Codex Ex Equus’ “Changeling Courtship Rituals”

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You’ll fall in love with today’s story before you know it.

Changeling Courtship Rituals
[Romance] [Comedy] • 38,574 words

For years, Twilight Sparkle and Queen Chrysalis have been at each other’s throats. Both have experienced victory over the other, and both have experienced defeat. Out of all the creatures in Equestria, none despise each other the way the pony Princess and changeling Queen do. They seemed destined to remain locked in battle forever, or at least until one is finally dead at the hooves of the other. The cruel insults, the vicious loathing, and the powerful spells that have passed back and forth between them at each meeting have become the stuff of legend.

Imagine Twilight’s surprise when she finds out changelings consider this dating.

And now they’re married.

FROM THE CURATORS: It’s always a great sign when the five of us approach a comedy and find ourselves unanimously agreeing on its hilarity.  “Changeling Courtship Rituals is such a madcap pile of wackiness from start to finish,” Present Perfect said, echoed by Soge: “The story is a riot from beginning to end — the ‘meet the parents’ chapter is one of the funniest things I have read in ponyfic.”  Chris appreciated the story’s self-subversion: “When this fic is on, it’s hilarious.  Whenever it appears that it’s about to start taking its premise too seriously, it quickly pulls the rug out from under itself.”

It’s easy to see from the story description where the humor in this romantic comedy comes from, but one of the pleasant surprises that awaited us inside was the depth of emotion it also managed to work in.  “Twilight decides that her best course of action is to use Chrysalis’ feelings for her to see if she can get Chrysalis to act in a way that’s more acceptable to ponies,” AugieDog explained in his nomination.  “The ways in which this doesn’t exactly work out make for both the comedy and the drama, and the author covers every base I could think of.”  Soge agreed: “The strong characterization work manages to really elevate its plot.  It’s the story of Twilight growing as a person in very important and realistic ways, culminating in a powerful climax.”

He wasn’t the only one praising the story’s strong characters.  “The side characters consistently steal the show,” Horizon said. “Celestia’s private reaction to Twilight’s news, and Discord’s first introduction, were both laugh-out-loud moments.”  Ultimately, however, it was the story’s breadth — not just in tone, but in the range of humor it covered effectively — which sealed our feature.  “It’s full of great character-assassinating humor, refuge-in-audacity silliness, and the like,” Chris said.  “And it knows exactly how seriously to take all that audacity.  Twilight makes an excellent straight mare in a world gone crazy, and yet that craziness is of a consistent-yet-ridiculous form that makes it easy to understand the world.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Codex Ex Equus discusses flying machines, reading superpowers, and multi-dimensional monsters.
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DrakeyC’s “Long Live The Queen”

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Today’s story explores the consequences of a royal error.

Long Live The Queen
[Dark] [Drama] [Sad] • 6,853 words

During her time-twisting battle with Starlight Glimmer, Twilight finds herself in an Equestria ruled by a tyrant alicorn that calls herself the Queen of Equestria. In this world, Twilight’s friends are gone and beyond her aid, and Equestria’s citizens live in fear of their ruler’s wrath should they anger her.

The Queen herself suffers worst of all.

FROM THE CURATORS: One of the great joys of fanfiction is that it can explore topics we know the show won’t cover — and one of the greatest pleasures in reading fanfiction is finding a story which can do that while remaining faithful to the source material.  “I think the highest praise I can give this story is that it feels exactly like what we would have seen in the show if the show ever acknowledged the existence of the Equestria Girls movies,” Horizon said, and Present Perfect explained: “It slots in well to Cutie Re-Mark by virtue of being the ‘Sunset Shimmer bad end’ universe.”  That merger drew broad praise: “It’s a solidly put-together glimpse of yet another way Equestria could’ve gone sideways,” Chris said.

The reasons for that quality were wide-ranging and spoke to the story’s depth.  “This manages to get into the ‘Queen of Equestria’s’ character without resorting to lazy storytelling,” Chris said.  “It explores its dystopia succinctly and without a lot of overdone angst, has a nice mid-story reveal, and the ending is a nice mix of bittersweet and hopeful.”  And while several of us found the early going exposition-heavy, we found that eclipsed by the story’s powerful second half.  “It would’ve been so much stronger if Twilight and Spike had been forced to leave the map rather than wandering away from it on their own, and there is an awful lot of standing around and explaining,” AugieDog said.  “But from the reveal in the middle on out, the slowly dawning horror of the AU is handled very nicely.”

And despite that Alternate Universe tag, this was a story that had a great deal to say about the world of the show.  “I’m especially impressed by the way that the tone works both as a standalone piece and as a poignant contrast to the unrepentant villains of Cutie Re-Mark’s bad timelines,” Horizon said.  “That examination of a world doomed despite regrets and good intentions is a powerful one.”  And one that will stick with you, as AugieDog said: “I found the ending to be positively haunting.  Sunset knows she’s trapped, she knows it’s her own fault, and she knows her best chance to make things right again.”

Read on for our author interview, in which DrakeyC discusses bad OC origins, evil Scootaloo, and Final Fantasy fillies.
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HapHazred’s “Part-time Goddess (and the Church of Post)”

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We pray that you enjoy today’s story as much as we did.

Part-time Goddess (and the Church of Post)
[Comedy] [Slice of Life] • 6,257 words

In this day and age, who has time to be a God? Prayers come in 24/7 and fancy dress is compulsory. Rainbow Dash certainly doesn’t have time. She’s got bills to pay and things to do. Besides, she isn’t qualified for Godhood, surely.

The ponies who say her control of the weather is divine disagree, unfortunately. They’ve given her a funny spear and a robe that doesn’t quite fit. They’ve got their own temple and they take church seriously.

And it turns out she’s not the only pony recently undergone apotheosis…

FROM THE CURATORS: While nothing about this religious romp was serious, it was seriously engaging.  “The more I think about it, the more it comes to me just how memorable the fic is,” Soge said.  “The concept itself is very appealing, with a really Pythonesque strand of humor to it.”  Present Perfect agreed, while praising the nuance with which it approached a potentially divisive topic: “This is just an enormously original piece that’s happily well executed.  It pokes fun at the concept of religion, something we’ve really never seen in the show, without being offensive.”

That approach both highlighted the story’s central comedy and its excellent character work.  “It’s a silliness borne of everypony treating Dash’s apotheosis like a perfectly un-extraordinary event, coupled with Dash’s pitch-perfect reactions to the whole shebang,” Chris said.  “She’s more or less the straight mare, and yet she still manages to steal most of the best lines in the fic.”  But Rainbow Dash was far from the only exemplary portrayal.  “It helps that all the characterizations are so memorable and accurate,” Soge said.  “Even characters with a single speaking line are portrayed true to canon, and the author has a knack for using them in comedic situations that work well with their personalities.”

And all throughout, the story kept up a crisp and consistent humor.  “‘Brandistock’ is an amazingly funny word,” Present Perfect said. “Just the fact that Dash trips over it, takes it to show Twilight, and then carries it around for the rest of the story really illustrates what makes the humor work in this piece.”  That merging of the sublime and the ridiculous sent this coasting toward a feature, as AugieDog said: “I’m a big fan of stories that employ this sort of straight-forward, matter-of-fact goofiness.  There’s none of this ‘vast cosmic power’ stuff: it’s mostly just about the costume Dash has to wear now.  The way that it’s portrayed just makes me grin every time I think about it.”

Read on for our author interview, in which HapHazred discusses peg displacement, disqualified Scotsmen, and perfect Pope ponies.
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Bradel’s “Three Nights”

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Today’s story will bring a touch of warmth to any metaphorical winter.

Three Nights
[Drama] • 18,539 words

Hearth’s Warming Eve is supposed to be a happy event — Cadance knows this, but all she ever feels is lonely. Now, with Shining Armor gone and a freak snowstorm battering her kingdom, it’s up to Cadance to salvage the holiday and teach her crystal ponies to care for one another.

A story about finding your family, on the coldest night of the year.

FROM THE CURATORS: When Chris first reviewed this story several years ago, he wrote, “I was planning to suggest to the other Royal Canterlot Library guys that we feature it … but when I went to write up the proposal, I realized the story was written by Bradel, who’s part of the RCL, and ineligible for featuring.”

But now, after three years “in harness” as it were, Bradel is stepping down from his post as a curator around here. We’re sad to see him go, of course, but it does mean we can feature what Soge called “a Hearths’ Warming story, but it’s also so much more.”

“It not only paints a terrific picture of Cadance on three distinctly important days in her life,” AugieDog said, “but it also gives us a nicely realized glimpse of Twilight as a filly and a wonderful picture of the Crystal Empire still emerging from the nightmare of Sombra.” “Emotional without piling on dramatic excesses” was how Chris put it, with Soge calling it “timeless” and adding “I loved every second of it.” Present Perfect noted how the story is “about Cadence suddenly being thrust into things and having to grapple with not quite fitting in: a family, a horn, a kingdom” and ended by saying it was “the kind of emotional Cadence story I enjoy reading.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Bradel discusses recorded carols, DISEMBARKING PONIES, and IRL Mary Sues.
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Trick Question’s “Motherly”

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Today’s story is rated PG-13 due to parental guidance.

Motherly
[Dark] [Drama] [Sad] • 3,617 words

All mothers love their children, and all mothers feed their children. Princess Chrysalis and her mother are no different, except that to a changeling, “love” and “food” are the same thing.

Well… mostly.

FROM THE CURATORS: While the recent Imposing Sovereigns contest inspired a number of unusual takes on Equestria’s ruling princesses, it also inspired some strong reinterpretations of more well-trodden subjects.  “This is certainly not my first time seeing some of these concepts of an alien, uncaring Changeling race with a completely flipped morality system,” Soge said of Motherly, “but the execution here makes all the difference.”  Indeed, that execution was remarkably wide-ranging while still keeping a recognizable core.  “Touching on subjects like strength and weakness, pride and disdain, power and deceit, this story still somehow felt very Pony to me,” AugieDog said.  “A difficult feat for a story with these tags.”

Over and over, it was that well-chosen approach which most impressed us.  “The author tends toward the dark,” AugieDog said, “but here, that style really suits the subject matter: the intertwining of love and cruelty in the pre-sherbet-fairy-moose changeling world.”  Present Perfect was impressed by how it also intertwined with the show: “This is a really good way to use the changeling canon we were granted in Season 6 — arguably one of the best things to come out of that season.”  And while Horizon disagreed, he found just as much to appreciate: “I don’t know how much of the new canon I see in this, but its laser focus on the intersection between emotion and sustenance is really to the story’s credit, and the story it tells with that idea is a strong one.”

But rich characters and character conflicts also helped make this piece exemplary.  “The Queen, in fact, is hands-down the best part of this piece,” Present Perfect said, “at first coming off the stern matriarch one would expect from changelings, but showing by the end that she really does care about what happens to the hive, even if changelings have a very strange way of showing things like care. Her self-sacrifice gives her depth and nuance.”  And that gave the family drama depth and nuance of its own.  “It manages to steadily build up to a surprisingly emotional climax, with some poignant considerations about the nature of love,” Soge said, “and how the feelings in the relationship between parent and offspring can be expressed in complex, and even contradictory manners. Great stuff.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Trick Question discusses interrobang reflections, disagreement hugs, and draconic gut shots.

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Correct the Record winner: bookplayer’s “Lost Time”

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(Editor’s note: Imploding Colon [aka previous featuree shortskirtsandexplosions] declined a refeature for Austraeoh, our top vote-getter.)

Our recent “Correct the Record” contest asked readers to help us choose authors whose previously spotlighted stories weren’t the best showcase of their writing strengths.  Fitting, then, that today’s feature is about a romance being forgotten.

Lost Time
[Drama] [Romance] • 59,897 words

Rainbow Dash can’t wait for her first date with Applejack; they always have an awesome time hanging out, and a relationship just means there are even more physical activities they can try together. So when the dumb zap apple harvest postpones their date, she decides it’s the zap apples that are going to have to change their plans. Equestria should know by now that wild, ancient magic is no match for Rainbow Dash, especially when she might get laid.

Everything is going according to plan, until she crashes. Or, rather, until she wakes up after crashing and fifteen years have gone by. Fifteen years during which she seems to have been a very busy pony.

Now Rainbow Dash has to adjust to a life she never thought she wanted, and figure out if she’ll ever get to live the life that brought her here.

FROM THE CURATORS: The case for correction here was both simple and compelling. “[Previous feature] Of Cottages and Cloud Houses … does not reflect bookplayer’s claim to fame: shipping romance,” Catalysts Cradle said in Lost Time’s nomination.  “This is a really well planned and well executed story that touches on a lot of deeper themes absent from many other ship fics.”  Our curators quickly agreed.  “All I can say is, our audience has great taste,” Horizon said, amid superlatives like AugieDog’s: “This beat a story of mine in a contest and is also one of my favorite pony stories ever written.”

The main element driving our appreciation was the story’s novel approach to its central romance.  “In a lot of ways, Lost Time takes the idea of ‘Alien Shipping Syndrome’ and turns it inside out,” AugieDog said, “throwing Dash into what seems to her to be a sudden relationship with AJ and then not only showing us how that relationship developed but showing us the characters as they are now beginning to develop a new relationship.”  Horizon also commented on that multi-layered approach: “What’s remarkable about this is that it’s three stories in one — the romance with displaced Dash, the relationship drama with older Dash’s family, and the character drama of displaced Dash’s lost 15 years — all of which work both individually and together.”  And Present Perfect praised the core maturity: “This is, as I put it to myself, a very ‘grown-up’ fic,” he said.  “It’s very focused on the minutiae of a relationship, the meaning of marriage, the full weight of responsibility that having kids requires of a person. You just do not see people writing fanfics about that, and it’s the reason I love this as much as I do.”

The icing on this romance’s cake was exemplary character work.  “Dash is really marvelously used in the central role, contrasting her self-centered approach to daily life with her core loyalty, and naturally building a compelling drama out of that tension,” Horizon said.  “And the children are fantastic supporting characters — whip-smart without being written as tiny adults. Trying to maneuver around them adds an extra layer of complexity to the relationship difficulties. The dinner-without-vegetables scene in particular sticks out in my mind as heartbreaking.”  But equally compelling was the work put into the plot: “On a story level, too, everything dovetails so very nicely,” AugieDog said.  “The revelations in the last chapter are the best sort of revelations because I didn’t at all see them coming, but looking back, I can see them all making perfect sense.”  It all added up to a story deserving of its accolades, as Present Perfect said: “This is really just one of the absolute best fics I’ve read, period.”

Read on for our (all-new!) author interview, in which bookplayer discusses prompt tag, sizzles sold, and Star Wars rejections.

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Correct the Record winners: Aragón’s “Evil Is Easy, Governing is Harder” and HoofBitingActionOverload’s “Spring is Dumb”

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Our recent “Correct the Record” contest asked readers to help us choose authors whose previously spotlighted stories weren’t the best showcase of their writing strengths.  Today, we’re offering a double feature with two of our three contest winners!

Evil is Easy, Governing is Harder
[Adventure] [Comedy] • 18,246 words

One day, just like that, Celestia decides she’s going to go mad with power.

FROM THE CURATORS: The need to correct the record here ran deeper than Aragón being best known for his comedies.  “His current featured story was written in the style of another author,” MrNumbers said in the story’s nomination.  “This one, though, is some of the tightest comedic construction I’ve ever seen, in a style I don’t think any other author on the site could pull off.”

Not only did voters agree, but Evil is Easy also accumulated superlatives both from FanOfMostEverything’s “Imposing Sovereigns” contest (where it soared to an easy first-place win) and from our curators.  “This is Aragon at his best, and it’s a must-read,” Present Perfect said.  The reason was simple.  “It’s ding-dang funny,” AugieDog said, and Horizon agreed: “Fires on all cylinders.  It’s Pratchett-level wizardry to keep an 18,000-word story so unwaveringly fast-paced and hilarious.”

And there was consistent depth here beyond the hilarity.  “I was extremely impressed by how Aragon managed to weave dozens of different running jokes into a coherent, and even surprisingly poignant plot,” Soge said.  “It is complete insanity from start to end, but there is a method to the madness.”  Present Perfect echoed that sentiment: “The ponies in this story aren’t so much out of character as they are infected with a type of blithe insanity, to which only Daring Do is immune, the poor dear.”

 

 

Spring is Dumb
[Comedy] [Romance] • 9,255 words

Rainbow Dash knows one thing for sure, she is definitely not a barbarous, uncivilized dolt who doesn’t know polite conversation from a hippopotamus’s rear end. And also that she’s definitely not the one who’s wrong. Rarity is wrong. Rainbow Dash is absolutely, totally, a hundred percent sure of it.

But then why did Rainbow just buy a wagon load of apology bouquets? 

FROM THE CURATORS: RCL-wise, this story was the victim of unfortunate timing — when it was published for the Raridash group’s “The Four R’s of Spring” contest (where it was unanimously declared the winner), we had just approved HoofBitingActionOverload’s previous feature for posting.  Spring is Dumb has received acclaim from around the fandom in the meantime.  “An absolutely hilarious story with an amazingly voiced Rainbow Dash,” Titanium Dragon said in this story’s nomination.  “This shows HoofBitingActionOverload’s breadth of skill … a number of his romance stories and comedies are excellent, and I’ve always considered Spring is Dumb to be his best work.”

We agreed — not just that this was a solid romance, but that it’s a superlative story, period. “As someone that always seems to dislike shipfics, I was immensely surprised at just how good this story is,” Soge said, and Chris’ recommendation echoed that: “Unless you’re absolutely 100% allergic to main six shipping, you should check this one out.”

Among its core strengths was its portrayal of the ponies we know and love.  “Characterizations are fantastic all around, including all the side characters,” Soge said. “That it manages to be this funny without ever being caricaturesque is nothing short of an achievement.”  And AugieDog had special praise for the narrative voice: “Re-reading it now, I’m struck again by how effortlessly the author makes it seem to craft a completely consistent character out of someone who contradicts herself every third or fourth paragraph.”

Read on for a few words from our spotlighted authors, in which Aragón and HoofBitingActionOverload discuss Indiana Jones sincerity, Rainbop Dashboard, and how these stories exemplify their styles.
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Ether Echoes’ “Through the Well of Pirene”

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Flow through a mythological epic with today’s story.

Through the Well of Pirene
[Adventure] [Human] • 369,088 words

As a child, Daphne knew of a world where magic lived, where an immortal princess reigned over a beautiful kingdom, and longed to journey there beside Leit Motif, the filly she’d grown to love in the woods behind her home. But one day, when she needed her most, Leit Motif was gone, and she never came back to show her the way. As she grew, she put aside her childish dreams, and taught herself to believe the lie.

When forces beyond her knowing take her sister Amelia, though, she discovers that her childhood fancies were entirely too real, and is thrust into a journey that will take her back to that land she longed for, back to the childhood friend she’d abandoned, and to worlds she’d only dreamed of.

FROM THE CURATORS: Today’s feature shatters our length record for a featured story, doubling the size of the previous record-holder (and clocking in at 8/10ths the size of the entire Lord of the Rings series).  But Through the Well of Pirene justified that wordcount.  “It’s always got something interesting to do,” Present Perfect said in his nomination.  “The slower parts allow for character revelations, lush imagery and world-building, or just doling out fascinating headcanons.”

And there was one element of that which quickly stood out as exemplary.  “If there’s any one thing I think you folks will enjoy, it’s the world-building and the plethora of mythologies,” Present Perfect said to solid agreement.  “The mythology here is remarkably Gaimanesque, and I say that as a compliment because the man writes some damn good faeries,” Horizon noted, while Soge praised its breadth: “I’m a sucker for fics that mix Equestrian lore with human history and myth, and this delivers that in spades, going well beyond its obvious Greek influences.”

But for the most part, that wasn’t we talked about in one of our group’s longest discussion threads — which often touched on the character work.  “I love The Morgwyn so much,” Horizon said.  “Trying to figure out his long game is keeping me remarkably engaged as the protagonists’ knowledge of the world around them deepens. Everything about the goblin castle Amelia was taken to is great. I can’t stand most of the (ex-)human characters, but it is very much to this story’s credit that, despite that, I’ve been so consistently engaged.”  Present Perfect acknowledged that “the characters, especially the main ones, take some getting used to,” but noted that “they grow and change over the course of the book in natural, if frequently staggering, ways.”  Horizon quickly agreed: “Amelia is the clear standout, and the story’s at its strongest when it examines her slow descent into villainy and the all-too-understandable motives that continue to drive her to fix things even when she’s crossed a line,” he said.  “But the moral struggles of characters like Maille and Flash keep the story powerful when the focus shifts.”  Those side characters were part of a greater richness, Soge noted: “It’s full of little details which show just how much the author cared about this world and its story, such as the differences in lingo between the Goblin factions.”

And while there was some curator ambivalence as the scope of the story expanded — “just about everything I liked was balanced by something I didn’t,” AugieDog said — the ultimate consensus was that it did the important things powerfully.  “It was the fact that it delivered on its promise of epic that kept me looking forward to the reading,” Horizon said.  “This also always wrote with an eye toward theme, and so in hindsight what I remember is the story’s big statements, which is exactly what I should be remembering.”  AugieDog had similar praise: “I love how the scope here is intensely epic and intensely personal at the same time, and with the fate of the entire multiverse hinging on two sisters not getting along, well, you can’t get any more My Little Pony than that.”  That added up to a story that met its high ambitions, Present Perfect said: “This is the best HiE I’ve ever read — though it’s certainly far more than that — and it comes by that status honestly.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Ether Echoes discusses executive meddling, puréed myths, and punishing children.
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AlicornPriest’s “Alicorn Time”

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The memories of today’s story will stick with you.

Alicorn Time
[Sad] • 2,138 words

Twilight, believing something has happened to her memory, seeks out Princess Celestia to see if she recognizes it and can offer a cure. But the answer lies far deeper in the root of her nature and her life as the Princess of Friendship than she would have ever expected.

FROM THE CURATORS: It’s not often that a short fic laser-focused on a single idea — especially an idea without direct roots in the show — makes us sit up and take notice.  “At the outset, this looks like a pretty typical ‘bit of headcanon disguised as a story’,” Chris said.  “That does, though, sell this fic short in one crucial respect: the author is able to deliver some truly heartwrenching moments in the back half of this.  Celestia gets a couple of absolute back-breaker lines, and the final sentence of the fic is heavy in just the right way.”  Horizon agreed: “It’s a headcanon fraught with emotional issues, and the author hits the right notes to effectively draw those out.”

That was due not only to the story’s choice of topics, but also the choice of perspectives with which it approached the idea.  “I’ve had trouble with my memory my entire life … so the idea of experiencing most of life only ‘in the moment’ doesn’t seem that awful to me,” AugieDog said.  “But AlicornPriest does a good job of conveying how devastating this is to Twilight and of following her through the stages of grief as she comes to realize how this is going to affect her and her friendships.”  That was brought out further by strong secondary character work.  “The story also made an effective decision in Celestia’s characterization,” Horizon said.  “Her casual acceptance of the phenomenon just underscores how disturbing the situation is if you actually stop and think about it.”

Those made this work not just as an idea fic but also as a story.  “I’ve zoned out while working in the yard and ‘lost’ a half-hour or more before,” Chris said.  “Alicorn Time is that feeling, writ large, and it achieved a poignancy as a result which few ‘headcanon fics’ can match.”  And the fic’s solid extrapolation of that phenomenon to immortality was what made it exemplary, Horizon said: “I think asking important questions about our own experiences through the lens of fantasy is one of the highest goals that a fanfic can reach.”

Read on for our author interview, in which AlicornPriest discusses tweening, Account Patterns, and zoned-out YouTube flickers.
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Interview edit notice

We have received several complaints regarding a recent interview response which advocated, and appeared to incite, violence against people of different political beliefs.  We have removed that material, and would like to apologize to our readers for our error in judgment in publishing it.

Publishing sometimes involves tradeoffs between competing principles.  When we originally reviewed the interview before publication, it was the first time in 3½ years that we’d received such an inflammatory statement.  We faced a choice between free speech (one of our goals is to give our featured authors an open platform that lets them present themselves as they wish to be) and community standards (one of our goals is to make positive contributions and draw people closer together in the spirit of the show).  In hindsight, we made the wrong choice.

It’s easy — and tempting — to err on the side of free speech by drawing a mental line between the words that we write and the words that we copy-and-paste from the featured author.  But that’s also incorrect.  We are ultimately responsible for all the words put out under our name, even if they were written by someone else.  Publishing advocacy of violence was an abdication of that responsibility, and that isn’t the sort of example we want to set.