Lets Do This’ “Friendmaker”

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Today’s story looks in a mirror, darkly.

Friendmaker
[Drama] • 8,589 words

“I am Friendmaker!”

Twilight Sparkle is concerned that she may one day go insanely evil, as with Nightmare Moon or Daybreaker. So, knowing Twilight, do you really think for one moment she’s just going to wait for it to happen?

FROM THE CURATORS: A popular trope in science fiction involves main characters getting a chance to face an “evil” version of themselves, whether through a jaunt to a parallel universe as in Star Trek or a visit to a simulated reality as in TRON Legacy or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Today’s feature uses the magic of My Little Pony to take that conceit to a powerful extreme: rather than coming face-to-face with a vile copy of herself, Twilight deliberately corrupts herself and we get a first-row look at the experience.

“We’re treated to an interesting analysis of what it means to be good, and what could drive people to be the worst that they can be,” said Soge in his nomination, “all through the medium of Twilight discussing that topic with some of the show’s reformed villains.” Horizon was “more than happy to back the nomination up,” and felt that “when Twilight started talking to the friends she’d redeemed, it really fired up.”

“Characterization is the name of the game here, and all involved are written and used very well,” according to Soge, and the other curators agreed. “Discord in particular was quite well done, and his explanation for why he chose friendship was a lovely bonus,” said Horizon. Present Perfect was “impressed by the part-by-part analysis of villainy. Some of the short character pieces, Sunset’s in particular, went in surprising directions.”

Horizon called the story a slow burn, and everyone enjoyed the build to a strong finish. “It all dovetails perfectly into a smart moral, and a real moment of character growth for Twilight,” Soge said, and Present Perfect applauded “the tense standoff at the end” because it “reinforces the theme of how anyone can come to power.” Horizon appreciated its thoughtfulness “in how it presents the Alicorn Amulet’s temptations. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, indeed.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Lets Do This discusses the draw of Derpy, the power of online publishing, and the staying power of pony.

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Cloudy Skies’ “To Perytonia”

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Today’s story is worth the journey.

To Perytonia
[Romance] [Adventure] • 554,079 words

By royal request, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy and Rarity travel to far-off Perytonia to establish ties between Equestria and a strange new people.

Plunged deep into an alien culture with its own history, understanding the native peryton is only part of the challenge. As Rainbow Dash discovers, navigating her own relationship with her oldest friend may be harder still.

FROM THE CURATORS: The pressures of weekly deadlines can make us struggle to find the time to commit to longer pieces.  So when we spotlight something the size of Tolstoy’s War and Peace — and longer than the sum of every other story we’ve featured this year — it’s a sign that you can look forward to something unique and compelling.

“You want world-building?” AugieDog asked in his nomination. “This creates an entire land and culture from the ground up several cultures, in fact, since perytons turn out not to be as like-minded as ponies. You want romance? It uses its length to good advantage to nurture its Flutterdash through a fairly slow build, a couple of crashes, and a final reconciliation scene that simply can’t be beat. You want adventure? This has hair-breadth escapes, seemingly haunted ruins, mysterious people and creatures, and lots of walking through forests. Maybe a little too much walking through forests.”  All of us commented on the journey’s startling level of detail — and it won Horizon over.  “It’s on such a slow burn for such a long time that the few high-energy scenes stand out in much the same way that combat does to a soldier (cue the adage about war being 99% waiting and 1% terror),” he said.  “But for all that its pace feels as glacial as Perytonia’s summers feel hot, this story feels alive in a way that stories rarely capture. In making the decision to not gloss over a moment of the journey showing us the grueling slog of travel it feels less designed to entertain and more true to life, and it scores points for coming out ahead in that tradeoff.”

Part of that was the way the fic used the lengthy trip as backdrop for breathtaking character work.  “The author writes the best Rainbow Dash I’ve seen in a long time, and even at this length, the narrative seldom hits a wrong note,” AugieDog said to unanimous agreement.  “I don’t think it’s possible to write Rainbow Dash more true to herself, nuanced, or all-around good as this story does,” Present Perfect said. “Dash’s character is a grand-slam home run, far and away the biggest success To Perytonia has to offer.”  And it wasn’t just the narrator.  “Characterization in general was fantastic,” Present Perfect added.  “Fluttershy’s struggle with Dash pushing her when she needs it; Rarity failing again and again, feeling useless on the road; and let’s not forget how every single Peryton city had at least one unforgettable character for the ponies to interact with. Characters like Mirossa and Neisos jump right off the page; Phoreni is strong and memorable.”  Horizon agreed: “All of their peryton contacts are immediately likeable, in their own ways, and I want to see everyone succeed.  Ephydoera is worth singling out for positive mention. The Brush Games were a fantastic chapter, full stop.”

And while we each found the story’s slow unfolding (and heavy foreshadowing) simultaneously gripping and frustrating, we also all agreed that what it built up to was worth the effort.  “It resolves with some of the absolute best relationship drama I have ever read,” Present Perfect said.  “The private jousting scene absolutely made up for all the long stretches of travel, the will-they-won’t-they, the repetition of concerns from the three main characters.”  It wasn’t just the romance.  “Part of me feels like the ponies have been carrying an idiot ball about peryton culture all story, and most of me is willing to accept that as the price of the ride, because what it does with that single core misunderstanding is pretty amazing,” Horizon said.  “The worldbuilding here is nothing short of fantastic. The cultural clash rings as very authentic the perytons are being endlessly hospitable by their standards, and the ponies are being endlessly friendly by theirs, and every problem comes from the disconnect between their mutual ways of thinking.”

Which perhaps makes it less surprising that after 550,000 words, our biggest struggle was coming to terms with what the story left untold.  “At the halfway point, when they were reaching Vauhorn and preparing to head for Cotronna, I was beginning to wonder how the hell this was going to stretch out for another 250K words,” Horizon said. “Then the twist hit, and now I’m a few chapters past where they met Odasthan, and I have no idea what magic Cloudy Skies is going to work to finish this in the 125K they’ve got left!”  In hindsight, AugieDog even ended up appreciating those gaps: “This doesn’t give me all the answers, something that usually drives me to gnashing my teeth when it comes to fiction. But the scope of Perytonia makes me not mind the mysteries so much. A world as big and complex as we see here will have questions that just plain linger, and it’ll have murky, partial answers that still feel very, very right.”

Which ultimately was also how we felt about the story itself.  “To Perytonia is Cloudy Skies’ magnum opus, and from reading the journals they wrote about it, it came out pretty much the way they wanted it to,” Present Perfect said.  “The things they set out to do with the story, they did well, some of them exceedingly well. Half a million words of deep characterization and world-building is no small achievement.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Cloudy Skies discusses stolen soapboxes, advice recursion, and lovely in-betweens.
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The Cloptimist’s “Dragon Lord Ember Skips Work for an Hour”

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Don’t skip out on today’s story.

Dragon Lord Ember Skips Work for an Hour
[Romance] [Slice of Life] • 3,060 words

The mighty Dragon Lord Ember slips away for an hour, to meet up with her secret mate.

Contains: two newly-installed world leaders who don’t really know what they’re doing, and some wistful escapist cuddling.

FROM THE CURATORS: If there’s anything this story shows, it’s the power of being able to rely on your friends — a lesson we ourselves took to heart.  “I freely admit that I am going to be blind to this fic’s faults because Embrax is the universe’s best ship, so I’m trusting you guys to add the objectivity I lack,” Horizon said in his nomination.  “But this was good even by Embrax standards.  I clicked through as a guilty pleasure, only to find it far exceeding my expectations.”  He wasn’t the only one.  “I’ve never read any Embrax before, so this served as my introduction; I think I’m sold!” RBDash47 said.  “The author does a great job convincing me that Ember and Thorax are a natural fit. We understand what exactly they see in each other and the challenges they face in their budding relationship.”

The strength of that shipping not only won it an Honorable Mention in CategoricalGrant’s Cuddlefic Contest, but also came in for repeated curator compliments.  “What really sold me is how convincingly it gives us both sides of a romantic relationship even though we’re only in one character’s point of view throughout,” AugieDog said.  “Even though we’re only getting Ember’s direct take on the situation, the author manages to show us Thorax’s view and what Ember means to him in an entirely indirect fashion.”  Horizon had similar praise: “This really centers the contrast in character which makes the ship so dynamic — as well as the ways that the pair makes each other better. It’s rich in detail throughout, and every detail pulls together into a greater whole.”

But even more than the stellar interpersonal work, what we found exemplary was the thoughtful look inside both protagonists.  “This is a really remarkable piece of character work,” Present Perfect said.  “I don’t know that I’ve read any Ember-centric stories before now, and what the author does with her is exceptional.”  Soge agreed: “I like the characterization work, where it takes Ember, and the subtle way it worldbuilds about her position in the world.”  RBDash47 noted that as well: “For a bonus, we get a great exploration of how life for the dragons has changed since Ember took the throne. I love how the author found a way, via the pocketwatch, to make Ember’s small stature and relative delicateness an asset when it comes to ruling her people.”  All in all, as Horizon said, “there’s so much more going on here than just the shipping.”

Read on for our author interview, in which The Cloptimist discusses daisy necklaces, stolen scenes, and life-saving songs.
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Wallflower Blush’s “How To Dominate Your Neighbor’s Lawn”

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Today’s story will grow on you.

How To Dominate Your Neighbor’s Lawn
[Comedy] [Random] • 2,241 words

Even when faced with the rise of Tirek and the loss of her own cutie mark, Roseluck never fails to tend her lawn.

FROM THE CURATORS: The wordplay flew like grass clippings as we discussed this tale.  (For example, AugieDog quipped, “Monomania is often a rich and fragrant source of humor, and this one’s got that in spades.”)  But even though the fic started out as an entry to the Comedy (Is Serious Business) contest, it turned our head with some serious writing skills.  “What strikes me about the excellent writing is the strong character voicing,” Present Perfect said in his nomination.  “Roseluck is not exactly a normal pony, but she’s very sure about what it is she wants in life.”  RBDash47 agreed: “I think it’s a great example of how someone can take a background character with no real established characterization and run with it. It was a short fic but I feel like I have a perfect understanding of who Roseluck is and what she stands for.”

We found that drawing us into the story.  “I love that this is told in the first person,” AugieDog said.  “My favorite sort of craziness is the kind that’s presented as not just an everyday occurrence but as an integral part of a narrator’s life. By throwing us into it headfirst, the author just envelops us in the crunchy green madness.”  And that led to a satisfying payoff.  “This was definitely a lot of fun, especially Roseluck’s comeuppance, which is either a fantastic coincidence or laser-guided karma,” FanOfMostEverything said.  “The fact that life goes on Ponyville in the midst of Tirek’s rampage says a lot about the town and its citizens, and the interplay between Roseluck and Lyra establishes the characters both thoroughly and efficiently.”

Some of the story’s technology provoked conversation, too.  “I was impressed at how gas-powered lawnmowers are eased into Equestria by virtue of them being eldritch sources of dark power,” Present Perfect said, while RBDash47 countered: “I don’t know that I love gas-powered lawnmowers existing in Equestria, but otherwise I am pleasantly surprised.”  That caused FanOfMostEverything to note: “You feed it the rendered blood of monstrosities long past and it then eviscerates anything that crosses its path. I’m pretty sure a gas-powered lawnmower qualifies as an eldritch artifact in our universe.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Wallflower Blush discusses eating candy, inflated guts, and satiated hunger.
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Fallowsthorn’s “Time”

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You’ll find yourself making time for today’s story.

Time
[Equestria Girls] [Slice of Life] • 6,635 words

The whole school saw Sunset Shimmer’s demonic form get hit by the Elements of Harmony, and half a second later she was in a smoking crater in the ground, sobbing and repentant. From Sunset’s perspective, her change of heart took a bit more time.

FROM THE CURATORS: Often, what keeps us coming back to fanfiction is finding new angles from which to explore the depths of the show.  “I clicked through to this from the Featurebox on a whim, only to find it filling in a gap in canon that for eight years I’ve never realized I needed a fixfic for — how the Elements of Harmony work to redeem their targets,” Horizon said in his nomination.  “I’m sold.”  Its speedy approval showed that he wasn’t the only one impressed.  “I love that this isn’t the author saying, ‘Equestria Girls did something wrong, but here’s how I can fix it’,” AugieDog said.  “It’s more the author working with the movie — in harmony, if you will — to take an already-moving scene and lift it to another level. It takes tropes at least as old as Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and shows how some deft thought and handling can keep them absolutely fresh.”

That fresh take was shored up by exemplary character work on multiple levels.  “This is a fantastic examination not just of Sunset’s mindset at the end of the first EqG movie, but also of what each of the Elements means,” FanOfMostEverything said.  Present Perfect agreed: “There’s so much depth, such a perfect and thorough exploration of Sunset’s character and what could convince her to change. Not just that, but this delves into the concept of each Element of Harmony, to wring out what it really means in an everyday, practical kind of way. The discussion about Generosity, for instance, was superb.”  Horizon had his own favorite: “Fluttershy’s appearance in particular is breathtaking. In the span of three words she blows the whole thing open.”

So it’s no wonder that we all found ourselves sharing superlatives, despite finding different things to appreciate. “Every part of this was fantastic,” Present Perfect said.  “‘Why would she abandon me if I didn’t deserve to be abandoned?’  That’s the kind of line that elevates something way beyond ‘just fanfiction’.”  Horizon, too, called it “utterly fantastic.  Also notable is how convincing the argument feels to me as a reader. I’m truly sold that this is a line of reasoning which is capable of the dramatic turnaround we see.”  And FanOfMostEverything noted: “Fantastic stuff. The psychological vivisection is as merciless as it is insightful, and it certainly justifies Sunset’s tears. The fact that the story also justifies Vice Principal Luna falling for literal cut-and-paste photomanipulation is icing on the cake.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Fallowsthorn discusses omniscient parents, boxed seeds, and French villas.
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AstralMouse’s “Twenty-eight Boulders”

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There are any number of reasons to read today’s story.

Twenty-eight Boulders
[Dark] [Drama] [Sad] • 2,038 words

Queen Chrysalis has spent years in hiding. She has been very careful to avoid being caught, but her time spent alone and in constant fear has worn away her sanity.

FROM THE CURATORS: One of the strengths of pony fanfic is the opportunity to read about characters far removed from ordinary life — so stories focusing on unusual viewpoints can be a treat to find.  And this tight, focused look at the far side of sanity hit all the right notes.  “I’m a sucker for a nicely done unreliable narrator, and this one pulled me right in with its harrowing, intense voice,” AugieDog said in his nomination.  “We’re locked with Chrysalis inside her head, and it’s a place even she doesn’t much want to be.”

And indeed, that was our most common compliment about the story.  “The voicing is very, very good — I am completely sold on Chrysalis slowly going crazy in her self-imposed isolation,” RBDash47 said.  “The author mentions that they went through a lot of editing and rewriting to get the tone, and I think they nailed it.”  Horizon, too, found that compelling: “I think the big thing right here is the portrayal of her descent into insanity. Schizophrenic people work by an internal logic which, while disconnected from reality, makes a strangely elegant almost-sense on its own terms.” And FanOfMostEverything added, “I have to agree on how well the story conveys that. It all makes sense to her; otherwise she wouldn’t do any of it.”

We also found meat on the bones of the exemplary presentation.  “The real joy of an unreliable narrator is piecing together the reality they’re denying,” Present Perfect noted, while Horizon spent some time puzzling it over: “The question of whether she’s going back to the same lair over and over again or moving around is a fascinating one, with plenty of evidence to sift through.”  Meanwhile, AugieDog praised the economical storytelling: “It’s just the right length for this sort of character study, too.”  All those factors came together to heighten the core tragedy of the piece.  “The paranoid, vengeful, negative-sum strategy that barely kept her hive fed culminates in her being unable to so much as comprehend mercy on the part of her former subjects,” FanOfMostEverything said.  “It’s an excellent capstone for the tragedy of Chrysalis, and an excellent study of karmic justice in action.”

Read on for our author interview, in which AstralMouse discusses weapon padding, imagined chitin, and black as the new black.
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ChudoJogurt’s “Sunset Shimmer and the Last Trial of Daring Do”

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Today’s story makes some daring choices.

Sunset Shimmer and the Last Trial of Daring Do
[Dark] [Adventure] [Alternate Universe] • 49,536 words

[Note: This story contains sexual themes.]

Trapped in the memories of her past adventures, bringing nightmares and dreams she does not want, she can’t stay home.

There is only one creature in all of Equestria who can help her. Make her good and nice again, but how far will Sunset have to go to find her?

FROM THE CURATORS: There’s something about great villains which keeps us coming back to their stories especially when you set them on a collision course with one of Equestria’s greatest heroes.  “This is Sunset’s fall from good intentions, and it hurts to read her picking up a number of formative experiences and wrongly learned lessons that will shape her into the terror of Canterlot High,” FanOfMostEverything said in his nomination.  “The age-old conflict she stumbles into is fascinating to watch, especially as we learn the finer details. And this is easily the best Ahuizotl I’ve ever read.” On that point, we were unanimous: “I’ve never seen anything like the Ahuizotl-as-deity that frames this story,” Horizon said.  “That by itself would have been featureworthy, but then the author also threw in one of the most dynamic, compelling OC villains I’ve encountered, and made Sunset a breathtaking character in her own right.”

Indeed, it was the character work which kept our eyes glued to the page.  “if this story has a big thing right and I’d say it has a few it’s the depiction of Sunset’s PTSD,” Present Perfect said.  “It’s her motivation for falling down this path in the first place, for placing herself into grave, mortal danger of the kind that leaves her vulnerable to a predator like Green Glow. Watching that relationship spiral into abuse, then something that molds Sunset into the pony who stole Twilight’s crown, was exquisitely painful.”  And it certainly didn’t hurt that that exemplary writing was set amid a thrilling, well-realized adventure.  “As a Daring Do story from the perspective of her opponents, it fires on all cylinders,” Horizon said.  “Then they reach the penultimate fight, and it cranks the story up to 11, and then they reach the final fight and the dial breaks as it impossibly goes even further. It’s never anything less than epic and mythical.”

That was another compliment that came up repeatedly in our discussion.  “If there’s another thing this story does well, it’s gravitas,” Present Perfect said.  “Hardly a chapter goes by without some big, flashy or otherwise memorable scene: Ahuizotl defeating the hydra, Green Glow torturing the informant, Sunset fighting Daring Do, you name it, they’re all exciting. But more than that, everything that happens in this story has weight to it. The importance of details like hospitality are the stuff of epic fantasy quests. I love how just invoking the words of an ancient oath can literally shake a city to its foundations.”  And that, we decided, made the story worthwhile whether you’ve read its prequel or not.  “Aside from a few flashbacks, the previous story in which Sunset Shimmer goes to Narnia, befriends Prince Caspian, and almost ruins everything doesn’t really factor into this one,” FanOfMostEverything noted.  “This is by no means a happy story, but it’s a very compelling one.”

Read on for our author interview, in which ChudoJogurt discusses teenage miracles, book attributes, and immortal princes.
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Lost + Found Features: “Good Thing I’m So Organized” / “The Season of Grace”

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From time to time, despite our best efforts, we don’t have an interview ready to post come Friday — but that doesn’t mean we can’t recommend some reading material! We keep track of the stories which passed our approval process but whose authors haven’t responded to our contact attempts. We’d like to give these stories their time in the spotlight too, so here are two RCL-approved tales for your reading pleasure.

Good Thing I’m So Organized
By TacticalRainboom
[Slice of Life] • 5,215 words

Everypony knows Twilight Sparkle as the sweet, studious unicorn whose magic powers are matched only by her incredible focus and organizational skills. When Twilight’s friends make fun of the way her checklists and schedules control her life, Twilight just laughs.

One day, for reasons known only to her, Twilight goes on an unstoppable organizing rampage. Soon, Rarity decides that she’s had enough, and tries to stop Twilight before she organizes Carousel Boutique into oblivion.

Twilight Sparkle is very, very organized. Twilight Sparkle has never told anypony why she’s so organized. Until now.

FROM THE CURATORS: “This story is a heck of a roller-coaster ride for its simple Slice of Life tag,” Horizon said in his nomination.  “It starts out with some light (and gorgeously described) character drama over Twilight’s OCD habits, and then peels back the mask for a surprisingly disquieting look at where those habits came from. Then it pulls off a clean double reversal and ends on the same light note with which it started, which is very much to the story’s credit.”  That ending drew most of our praise — for multiple reasons. “This is another great example of one of the things ‘show, don’t tell’ means to me,” AugieDog said.  “At the end, we’re not just told that Twilight has learned the lesson, we see it happen, see her figure it out, see her apply it, and see her come to a changed understanding of herself and her world.”

The strength of that example made it stand out amid other mental-health-focused stories.  “Other equally good stories about similar topics will end with simple affirmation of support for the afflicted, or some pithy aphorisms to try and quell the guilt and shame,” Present Perfect said.  “But letting Twilight come to a realization about what’s true about herself gives her agency and lets her take control of her OCD in a way that, while likely still idealized, is going to serve her much better in the future.”  That lesson also came amid solid writing, as AugieDog noted: “The character voices are terrific across the board, too. A really nice little story.”

 

 

The Season of Grace
By Willow Wren
[Romance][Slice of Life] • 2,582 words

Fluttershy wakes in the middle of the night on Hearth’s Warming Eve to find Big Macintosh waiting for her outside. He has a surprise for her, and their subsequent adventure rekindles old feelings and memories of Hearth’s Warmings past.

FROM THE CURATORS: This may be a Hearth’s Warming story, but it’s “a worthy feature at any time of the year,” Soge said.  A rare unanimous approval drove that point home. “This is magic, pure and simple,” AugieDog said, and what we found was a magic both easily accessible and with profound depth.  “There are some layers to the story that are so subtle I would’ve missed them entirely without reading the comments,” FanOfMostEverything noted, “but even what I did pick up on is a beautiful tale of fulfilling dreams before it’s truly too late to do so.”

There were two factors we all agreed were behind the story’s excellence.  “This smartly frames the story around the character dynamic, and sells it with quiet grace and vivid language,” Horizon said in his nomination. “It’s also quietly heartwarming and uplifting in a way that mirrors the show at its best.”  Soge agreed: “The writing in this fic is just delightful, absolutely gorgeous from beginning to end, while never actually falling into the trap of going into over-saccharine territory.”  Present Perfect summed it up: “It’s rare to read a story so suffused with joy. Rarer still, one so elegantly written. Lush imagery, a happy pony, and a damned good ship: what more do you need?”

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

Novel-Idea’s “Spectrum of Gray”

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We hope our appreciation for today’s story colors your expectations.

Spectrum of Gray
[Romance] [Drama] • 17,470 words

Rainbow Dash and Applejack have cherished the years gone by at one another’s side, but beneath the wear of time, the fuel that is love can turn to ash and smother the flames they hold dear.

Beyond the smoke rising from the cinders, they face an uncertain future. Now, they must come to terms with the harsh truth that, sometimes, love alone isn’t enough to keep a marriage burning bright.

FROM THE CURATORS: There’s a classic proverb that you always find missing things in the last place you look.  “I can’t believe we haven’t featured Novel-Idea before,” Present Perfect noted after a comment in our recommendation thread brought Spectrum of Gray to our attention.  (It was also hard to believe we’d missed this story’s first-place finish in the “Second Chances” AppleDash contest — but as the proverb says, hindsight is 20/20.)

What earned it those accolades?  As RBDash47 said in his nomination: “Spectrum won me over for two big reasons — its deft handling of four different character POVs all focused on the same problem, giving us a progression of different insights and perspectives; and the maturity of the problem the characters are dealing with, which is reinforced for me by the realism of not actually presenting the answer to the problem at hoof.”  Horizon concurred — “It sets up a heck of a situation” — and Present Perfect noted the story’s breadth: “This handles so many issues with such a deft hand.”

It was not just Spectrum’s maturity but also its use of tension which drew our praise.  “The thing that I like best about the story is that it takes place over such a brief period of time, like the whole story is an indrawn breath, suspended and not quite ready to exhale,” AugieDog said.  “The problem’s been building and building and building, but this is the crisis point, the moment where everything pivots because the characters are finally ready for it to pivot.”  That led to solid emotional engagement, RBDash47 said: “You’re left wondering how Dash and AJ will move forward, just as the characters in the story are wondering.”

Exemplary character work rounded out the story’s virtues.  “The character voices are all strong, and Granny Smith is especially written well,” Present Perfect said.  “This might also be the best future fic I’ve ever read, in terms of making the characters feel like themselves while still giving us the weight of time passed.  It was fantastic on so many levels.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Novel-Idea discusses musical suckers, squee notes, and fandom concussions.
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Phoenix_Dragon’s “Without a Hive”

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Today’s story will sneak into your favorites.

Without a Hive
[Romance] [Dark] [Adventure] [Sad] • 180,748 words

Young Nictis had one dream: to serve his hive by becoming an Infiltrator, the most vital and vaunted role a changeling could aspire to. To hide in plain sight among the other species, blending in, while gathering the vital emotional energies that fueled his people. Few were deemed worthy of the dangerous job. He was one of the few nymphs selected for training, in the hopes that one of them would develop the skills needed to be entrusted with such a treacherous task.

But when a training expedition ends in tragedy, Nictis finds himself thrust into the role not to serve his hive and people, but to preserve his own life. Separated from the hive, alone, he must put what little training he has to the test. He must blend in with the hive’s greatest source of food, and its most dangerous enemy: the ponies of Equestria.

FROM THE CURATORS: Let’s face it — our fandom loves changelings, and authors have done so much with them that changeling stories have to clear a high bar to stand out from the pack.  So when Present Perfect said in his nomination that “Without a Hive is one of the best season-two fics I have ever read, and might just be the best changeling story on top of that,” we had to see for ourselves what the fuss was about.  “I wish I’d read this years ago,” FanOfMostEverything quickly said.  “This may be the gold standard for old-school ‘changeling in Equestria’ fics, made all the more notable by forgoing the usual ‘crashed somewhere after the invasion’ plot device.”  And Horizon was equally effusive.  “Perhaps I am — for Glitterbug-like reasons of academic interest, and CLEARLY none other — predisposed to a good changeling story, but this was consistently gripping,” he said.  “It covers all of the tropes we expect a changeling redemption fic to have, but with exemplary nuance. The tension of being trained as a sociopathic predator who feeds on positive emotions, while also feeling those positive emotions, drips from every word here.”

That was only one of several compliments on which we all quickly agreed.  “Central to this piece is its fantastic characters,” Present Perfect said, with Horizon adding: “This works as well as it does because every individual we ever meet is vibrant and sympathetic.”  FanOfMostEverything praised the development of the protagonist: “Watching Nictis grow in spite of himself is wonderful — the changes coming subtly enough that he doesn’t notice until it hits him all at once in the worst possible way — to say nothing of all the other emotional arcs he goes through.” And all of us had a hard time picking favorites from the colorful supporting cast.  “The ponies Nictis befriends have lives of their own,” Present Perfect said.  “Nowhere is that more apparent than in a late chapter, when our hero meets two ponies named Violet and Grace. They exist on the page for a few scenes only, yet after a short introduction, one gets a deep and abiding sense of who they are.”

It was in the collision between those ponies and the central changeling that the story shined brightest.  “What made me smile above all else were the several times during the first half or so of the story — usually in scenes where Nictis was interacting with Big Shot — when the author took a step back to remind the reader that the cute and clever character we’d been rooting for was in fact quite literally a monster,” AugieDog said.  “It made for a great contrast with Nictis’ wanderings in the last few chapters when the character’s monsterhood is unmistakably slipping away.”  And that left a lasting impression, several of us such said — such as Horizon: “I was legitimately upset when the story ended.  I had an almost physical need to see how things shook out with Spark. Fortunately, there’s a sequel!”

Read on for our author interview, in which Phoenix_Dragon discusses esquire numbers, book commitments, and corporate weddings.
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