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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Fifths’ “Like a Pegasus in a Pottery Shop”

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Great writing takes wing as today’s story flies through an episode-like misadventure.

pegasus-potteryLike a Pegasus in a Pottery Shop
[Slice of Life] • 16,548 words

The Wonderbolts may be the greatest fliers in Equestria, but overseas in the griffin lands, aviation has become all but synonymous with the name of Gerard Goldenwings. Word gets out that the living legend is vacationing in Equestria, and rumor has it he’s looking to take on an apprentice. Rainbow Dash is eager to meet him and prove herself worthy of his tutelage, but she must first perform one simple task: catching a certain special bird.

FROM THE CURATORS: We read lots of stories that go in very different directions from Friendship is Magic, which makes it all the more pleasure to stumble across one that goes so effectively back to the show’s roots.  “Like a Pegasus in a Pottery Shop was a light but deceptively satisfying read,” Chris said.  “It shows how to write a story that feels like an episode, while staying true to the strengths and limitations of the written medium.”  That sentiment got broad agreement as this story soared to unanimous approval.  “It’s just straight-up fun, with that mixture of goofiness and earnestness that the show does so well,” AugieDog said.  “Even the little asides — Gerard falling into conversation with the waiter at the restaurant, for instance — just shine.”

Great character work and strong structure rounded out the story’s strengths.  “Gerard is likeable to a fault, and this does a marvelous job of bringing its secondary characters to life, too — such as with the argument by the lakeside and with Harry’s reaction to pulling Dash from the window,” Horizon said.  “I also appreciate that it didn’t try to force all of the Mane Six in, instead giving us an effective Rule of Three structure whose progression reinforces the message of the piece.”  And the mythology was the cherry on top: “Most of this story is low-key, show-style comedic action, but it’s the legend of Hashala that really brings everything together at the end,” Present Perfect said.

What our praise coming back to, though, was the way this fundamentally understood what we love about MLP.  “This could not only be an episode, but an amazing episode,” Soge said.  “What truly makes the great episodes of pony great is well-defined characters taking active decisions, and ultimately learning through the consequences. It is not at all uncommon for cartoons to have characters learning lessons, but what has always set pony apart in my mind is how earned those feel. A lot of times this seems to be forgotten, both by fanfic writers and by the show staff, and this fic gets it right.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Fifths discusses tonal circles, Mesopotamian OTPs, and linguistic fungal infections.

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Bootsy Slickmane’s “My Queen”

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Today’s story shines a light on a dark relationship.

my-queenMy Queen
[Dark] • 1,659 words

She comes to me at night, sometimes, just when I think I may have fallen asleep. I’ve never known why or how, but in time, I stopped questioning her for the things we share. Call it an unspoken understanding that we have. A symbiosis. A silent accord, there in the dark, and I didn’t press for any more. On one such lonely night, however, I get a little bit bolder.

FROM THE CURATORS: Although dark changeling stories may seem a little passé in our age of rainbow-sherbet antelope-bugs, this brief tale takes that classic darkness and runs with it.  “This is a faerie tale, sort of a pony version of ‘Cupid and Psyche’ or even ‘Beauty and the Beast’,” AugieDog said.  “But it’s a lot bleaker than either of those … slick and dark and very nicely doom-laden.”  Chris had similar praise: “It creates a very effective atmosphere in scant words, before ending on a dark, evocative last line.”

He wasn’t the only one to remark on atmosphere — in fact, that was our most common compliment about the story.  “The atmosphere was well realized, the connections to succubi are welcome, and I love how unreliable the narrator is in his feelings for the changeling,” Soge said.  Horizon was another voice in that chorus: “Good short fics have to choose one thing to do really well, and this makes the wise decision to focus on atmosphere, building up an effectively tight and tense mood,” he said.  “I think that’s exactly why the Chrysalis reveal works, even though that ‘twist’ is obvious going in.”

But it’s not just the atmosphere — this is also packed with excellent prose and voicing.  “It’s full of great imagery, and our narrator really gets across that sense of taking pleasure in something so outwardly wrong,” Present Perfect said.  Indeed, that unreliable narration prompted the central question raised by the story.  “My Queen really gets inside the narrator’s head as it examines his sense of dependence,” Chris said.  “It leaves a nice ambiguity as to how much of that is his visitor’s doing … just how much did he gild his own cage?”

Read on for our author interview, in which Bootsy Slickmane discusses plastic trophies, pet commentary, and cobwebbed children.
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SaddlesoapOpera’s “A New Age”

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Today’s story lets us hear some voices from Equestria’s past.

A New Age
[Dark] [Drama] • 14,963 words

In the closing days of the Pre-Classical Era, at the dawn of the rule of the Royal Pony Sisters, the devastation of Discord’s cruelty hits hard and leaves an open wound. As the young and inexperienced Princesses Celestia and Luna struggle to keep the peace, powerful figures in all three Pony tribes bridle at the upstart Alicorns who so quickly and easily claimed power…

FROM THE CURATORS: Epistolary stories present a number of unique problems to a writer, but sometimes confining the narrative to letters written by the characters is the best approach to take.  And when Soge praised this story for “managing to showcase a variety of points of view from a number of very distinctive characters, all of which have great voicing and believable motivations,” the rest of us had to agree.

“Absolutely necessary from a storytelling perspective,” Chris said, while Present Perfect called attention to “the variety of media… the stories told, the multiple crumbling tragedies” and called the whole piece “unspeakably awesome.”

“The characters are perfectly voiced throughout,” AugieDog noted with Chris calling them “sometimes petty, sometimes poignant, but invariably fascinating.” “The way that the author weaves in and out of show canon, while simultaneously doing a ton of world building was particularly masterful,” Soge concluded. “But what really clinched the nomination for me is how, from so many disparate parts, a full narrative emerges.”

Read on for our author interview, in which SaddlesoapOpera discusses fictional vacuums, plausible reliability, and the earthy aspects of earth ponies.
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Morning Sun’s “Gnosis”

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It’s time to learn the secret of what makes today’s story great.

gnosisGnosis
[Mystery] • 3,916 words

Life in Canterlot Castle is about more than just the Princesses. Many ponies spend their days working in the palace, toiling with their virtues unsung to keep life humming alone.

Meet Spot Shine, Aegis, Raven, and more. Take a glimpse through their eyes, even as Princess Celestia finds herself a bit under the weather.

Some knowledge must be earned, but remember: Some doors cannot be closed once opened.

FROM THE CURATORS: Like all good mysteries, there’s more than one layer to this carefully crafted tale.  “On the one hand, this is a great slice of life piece that shows us the day-to-day of Canterlot Palace from numerous perspectives, while also telling a story about Celestia falling mysteriously ill,” Present Perfect said.  “On the other hand, it’s a perfectly insidious mystery, the existence of which might not even occur to you until the final scene.”  The nature of that mystery, though, is something best left unspoiled.  “People should read the story before delving into commentary about it, because it will be more effective the less they know walking in,” the author noted.

Our experiences reading the story bore that out — despite how different they were.  “When I first read it, I didn’t twig to what was going on in the story until the second-to-last paragraph,” AugieDog said.  Horizon appreciated the story despite being aware of its twist from the original draft in the Writeoffs, and Chris picked up the story’s epiphanies only in hindsight.  “It’s a clever story, and although it might have been too clever for me, I don’t believe that it’s too clever for its own good,” Chris said.  “This holds up well to attentive reading, and still works when one knows/guesses the twist(s) from the start.”

There were several reasons for Gnosis’ strength on rereading.  “The character profiles are quite nearly strong enough to carry the story on its own,” Horizon said, while AugieDog praised its tone: “This story builds such a distinct feeling of dread that I was primed and ready, looking for some sort of reveal at the end.”  In summary, as Present Perfect said: “However you slice it, this is a really strong, clever story.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Morning Sun discusses cake bribes, butt words, and non-unlearnable revelations.

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Lost + Found Features: “Gobbling and Other Traditional Pursuits” / “The Sound Of Sunlight”

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Due to some bad luck on timing (and some eligibility goofs on our end), this week we’re still waiting for all of our pending featured authors to complete their interviews.  But don’t worry — we’ve got you covered!  We keep track of stories which have passed through our approval process, but whose authors were uncontactable despite repeated effort.  We’d like to see these great stories get their time in the spotlight too, so we’re presenting a pair of RCL-approved tales for your reading pleasure.

 

gobblingGobbling and Other Traditional Pursuits
By LadyMoondancer
[Adventure] [Comedy] • 11,188 words

For years Nightmare Moon was considered “nothing but an old pony tale,” but what did those tales actually say about her?  See Luna, Celestia, and Discord as viewed through pony myths and legends.

FROM THE CURATORS: “If Horizon doesn’t give this a maximum score, I’ll eat my hat,” former curator Benman said, to which Horizon simply replied: “Your hat is safe.”  He wasn’t the only one — this collection of Equestrian folk tales earned multiple top scores and a rare unanimous approval.  “I’d have no trouble at all believing that these stories were entombed in one of the dusty back corners of the Golden Oaks library, and the varying tones and styles help sell this as a collection of disparate tales from different times, passed down by oral tradition,” Chris said.

Some of that was due to use of strong source material — as the author noted, Old Favors is a very thinly ponified version of the Russian tale “Old Favors Are Soon Forgotten”, and Horizon pointed out that Coyote and the Boulder “leans heavily on the Sioux folktale ‘Iktome, Coyote, and the Rock'” — but LadyMoondancer’s own creativity also shone through.  “What seals the deal for me is Chapter 2, which appears to be made up from whole cloth and yet is the same high quality as the ones that crib from existing mythology,” Horizon said.  And the storytelling was always vivid and evocative.  “I swear I can smell the smoke from a fireplace and the borscht boiling on top of it,” AugieDog said.  “The last one makes me long for something I never knew I wanted to see: the stories each tribe tells about where the other sorts of ponies come from.  Really nice stuff.”

 

sound-of-sunlightThe Sound Of Sunlight
By Chicken Vortex

[Slice of Life] • 5 chapters, 25,000 words

When it comes to music some ponies have natural talent, while others have to struggle for it. The story of how one pony learned that in the end it’s not who’s playing that matters, but who they’re playing for.

FROM THE CURATORS: How’s this for a classic — it was published to Google Docs back in the days before FIMFic was collecting the MLP fandom’s fanfiction!  It was one of the first stories the RCL considered, too, and even then it gave us some lovely tinges of nostalgia.  “Oh man! I had forgotten this story, but right when she ran into the homeless pony, it all came flooding back,” former curator Vimbert the Unimpressive said. “This was damn good.”  And Chris agreed: “It’s held up much better than many of the stories from that era.”

It was one of the earliest stories exploring the show’s background ponies, but even at the time it painted a vivid picture.  “I will give the story kudos for its portrayal of Octavia’s (and others’) musical life, which are sadly representative of some prodigies’ childhoods, and for not flinching away from showing just how damaging to a person those kinds of regimens can be,” Chris said.  As Present Perfect put it, “It hits a lot of the usual tropes — she hates playing, she has strict parents, she’s a shut-in with no friends — but elevates them to something more.”

[Note: Readers report that the Google Docs links in the story’s Equestria Daily post are now broken.  Other methods of reading the story include nallar.me’s archive of old Google Doc-based fanfiction; and a google search reveals that it was crossposted to Deviantart, either by the author or a fan.]

Read more features right here at the Royal Canterlot Library, or suggest stories for us to feature at our Fimfiction group.