former pony or something.”

That wasn’t the only way that this story aimed high — nor the only way it succeeded.  “With the ‘Changing Seasons’ contest’s stated goal being ‘ship Sunset with someone’, setting the story prior to Equestria Girls was about the hardest thing a writer could do to themselves,” Present Perfect said.  “Well, other than also trying to ship her with Fluttershy. But the odd back-and-forth relationship they stumble into is a highlight of this piece.”  Our broad agreement sent this toward its feature.  “My love for the romantic dynamic in this story honestly surprised me,” Soge said.  “It’s dysfunctional as all hell … and yet it’s the kind of passionate love that, though it may not be eternal, is infinite while it lasts, to paraphrase one of my favourite poems.”  FanOfMostEverything agreed: “I’ve been stewing it over since I read it, especially that beach scene. In the end, though, as Soge said, it is perfect for this horribly dysfunctional relationship. It’s twisted. It’s manipulative. To call it morally questionable would be being generous. Yet Sunset offers Fluttershy a chance at physical intimacy without any prying eyes making her feel self-conscious.”

That balancing act wouldn’t have been possible without exemplary character work.  “It is quintessentially Fluttershy, two legs or not, to spend a night hugging away the tears of someone that constantly abuses her,” Soge said.  And that extended beyond the protagonists into exemplary writing in general, AugieDog said: “The few lines Fluttershy gives us about her parents are absolute models for concise character backstory presentation, too, and they serve really well to show how this Sunset and Fluttershy are both twisted in ways that twine them more closely together.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Phaoray discusses troll hunters, homeless anomalies, and blood ambitions.
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Minds Eye’s “Extra Sprinkles”

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Donut skip today’s story.

Extra Sprinkles
[Slice of Life] • 2,801 words

Mama never said there would be days like this.

Donut Joe, on his first day running his father’s shop by himself, gets hit with a hurricane of tempers and accusations.

A well-connected hurricane of tempers and accusations.

Still, customers are customers, and they deserve the best service he can give.

FROM THE CURATORS: While this feature was being written, Everfree Northwest kicked off its seventh year of festivities — so it’s fitting that this week’s story began as an entry to EFNW’s Scribblefest fanfiction competition.  And like the conventions we attend, its goal is to celebrate the show.  “In story comments I called this one of the best feel-good fics I’ve ever read, and it absolutely is,” Present Perfect said in his nomination.  “There are no frills, just solid character work and Twilight learning an important lesson.”  Broad agreement such as Horizon’s sent this to a spotlight: “This is a pleasant, comfortable read with its share of cool surprises. It’s a show prequel very much in keeping with the tone and character of the show itself.”

Unusually, all of us agreed on the story’s primary strength.  “The character dynamic is commendable, and the little tidbits of worldbuilding help add some much-needed heft to it,” Soge said.  Horizon agreed: “Characterization is impressive,” he said. “Specifically, it’s impressive that Pony Joe comes across as a sympathetic and positive character despite our introduction to him being his attacking Spike with a broom.  And the story manages to give us hints of character even for the ponies who stay offscreen the whole time.”  For his part, FanOfMostEverything appreciated the character growth both on-screen and off: “I love how we see Joe’s mental gears gradually shift,” he said.  “The outside perspective on Twilight and Spike does a great job of displaying the strange mix of the bizarre and mundane in their relationship, and their characterization shows great work in extrapolating how they’d behave based on how far they’ve come since.”

However, the aforementioned surprises drew their share of praise, too.  “Also, this explains why he’s sometimes Donut Joe and sometimes Pony Joe, and I absolutely love the way that was pulled off,” Present Perfect said, while FanOfMostEverything quipped: “I too appreciate the Pony/Donut Joe explanation, but the toroidal food porn is the glazing on the donut.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Minds Eye discusses shareholder dividends, lightning targets, and Fluttershy: Cloud Assassin.
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AdmiralTigerclaw’s “Arrow 18 Mission Logs: Lone Ranger”

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Today’s story arrives from the past to look at the future.

Arrow 18 Mission Logs: Lone Ranger
[Adventure] [Sci-Fi] [Human] • 66,605 words

The star system Omega Centauri was just another oddity on a map to scientists in the not too distant future. However when they found the star was orbiting an earth-sized, earth-like planet instead of a black hole as its motion had suggested, a mission was scrambled to investigate this most unusual of celestial behaviors.

Hamstrung by politics, and nearly crippled before it began, the ‘Lone Ranger’ mission was reduced to just one crew member and left to his own devices.

These are the logs of Arrow 18 and its lone commander. This information is classified TOP SECRET by the Global Space Agency.

Do NOT tell the princess.

FROM THE CURATORS: “What we have here,” Horizon said when nominating this story, “is an early-fandom classic HiE (first chapter publication date: 2012), but with a twist: the HiE arrives not via handwavey magic but on a spaceship from 23rd-century Earth. What follows is a curious blend of standard HiE tropes, science-fiction first contact, unique Equestrian science worldbuilding, and a very pony story of friendship across a language and culture barrier.”

This reflection of ponyness and humanity was a common theme in our discussion. “The thing that really wowed me,” Present Perfect said, “is that this is a story about humans meeting ponies for the first time, where we, the reader, learn about ourselves through the eyes of ponies, through the eyes of the human protagonist. This weird feedback loop of discovery was really what kept my spirits high through the whole story, regardless of what was going on.” “The ponies’ reactions to a benign alien all ring true,” FanOfMostEverything added while Soge said, “I was just left with this pure, wholesome feeling inside at the end, just glad to see the characters’ relationships progress to that point.”

Soge went on: “Most of all, this is HiE without all those typical HiE pitfalls: The protagonist is witty but never annoying; he sees the ponies as equals; and most importantly, it does all that without a speck of the misanthropy that seems to plague even the best examples of the genre.” And that, FanOfMostEverything concluded, makes it “a very pony story in terms of its central message.”

Read on for our author interview, in which AdmiralTigerclaw discusses conceptual thunderstorms, strange nostalgia, and the curse of cursive.
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Cyrano’s “Suns and Roses”

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Put your hands in the air for today’s story.

Suns and Roses
[Equestria Girls] [Romance] [Dark] [Tragedy] [Alternate Universe] • 10,907 words

The Crystal Mirror brought Sunset Shimmer not to the steps of Canterlot High, but to another world all together. She meets Roseluck, a prisoner in her own home trapped beneath the authoritarian rule of her father, and the two embark on a journey of love and bank robbing as they search for somewhere they can truly be free.

FROM THE CURATORS: The My Little Pony fandom sometimes seems dedicated to proving that ponies can cross over with any genre — and often, as with this tale, the result elevates both sources.  “This is a high-speed fic about falling in love, seeking freedom, and getting into way too much trouble,” Present Perfect said in his nomination.  “You’ve got bank robberies, tommy guns, gas that cost twenty cents a gallon, and going out in a hail of gunfire when the odds are stacked against you. Suffice to say, this story is entirely my aesthetic and I unabashedly love it.”  He wasn’t the only one: “I am a tremendous sucker for period pieces,” FanOfMostEverything said.  “And apparently for lesbian Bonnie & Clyde stories set in the Roaring Twenties. And brief interludes with human Twilight working at a patent office. Sorry, bank. I meant bank.”

And while its pitch-perfect genre elements endeared us to the story, those weren’t the only things it got right.  “It’s a gripping roller coaster of a story,” FanOfMostEverything said, while Soge praised the characters: “Sunset and Roseluck worked out perfectly as a romantic pairing, with the kind of chemistry that would make me less harsh towards shipfics. The setting also works wonders in favor of the story, serving as a perfect way of framing this type of story as a pony fic.”  Horizon appreciated the framing as well: “This melds its pony elements into its 1920s framework subtly and smoothly, and uses them to make the gut punch at the ending all the more poignant.”

While this was breezing to an easy feature, at times our discussion sounded more like a book club than a literary critique.  “This was a fantastic tale of following a road paved with good intentions to its inevitable end,” FanOfMostEverything said, causing Soge to respond: “I will certainly disagree with the idea that this is about a road paved with good intentions, given their impressive (and seemingly dispassionate) body count.  And I say that because it was probably my favourite aspect of this fic — the inherent tragedy to it all, of two teenagers broken by life finding their only escape to be through love, yes, but also murder. It feels very significant that, at the end of the day, they only lose when they take a more empathetic path.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Cyrano discusses boardwalk empires, spring semesters, and a little more panache.
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Aldrigold’s “The Quiescence of the Crystal Empire”

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Today’s story is a blast from the past.

The Quiescence of the Crystal Empire
[Sad] • 2,569 words

Before Twilight and her friends saved the Crystal Empire, its ruler had to watch it die. Long before she meets Shining Armor and Twilight, Cadence walks through her home for the last time.

FROM THE CURATORS: Whether written eight seasons in, or in the early days of the show, one thing doesn’t change about fanfiction — it shines brightest when exploring past the edges of what “My Little Pony” has shown us.  And even when canon later invalidates a story’s approach, it can be enjoyable on its own merits.  “This is a fascinating ‘What If’ of Crystal Empire history that was actually written prior to season 3 airing, let alone Cadence’s backstory showing up in the first official novel,” Present Perfect said in his nomination.  “No Sombra exists to oppose her, only ennui and faithlessness in the face of encroaching winter.”

Unsurprisingly, much of our discussion was about the unique ways this fic engaged us with the benefit of several years’ hindsight.  “It’s always fascinating to see what we come up with in a near-vacuum,” FanOfMostEverything said.  “Part of the fun of reading this was picking out the grains of canon around which formed this gorgeous pearl of speculation.  It also takes how some of the fandom saw Cadence just after the wedding, the Princess Who Doesn’t Do Anything, and turns scorn towards Hasbro’s marketing department into a compelling slow tragedy.”  AugieDog agreed, both in the fascination value and in the story’s added depth.  “I really like the idea of a ‘preemptive AU’ — you know it’s not gonna be right, but you’ve got an idea you wanna get out there, so you just leap ahead and do it,” he said.  “Still, it’s the atmosphere here that struck me — empty, cracking, snow-bound ruins with this one living figure wandering through them.”

Even without the nostalgia, though, we found plenty to compliment.  “It’s a chilling tragedy shot through with quietly powerful lines like ‘She didn’t remember what taurine meant’,” Present Perfect said, while FanOfMostEverything added: “The pacing is incredible, allowing us to appreciate all that has been lost, both in terms of the Empire and of Cadence’s innocence, without crossing the line into maudlin territory.”  Soge summed it up: “It has a consistently melancholic tone, which really helps sell the depths of Cadence’s tragedy here. In a sense, it reminds me of a more personal ‘Lost Cities‘, and that is high praise.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Aldrigold discusses adventure ponies, playground explorations, and fun pants.
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alarajrogers’ “Sleep While I Drive”

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Today’s story drives its characters to extremes.

Sleep While I Drive
[Dark] [Adventure] [Sad] [Sci-Fi] • 12,791 words

Celestia and Discord, as teens, flee their destroyed homeworld to a new world promised by a letter from Luna. But Discord can’t escape his nature, nor Celestia her memories. Being a chaos mage on a starliner is a death sentence, and yet, Discord has to keep using his mind-control powers to take Celestia’s emotions away, at her request, because otherwise she wants to die. And Gray Celestia, the discorded Celestia with no emotions but the drive to protect herself and Discord, will do anything that needs to be done to save them both.

FROM THE CURATORS: When a story tackles ambitious ideas, our commentary sometimes gets as wide-ranging as the fic itself.  “This has got tragedy, mental illness, friendship and horrible things done in the name of survival, all in spades,” Present Perfect said in his nomination, and on its way to a rare unanimous approval, compliments like FanOfMostEverything’s stacked up: “Alara excels at building a universe and finding a place for everyone in it, especially Discord,” he said.  “That skill is on full display here, blending ponies, sci-fi, and the interplay of harmony and chaos into a seamless whole.  The actual story that takes place in this universe is a breathtaking one, tackling the themes of love, loss, survivor’s guilt, prejudice, duty, and more in an interstellar narrative arc that hurts to read in the best way.”

With so much worldbuilding for the story to do, it walked a fine line between competing extremes, both in tone and character.  “The technobabble felt purposeful, and in its relatively short length it manages to build a whole universe, much darker than anything in MLP proper, but still remarkably faithful to the show — remarkable, considering Celestia’s actions throughout the story,” Soge said.  AugieDog, meanwhile, remarked on the power of its theme: “The two characters are pretty much destroying themselves in order to save the other, not becoming whole together but becoming echoing, hollow shells,” he said.  “It’s a story that could easily wear the ‘Tragedy’ tag if we didn’t know where things ultimately are heading, and maybe even then.”

Along the way, the story also offered some unique accomplishments.  “I’m unable to think of the last time I read a story that successfully pulled off both an in medias res opening and a ‘fade to black’ ending,” AugieDog said.  “Granted, it helps that we know who these characters are and what will eventually become of them, but to take a piece that doesn’t really begin and doesn’t really end and still make it into a story, that’s some writing right there.”  It was a package that added up, as Soge said, to an impressive whole: “This is a fantastic fic, full of character, amazing worldbuilding, and a dramatic flair that gives the whole thing heft and purpose.  I don’t think I’d heard of alarajrogers before, and what an introduction this was.”

Read on for our author interview, in which alarajrogers discusses deity elections, well-meaning extremists, and dining-room takeovers.
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R5h’s “Partyquest”

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You don’t have to travel to a magical land of ponies to see greatness in today’s story.

Partyquest
[Adventure] [Comedy] • 11,594 words

Pinkie has one month to throw a party that’s out of this world. Which is exactly where she’ll receive the training she needs.

Can she brave the trials of artistic integrity, heavy rainfall, an actual literal gun, and thinking too hard about why she went to Equestria in the first place?

FROM THE CURATORS: One of the things that makes fanfiction great is the way that it pushes beyond the safe and familiar in order to explore more unusual ideas — a quality on full display with Partyquest‘s gentle merging of polar opposites.  “As Aragon pointed out in the results post for the ‘Comedy Is Serious Business’ contest, this makes good on its daring decision to mix some genuine drama in with its out-and-out silliness,” Horizon said, and the story won curator praise on both sides of that spectrum.  “This is a fic that does everything just right,” Soge said.  “The drama feels impactful and gives the whole thing some real weight, characterizations are well done and very well utilized, and, most importantly, the comedy really hits home.”

Our praise for the story, however, extended much farther than its tonal balancing act.  “I have a soft spot for EqG humans in Equestria, but this does far more with the concept than simply have technicolor apes be tourists in Horseland,” FanOfMostEverything said in his nomination.  “It characterizes everyone involved with pitch-perfect precision, doing more with Somnambula in particular than literally any other ponyfic I’ve read.”  FOME wasn’t the only one appreciating the characters.  “Party Favor’s hard-boiled noir narrator shtick is amazing, Somnambula’s excitement over modern Equestria is adorable, and Cheese Sandwich demonstrates why party ponies are so important to Equestria,” Present Perfect said.  “But it’s that golden nugget of Pinkie’s insecurity and self-doubts that makes this story work.”  And that character work reinforced the comedy, Soge said: “Sci-Twi and Human Pinkie make for a great comedic duo, the situations are clever, the pacing is brisk, and even the referential humor was well realized (like the Blazing Saddles nod).”

That all added up to a story that impressed us on many levels.  “Much like the best presentations of Pinkie, there’s solid substance under the fun fluff,” FanOfMostEverything said.  Horizon agreed, citing some of the standout moments: “This does an exemplary job making gags out of the little details (‘funslingers’, Sci-Twi’s post-pointing faceplant, etc), and gets some solid running gags in like Twilight’s various book titles,” he said.  “With all its laugh-out-loud moments mixed into the consistent cleverness, it’s easy to see why this was one of the contest winners.”

Read on for our author interview, in which R5h discusses filthy hobos, Camden cars, and recursively horsey horsewomen.
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