Word Worthy’s “In Amber Clad”

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Wrap yourself in today’s story for an unusual take on a princess’ tale.

In Amber Clad
[Drama] [Slice of Life] • 1,484 words

Forged in fires of magic and charcoal. Worn with pride, damaged in battle after battle in times when ponies were no strangers to war. Repaired again and again. A regal mare’s suit of armour tells a small but significant part of her story.

FROM THE CURATORS: We’re always on the lookout for exemplars of the wide range of stories that can be told through fanfiction — which put this unusual examination of Princess Luna’s rise, fall, and rehabilitation right in our sweet spot.  “This is a nice historical piece, giving us a first-hand view of Equestria’s lengthy litany of conflicts, great and small, and it’s all told by Luna’s armor,” Present Perfect said.  “An interesting concept, and probably the thing that really makes this shine, no pun intended.”  He wasn’t the only one to note the piece’s ambitious scope.  “This walks the reader admirably from a pre-Equestrian time all the way to show (and comic) canon,” Soge said.

Much of our debate on the story, oddly, centered on the story not feeling unusual enough.  “This is less ‘what would a set of armour think/feel/believe’ and more ‘a well-known story told from a different angle’,” Chris said.  “Still, this story does combine a ‘faithful servant’ theme with the general plot of Luna’s ascension/fall/redemption.”  Soge was among the dissenters: “While the voicing of the armor isn’t particularly unique, I’d argue that the things it chooses to focus on are.” And Horizon found that compromise a strength: “It manages to make a potentially gimmicky story feel comfortable and plausible,” Horizon said. “And while it felt like a triumph of idea over execution, the prose didn’t get in the way of the idea.”

What tipped the story over the top were the little touches of worldbuilding that showed us MLP’s cast from a different angle.  “I also like the characterization provided through little touches like Luna’s reasoning for the armor’s form — which economically tells us a lot both about the narrator and the princess,” Horizon said.  Present Perfect agreed: “The armor even gets a little characterization when it encounters the armor Luna wears as Nightmare Moon,” he said.  “If anything about this story sticks with me, it’s that scene.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Word Worthy discusses diplomatic rifts, inside-out hats, and X-Files research notes.
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TooShyShy’s “Let Her In”

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Today’s story just wants a chance to get lodged inside your brain.

Let Her In
[Dark] [Horror] • 2,675 words

Night One
“Why is she standing out there? What does she want?”
Night Two
“There’s something off about her….”
Night Three
“That’s not Fluttershy…”

FROM THE CURATORS: One of the benefits of fanfiction is seeing how familiar ponies can end up in wildly different settings — and the fresh takes that those combinations can give us.  “You’ve got Fluttershy used well as a horror device, Apple Bloom as our beleaguered protagonist, and a very thrilling catchphrase in ‘It’s cold out here’,” Present Perfect said in his nomination, and there was quick agreement on how effective this story was at its chosen genre.  “This does the most important thing a horror story can do: be creepy,” Chris said, while AugieDog cited several other accomplishments. “There’s a lot here to like,” he said. “The atmosphere, Apple Bloom’s dawning awareness that this thing’s been stalking her for years, and the way almost the only line spoken aloud in the whole piece is the monster’s repeated refrain.”

Those weren’t the only factors which went into the horror’s core creepiness.  “The excellent audio reading certainly helped, but there is much more than that at play here: Apple Bloom’s fears felt visceral, as she vacillates between reacting to her terror with flight or fight,” Soge said.  “There is this constant atmosphere of irreality to the fic, as you are forced to guess just what is in her mind, and what isn’t. That this stands even after the creature is defeated is really to the fic’s advantage.”  Present Perfect also noted the strength of the ending despite its unusual reveal.  “The one thing it does wrong is showing the monster near the end,” he said.  “That said, the scene comes with some much-needed vindication for Apple Bloom, and the epilogue’s final line is just about perfect.”

While several of us questioned the choice of that reveal, there were ample other scenes where this was stronger for its unusual choices.  “The fact that the creature is seemingly able to invade Apple Bloom’s home — her sanctuary — but chooses not to,” Chris said, “gives the story a more fearful ‘unknown’ aspect than the more traditional trope of ‘the sanctuary is inviolate, save by the failure of the protagonist.'”  And Soge noted one way that it might be an entirely different sort of horror: “I’ll also point out that, despite everything that happens, the monster doesn’t actually do anything against anyone. There’s an interesting interpretation of this fic where Apple Bloom and AJ lashed out at the creature out of irrational fear … not that I think that that was what the story was about, but I think it’s in the story’s favor that such a thing can even be considered.”

Read on for our author interview, in which TooShyShy discusses snoring dogs, basement grandmothers, and purges of pre-teens.
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KingMoriarty’s “This Isn’t War”

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Old soldiers never die, they just feature in today’s story.

this-isnt-warThis Isn’t War
[Alternate Universe] [Slice of Life] • 1,548 words

Rainbow Dash was the Iron Wing. She was a war hero, the Slayer of Shadows, the Liberator of the Crystal Empire, the Wrath of Celestia. And depending on who you ask, she still is.

But the war is over. There’s little need for a pony like her in peacetime. So she keeps telling herself that she needs to adjust, that she needs to find a new role to fill in the world that she saved. But Equestria seems content to let her remain what she has become, even though they have no need of a warrior.

“This isn’t how it’s supposed to be”, is something she keeps telling herself. But every time she says it, the only thing she can reply is, “so what should it be?”

One whole year after the close of the war, and Rainbow Dash still doesn’t have the answer.

FROM THE CURATORS: When the Season 5 finale offered us glimpses of its broken Equestrias, it spurred quite a bit of compelling writing from the fandom — including this fic.  “This is a short, punchy piece about the Rainbow Dash from the King Sombra timeline dealing with life after the war’s over,” Present Perfect said in his nomination, and we found a lot to appreciate in its short length.  “I very much liked the voice here, both the way that echoes of the Rainbow Dash we know keep bubbling up throughout and the way that she’s such an unreliable narrator,” AugieDog said.  “It gave me the impression of a character trying to express her feelings without really knowing how to do it.”

Another element singled out for praise was its treatment of its core concept.  “It’s a war story which is respectful of its topic,” Chris said, “which neither glorifies brutality nor sinks to edgy posturing nor resorts to cheap melodrama to try and hammer home the psychological toll.” Other curators agreed.  “I’m not really qualified to evaluate this piece in terms of what war veterans have to deal with, but as a somber look at post-war trauma and readjustment to civilian life, it’s believable and powerful,” Present Perfect said.  And Chris seconded the story’s believability: “I know two friends, at least, for whom Dash’s financial arc is basically accurate.”

Interestingly, while we found this an effective tale, we disagreed on what part of the story contributed most to its strength.  “I was entirely sold on this story for most of its (short) length, but I don’t care for the ending,” Chris said, and Horizon disagreed: “I thought that the ending was the best part of this, grounding the story firmly in the Rainbow Dash we know to emphasize the contrast in her character.”  And while AugieDog found the ending a matter of interpretation, he ultimately praised it: “The more upbeat interpretation of the ending — which I’ll take every time, thank you very much — gives her a full character arc and sends her sailing on into a brighter future.”

Read on for our author interview, in which KingMoriarty discusses societal breadcrumbs, dragon dismemberment, and pre-holiday hydration.
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LiterarySerenity’s “The Legend of the Gift Horses”

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Today’s story might just contain an element of truth.

gift-horsesThe Legend of the Gift Horses
[Random] • 2,056 words

If you have ever wondered how the saying “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” came to be, please venture inside and learn one fairytale version of this tale.

FROM THE CURATORS: There are many elements that go into an enjoyable fairy tale, and we found that this one fired on all cylinders — from voice and structure to character and ideas.  “This is a fantastic in-universe tale, one that almost seems to delight in its own telling,” Present Perfect said.  “I actually got a thrill when Wish was saved, and I adore that Starswirl takes on certain mythic proportions of his own.”  AugieDog also enjoyed it all.  “Fun and well told,” he said.  “My only quibble is that the story ends too soon.  I wanted it all to keep going and going. That for me is the sign of a story really getting its hooks into me.”

Others found the story growing on them as it developed.  “This starts out looking like a well-constructed but slightly stock fairytale,” Chris said, “but in the aftermath of the battle (near the halfway point in the story), it suddenly becomes much more creative than I was giving it credit for.”  Horizon agreed: “This goes places I wasn’t expecting, and I have to give it props for its fusion of its two core mythological components.”  Chris further commented on the tale’s balancing act: “It deftly straddles the line between using well-known imagery and relying on cliches.”

All told, those elements added up to more than just the titular fable.  “I found myself appreciating this both as a piece of storytelling, and as story in its own right,” Chris said, and Present Perfect agreed: “This is easy to approach on its dual merits.”

Read on for our author interview, in which LiterarySerenity discusses coyote similarities, parental bookshelves, and world-hopping Merlins.
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Majin Syeekoh’s “Solving for Death”

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The quality of today’s story will hit you right between the eyes.

solving-for-deathSolving for Death
[Alternate Universe] [Comedy] [Dark] • 3,024 words

In a miscommunication gone awry, Starlight Glimmer has killed Twilight Sparkle with a fork.

Luckily for Twilight, Starlight’s already acquired a resumé in doing the impossible.

She’s totally got this.

FROM THE CURATORS: While the premise and the [Comedy] tag might suggest that this is a gimmicky crackfic, there’s a lot more than that going on.  “This is a dark, dark comedy with a throbbing red heart of sincerity right at its core, and it’s that juxtaposition that makes the story for me,” AugieDog said in his nomination.  Soge agreed: “From its fairly absurd premise, it builds into a genuinely funny dark comedy, but without sacrificing its heart or forgetting about characterization.”  And Present Perfect pointed out that “it’s got enough polish to make it more accessible to people who aren’t as big on weird-idea fics.”

One of the elements drawing praise was the narrative voice.  “The writing style was worthy of note, with an off-kilter charm that really helped the tone of the story,” Soge said.  That also won Horizon over: “The subtle humor of the narration seems like an odd choice for a comedy,” he said, “but then it turns a corner into drama without shifting textual gears, and that slower pace seems brilliant in hindsight.”  Meanwhile, Present Perfect enjoyed the prose.  “There’s a real freewheeling spirit to the language here, with lines like ‘Twilight remained combatively dead’,” Present Perfect said.  “And the relish fork is an amazing running gag.”

But the core strength here was the way it managed to reconcile some wildly different elements.  “Glimmer’s blase-ness, Celestia using Twilight’s death to teach a friendship lesson, and Spike being the only sane dragon are all fantastically played off against one another, and the result is that the story’s various comic elements all enhance and reinforce each other,” Chris said.  AugieDog summed it up: “It’s a tightwire act of a story, and watching the author pull it off just left me grinning.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Majin Syeekoh discusses tensile linguistics, quintuple Zs, and automobile muses.
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The Minister of Scones’ “Somepony Tries to Sell Twilight Insurance”

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If you’re in the market for a comic tale, today’s story has a deal for you.

somepony-tries-to-sellSomepony Tries to Sell Twilight Insurance
[Comedy] [Random] [Slice of Life] • 6,260 words

Ballpoint Smudge has one job. It’s not an easy one, but it’s one he’s determined to do to the best of his ability. The only problem is that as soon as he meets Twilight Sparkle, everything he’s ever learned about princesses goes flying out of the window. He was expecting her to be regal, haughty and bossy. Instead she’s warm, friendly and welcoming. Perhaps she’s genuinely a nice pony? Nah. It’s got to be a test.

FROM THE CURATORS: Although the central gimmick of this story is right on display in the title, “this is no one-note joke of a fic,” Chris said in his nomination.  “A pleasant blend of conversational humor, exaggerated characters — the protagonist’s conversation with his boss is the high point of the story — and even a light moral, this is one of those works that is just effortlessly enjoyable from start to finish.”  Broad agreement followed, along with compliments on the story’s breadth.  “The voicing and general writing are the highlight here, along with that boss scene Chris mentions,” Present Perfect said.  “The lightning-fast dialogue is easy to follow and only adds to the humor.”

He wasn’t the only one to praise the subtle whimsy on display.  “From the very first paragraphs, I loved the narrative voice,” AugieDog said.  “The sort of Terry Pratchet/Douglas Adams humor on display here is a delicate balancing act, and the author manages it better than most.”  Soge went further: “There is real skill on display here, from the superb voicing to the intricate characterization and the late reveal about Twilight. It’s one of those fics that makes me want to instantly follow the author.”

But there was more than the voicing to like.  Chris pointed out the melding of nostalgia and modernity: “It captures an early-season feel (right down to a letter to Celestia!) while grounding itself firmly in the S6 era,” he said.  And AugieDog approved of the story’s extension of its sources.  “Even the way the author pretty much quotes word for word the insurance dialogue from Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary serves the story well,” he said.  “The author takes the lines, expands them to make them work in a pony context, and takes them somewhere Bierce would never have imagined in his wildest dreams.”

Read on for our author interview, in which The Minister of Scones discusses fifth earls, hot water bottles, and summary pie.
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Lise Eclaire’s “Arête – Princess Alicorn of Hackers”

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What a tangled Web today’s story weaves!

areteArête – Princess Alicorn of Hackers
[Adventure] [Alternate Universe] [Sci-Fi] • 35,168 words

Dinky leads a double life. In the real world she is an average pony in her final year of school, slightly timid, bored with everything around her. In the Dream-Web she is a hacker who wants to make a name for herself.

One evening she stumbles on something that has both her lives merge in one, as she seeks to find whether the Web really is run by deities, or is this just a trick by the Starswirl Conglomerate.

FROM THE CURATORS: While we had a spirited debate over the relative merits of this story, there was one thing on which we all agreed.  “The cyberpunk aesthetic and page-turning, pulse-pounding action are the big things right,” as Present Perfect put it, and it was our collective enjoyment which solidified the story’s feature.  “It has been a while since I read a story that was this much of a romp,” Chris said, and Horizon agreed: “It was a page-turner.  I read this over most of a week, and every time I returned to it I was looking forward to seeing what happened next.”

That gripping pace was part-and-parcel of the faithful way the story executed on its genre.  “It’s got all the big hallmarks of ’80s-style hacker/cyberpunk,’ for better and for worse,” Chris said.  “On the downside, it sometimes flattens its characters, and its dramas are awfully convenient. But that’s part of the charm of this piece: piling on the technobabble and twists without ever bogging down or being difficult to follow.”  AugieDog agreed that that accessibility was another of the story’s core strengths.  “The only computer class I’ve ever taken in my life was back in 1982, learning to write BASIC programs on Radio Shack TRS-80 computers,” he said. “And yet I really enjoyed this.”

Much of our debate focused on the story’s other genre choices.  “The narrative style turns every little thing into a major crisis, which effectively keeps the tension up … but sacrifices the sense of emotional proportion,” Horizon said.  “It’s very Young-Adult novel, which is a genre I usually appreciate from a distance.”  That was also a tough sell for Soge.  “I found the whole teenager drama aspect to be uninteresting,” he said.  “But the idea of a dream web is interesting and imaginative; the hacker-pulp angle gives the story a nice, upbeat rhythm without being straight-up ridiculous; and Diamond Tiara is fantastic throughout.”  And AugieDog found that same writing style a strength.  “The ‘teen angst’ stuff is what made it for me,” he said.  “As YA pony cyberpulp, this stands up and dances.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Lise Eclaire discusses cat factories, glacial ridges, and the million-word threshold.

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cleverpun’s “If You Came to Conquer”

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If you came for a solidly built Alternate Universe fic, today’s story delivers.

came-to-conquerIf You Came to Conquer
[Alternate Universe] [Dark] [Drama] • 5,959 words

Nightmare Moon won. She defeated Celestia, broke the Elements, banished the sun. This all happened a very long time ago. So long ago, that she has had plenty of time to change her mind.

Of course, fixing our mistakes is never so simple, and never without consequences. Even with particularly potent help.

FROM THE CURATORS: “This is an intriguingly crafted AU whose version of Nightmare Moon feels entirely plausible and whose Discord is quite solidly done,” Horizon said when nominating this fic.  “The story feels appropriately sparse and mythic, but what makes this worthy of the Library is the meditation on forgiveness.”  It quickly caught our attention on multiple levels.  “‘Nightmare Moon won’ is one of the oldest AU cliches there is, but cleverpun manages to use the idea to good effect here,” Chris said, while AugieDog brought out the superlatives early: “The scene at the end of chapter one is about as devastating a thing as I’ve ever read in a pony fanfic.”

But while our reactions to the story cited different strengths, one thing on which we all agreed was how powerfully it developed its premise.  “Just when you think you’ve seen the big reveal, everything escalates to another level,” Present Perfect said.  “And that ending, wow.”  Chris agreed: “The ending is the clear highlight to me, nailing that ‘surprising when you read it, obvious in hindsight’ effect that a good twist aims for.”  Meanwhile, Horizon praised how thought-provoking it was: “The story’s climax is effective horror that brings up some significant moral questions.”

And while the story worked powerfully on its own merits, several of us felt that it was best appreciated as part of the trilogy which it spawned.  “‘Conquer’ is a nicely twisted idea presented in a nicely twisted way,” AugieDog said, “but I would call the two sequels required reading, since they complete the story arc in such a wonderfully tidy fashion.”  Horizon agreed: “Continuing to read the sequels is very much worth your time.”

Read on for our author interview, in which cleverpun discusses blanket patterns, awkward melanges, and B-grade splatter films.
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Impossible Numbers’ “Lapidify: To See And Die”

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Today’s story features some rock-solid storytelling.

lapidifyLapidify: To See And Die
[Drama] [Horror] • 11,705 words

Ambergris is a pony of few pleasures, and being called out for meaningless social events is not one of them. When he bows to duty and attends, however, he barely reaches the home of his host before he is faced with something worse than tedious conversation. Something far worse.

The dreaded cockatrice, a creature capable of turning others to stone with a simple glance, has just entered the home of his host. Now a mere nuisance of an evening has become a monstrous nightmare, but as Ambergris struggles to save the occupants of the house, he must also struggle against the pressures mounting in his own mind.

FROM THE CURATORS: When RCL alumnus Skywriter offered this as a reading suggestion, describing it as “claustrophobic pony horror done the right way,” we found a great deal to like — starting with the lush narrative voice.  “Oh, this is lovely,” Chris said.  “The British Imperial tone of the narration fits perfectly with a story that blends foreign and familiar in its setting, and which explores pony race relations in the way this does.”  Present Perfect agreed: “I’d say the big draw here is the narration. Ambergris has a very strong, consistent voice, and the overall style of language is very pleasing.”

And while the horror was certainly effective, what drew the most consistent praise was the well-realized and imaginative setting.  “For me, the atmosphere was the big thing,” AugieDog said.  “The weirdness of the non-Equestrian setting and the hybrid building where most of the action takes place; the ‘haunted house’ aspect of having a monster with a sort of intelligence behind it; the matter-of-factness of the sentiment that ‘every town has this kind of dark wilderness somewhere nearby.'”  Horizon loved the worldbuilding: “Some awesome elements, like the mixture of pegasus and earth construction, are almost worth the price of admission by themselves.”  And Chris found those things accentuating the horror: “The physical setting is beautifully realized, with the cross-cultural house practically a character in its own right in the tense middle section,” he said.  “And how tense it is! There is some wonderful work here, keeping the readers on the edge of their seats.”

In short, this was a tightly-knit story where everything contributed to the ultimate impact — including its fine balancing act with canon.  “I’m really impressed with how this story takes a familiar monster from the show, instead of the more common otherworldly or bloodthirsty horrors of other fics, and uses it to great effect,” Present Perfect said.  “We know what a cockatrice is, we know what it does, but there are enough details thrown in here to create enough of a sense of the unknown that the horror can pervade the reader.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Impossible Numbers discusses cartoon gravity, deathless wars, and terrifying chickens.
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Orbiting Kettle’s “A Good Filly”

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Today’s story might just get you looking over your shoulder.

good-fillyA Good Filly
[Drama] • 1,099 words

There are rules for surviving in the Crystal Empire. Shining Facet knows them well, and only hopes her daughter can learn quickly. After all, they say that things are different now — but sometimes it takes more than flugelhorns and crystal-berries to heal old wounds.

FROM THE CURATORS: Discussing this story during the nomination process, we were all amazed that we hadn’t featured Orbiting Kettle’s work before: “Clearly an oversight on our part,” Soge said.

About the story in question, Soge went on to call it “dark and messed up in the best possible way.” Present Perfect “was floored by how quickly and easily it slides us into the situation and the mindset of our protagonist,” with AugieDog adding, “the story quietly examines the invisible shackles of paranoia, and the first tiny flickers of hope appear in such a lovely and understated way.”

Our discussion got more personal than it usually does, too. Soge recalled family members “who suffered persecution under the previous military regime in Brazil,” while Chris, calling himself “a man who lives in a low-crime city in a very white state,” found himself thinking of people he knows “whose ‘what to do when you see the police’ lectures from their parents included things that were totally absent from mine: things like ‘hide before they see you,’ ‘don’t tell them your address, just say “around here,”‘ and ‘don’t tell them your real name.'”

That a story of not quite 1,100 words can touch so deeply upon so many worlds of experience while still fitting perfectly into events depicted in a cartoon about colorful talking ponies says a lot about both the source material and the author who put that story together. So read on for our interview where Orbiting Kettle discusses friends, cheese, the end of fear, and the hope of the future.
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