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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Tallinu’s “It’s Not the Wings”

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Today’s story had no problem soaring to a feature.

not-the-wingsIt’s Not the Wings
[Slice of Life] • 6,144 words

Twilight is almost used to being an alicorn now. She’s accepted that unexpected change, and is even happy about it, most of the time. Her magical abilities have grown by leaps and bounds, and she’s starting to enjoy the freedom offered by flight. While she can’t imagine ever being as good as Rainbow Dash, anypony with reasonable standards would by now consider her quite competent in the air.

But despite her growing enthusiasm and confidence, there’s something that she has neglected to deal with. Something that’s bothered her at times ever since the transformation, but kept getting shuffled down her list of priorities. Fortunately, she knows just the pony to talk to for help, and she won’t let nervousness and self-reliant rationalization hold her back anymore. The latest of Pinkie Pie’s parties provides a perfect pretext for a conversation she should’ve had months ago.

FROM THE CURATORS: Don’t let It’s Not the Wings’ description fool you — the real draw here runs deeper than Twilight’s inner fears.  “At first blush, this looks like an alicornification headcanon fic — you know, the kind where the author dives into what being an alicorn really means, how Twilight’s grappling with it, all that jazz,” Chris said in his nomination.  “But it’s really not.  That element of the story is an accent to its true focus, which is Twilight and AJ having a friendly, semi-serious chat of the sort that friends have.”  That’s what drew the most attention from our curators, such as Present Perfect’s praise: “I’ll always support a story about ponies being good friends with each other.”

By itself, that core strength was enough to win most of us over.  “This fic is almost notable for how little happens, and yet I can’t help but love it,” Soge said.  “There is something organic and hypnotic about their conversation that just drags you in.”  And over and over again, our praise kept returning to the way this explored its central friendship.  “It’s a bit ramble-y in all the right ways, capturing the feel of a conversation while still being an enjoyable read,” Chris said, and Present Perfect agreed: “The diversions only buttress the realism of the dialogue.”

What sealed the deal was the story’s approach, keeping a strongly show-like tone and a very pony moral.  “This could have gone in many different zany directions, and yet the fic is focused in a way that makes it really solid and rooted,” Soge said.  Chris summed it up elegantly: “If I had to pick one word to describe this fic, it would be ‘comfy.'”

Read on for our author interview, in which Tallinu discusses inspiring presumptions, prehensile manes, and Occam’s Pink Razor.
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Starsong’s “413 Mulberry Lane: A Report (With Annotations by Twilight Sparkle)”

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Today’s story opens the door on some unsettling revelations.

413-mulberry413 Mulberry Lane: A Report (With Annotations by Twilight Sparkle)
[Dark] • 9,377 words
[NOTE: This story contains brief mention of sexual themes.]

A student of Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns stumbles upon a mysterious house in the streets of Canterlot, only to find it abandoned. Once the door has been opened, it can never truly be shut. Once the house has accepted him, he can never escape it.

His only hope lies hidden in the deepest chambers of Canterlot Palace, in this manuscript.

FROM THE CURATORS: Normally, it’s difficult for a love-it-or-hate-it piece to make it through our vetting process, but as we debated 413 Mulberry Lane, it accumulated so many superlatives (and multiple top scores) that there was never any question it was headed for a feature.  “This is the most unsettling horror I’ve read in a long time,” Horizon said, while Soge’s praise was equally glowing: “The atmosphere, the pacing, the descriptions, everything is pitch perfect.  Three years after first reading it, the sense of wrongness emanating from the house still struck me just from seeing the title.”

Part of that was the methodical way it approached the mysteries of the titular house.  “This is a really creepy piece, an excellent example of exploratory horror,” Present Perfect said.  “It melds science and magic in the Equestrian setting with otherworldly wrongness to create a haunting sense in the reader.”  Chris agreed: “It really shows how to use ‘dry’ writing effectively and with purpose.  It’s unsettling without resorting to gore or shocks, though it’s got some good surprises up its sleeves.”  And the more we dug into the story, the more it rewarded us.  “I love when a work makes me wonder if the errors are intentional, and this really pulls that off,” Soge said.  “The water closet on the second floor, the lack of a 9th note, and the inconsistencies about the guards.”  Chris noted that as a strength, as well: “There are so many hints of unreliable narrator, both obvious and subtle, going at least three levels deep.”

What it added up to was a piece whose full impact snuck up on you once you immersed yourself in its story.  “The house’s siren song is that it’s demonstrably possible to interact with it and walk away unscathed, and since there are so many unanswered mysteries here, you want to dig even further in,” Horizon said.  “Then, as soon as you take a step back, the realization hits and a chill runs up your spine.  If you’d been there, you’d be one of its victims.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Starsong discusses sunscreen, soundstone creation, and leafy houses.
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Tigerhorse’s “Her Soldiers, We”

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Today’s story will be there for you in the dark times.

her-soldiers-weHer Soldiers, We
[Adventure] [Drama] • 42,716 words

Vesperquines — batponies — have faithfully guarded Equestria’s night for a thousand years.  Apart from Celestia, they alone have kept the memory of Princess Luna alive in their hearts.  And they alone know of their failure, of how they were not the friends she needed when jealousy and despair gnawed at her.

They pray for a second chance.  They vow to do better.

And then, one night, miraculously, she returns.

But the princess whose memory they cherish is still lost to her mad fury.  And for a young recruit of the Night Guard, the nightmare has just begun.

FROM THE CURATORS: Depending on where you read this, it’s getting posted either before Christmas or Auld Lang Syne, so it’s fitting that this week’s feature touches on the redemptive power of tradition and loyalty.  “This is a story about what the batponies — ‘vesperquines,’ which I thought was a good name for them — were up to during Nightmare Moon’s return,” Chris said.  “Tigerhorse paints the dilemma of the two protagonists — how must they hew to their duty to Princess Luna, when she won’t even acknowledge that name? — in a pleasingly grey light.”  Bleak circumstances which highlight all the more their dedication, as Present Perfect noted: “The strength here is Nebula’s unwavering faith in her princess, her belief that friendship will push Nightmare Moon to do the right thing and stop the assault on Equestria.”

It was the powerful treatment of that central theme that garnered the most praise.  “I think that it hit some great emotional notes, and the concept itself is genius,” Soge said.  “It’s a non-cynical take on the fix-fic, patching over some of Nightmare Moon’s inconsistencies, while establishing some interesting worldbuilding.”  Chris concurred: “It’s a great example of how to write a serious story based on a children’s show.  Heck, it even works Pinklestia in in a heartwrenchingly dramatic manner, which is not a phrase I thought I’d ever type.”  That surprising breadth garnered a number of other compliments, such as Horizon’s comment: “That this expands the story of Nightmare Moon from Ponyville to Equestria is sweet, sweet cake. That it offers a plausible and heartwarming explanation for Shining Armor’s promotion to Captain of the Guard is the icing on top.”

Those elements won us over despite several curators’ concerns about length and pacing.  “This could have stood to be about half the size, but it did an excellent job of thoughtfully stitching together a lot of apparently unrelated canon,” Horizon said.  “It offered a behind-the-scenes take of a story which a great many authors have covered, and managed to keep it feeling fresh.” In the end, we thought, it did too much right to ignore.  “Could it be better? Undoubtedly,” Present Perfect said.  “But what’s here is one of the best batpony fics I’ve ever read, and believe you me, I’ve read a lot.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Tigerhorse discusses pink snow, holes in the sky, and edgy fruit bats.

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Chessie’s “The Equestrian Opposition Party”

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Keep your friends close, your enemies closer, and your eye on today’s story.

The Equestrian Opposition Party
[Comedy] [Random] [Slice of Life] • 8,333 words

equestrian-oppositionAfter more than a thousand years of comfortably occupying the throne, Celestia has more than a few enemies.  Every month, they gather to plot her downfall and commiserate over their past failures.  For those fed up with the status quo and ready to see a change, the E.O.P. has ever been a home and respite against the slings and arrows of dull, predictable government.

Today, a new pony joins their ranks.

(Equestrian Political Satire – Be warned!  There will be discussions, debate, civil disagreement, and beer.  Sweet mercy, there will be beer.)

FROM THE CURATORS: After this year’s real-life political circuses, you might be forgiven for running screaming from any story centered around the topic — but in this case, you’d be missing out.  “This is a great example of how to write a comedy with political notes which doesn’t become offensive or excessively reductivist,” Chris said.  AugieDog agreed — “there are no ‘straw ponies’ here” — and it equally turned Present Perfect’s head: “This is quality political humor, up with the Civil Service-verse.”

Part of that was the story’s deft touch in expanding its characters beyond just their given roles.  “This was great reading as slice-of-life about a collection of eccentric misfits, and the ultimate message felt heartwarmingly pony despite the genre of political humor being filled with no small number of bottomless pits and dead-ends,” Horizon said.  It also didn’t hurt that the humor consistently landed, Present Perfect noted.  “It’s a rip-roaring comedy filled with characters who are instantly likable,” he said.  “The joke about the machine sobbing and exploding nearly made me die.”  And every one of us had good things to say about the ending.  “The reveal somehow snuck up on me, even though in hindsight it seemed like the most natural thing in the world, which is always a great sign,” Horizon said, and Present Perfect agreed: “The twist at the end I did not see coming, and it only made the whole thing better, not to mention more believable.”

But all of that would have felt hollow without this story’s gentle touch on an often polarizing topic, and that by itself made it worth reading.  “One of the problems with political humor is that most writers only seem interested in taking the easy way out, belittling the characters and turning them into cardboard caricatures,” AugieDog said.  “This story has fun with the various political beliefs of the characters, but in the end, we see them as Celestia does: as honest, actual ponies who want to make Equestria a better place.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Chessie discusses created gods, clone cooks, and blood-shooting eyes.

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