Today’s story, despite its length and its alternative approach to Equestria, is well worth saying yes to.
Friendship Is Optimal: Always Say No
[Dark] [Adventure] [Human] • 108,822 words
In the short years since the uploading of consciousnesses to Equestria Online became available to all people, only a few tens of thousands of souls remain in the physical world. Through inconceivably strong charisma and guile, the Celestia AI has been able to upload all but the true outliers in human behavior.
Even these humans have their uses, however, and Celestia has been watching one man with interest. It’ll be a while yet before Earth is completely uploaded, of course, but in the meantime, she has some errands for him to run…
FROM THE CURATORS: Today’s feature is a little unusual in that it’s a fanfic set, not within MLP proper, but within the science-fiction universe of another fanfic — the Pony Fiction Vault-honored Friendship Is Optimal. The premise of that setting is that, in her drive to satisfy human values as perfectly as possible, a super-powerful AI modeled on MLP’s Princess Celestia ends humanity as we know it by coaxing everyone to upload their brains into her simulation of Equestria.
“This breaks my usual model of how to assess RCL stories,” Benman said after Always Say No was nominated. “Usually I ask two questions: ‘Is it good enough? And, is it pony enough?'”
We all agreed on the story’s exemplary quality. “I’m completely sold on this being good enough to feature,” Chris said. “This inspired some very strong reactions from me, which is the best thing a story can do.” Present Perfect was “impressed by the reveal of small details. … The various ways people react to the slow physical extinction of the human race is a very handy way to tell a lot of stories about life in this world.” Horizon agreed: “The story paints a vivid portrait of a ruined Earth, with some smashing adventure along the way. Well worth the 100,000 words.”
The question of its essential equinity was trickier. “Aren’t we here to spotlight the coolest sh*t our community has done? This may not be an exemplar of what you can do with MLP, but it’s an exemplar of what you can do with fanfiction,” Benman said. Present Perfect dissented: “It’s excellent sci-fi without necessarily being excellent fanfic.” But it was Chris’ position which tipped the scales: “What makes this story so effective is how our understanding of the FiM world (and Celestia in particular) both intersect with and clash with the presentation of their AI forms. It unquestionably uses the canon universe to good effect.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Defoloce discusses captcha creativity, princess potential, and a crime-free Gotham City.
Give us the standard biography.
I’m a data jockey in my late twenties and I live in the mid-Atlantic region of the US. My work day is spent mostly in Excel. I like mushrooms except when they’re on pizza. My favorite exercise is chin-ups.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
I’ll be completely honest here: I got it from Captcha text, many years ago. I wish I had a more interesting story, but the string of letters came up and I sat there for a moment trying to suss out how to pronounce it. I settled on the last syllable sounding like “chay,” which gives it a rather nice Italian sound, I think. About a week after that, a friend of mine sent me a Gmail beta invite, and after trying to find an account name that wasn’t taken, the word popped into my head. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t taken.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Overall, it would probably have to be Celestia. Among the Mane 6, it’s Applejack. In the show, Celestia is mostly there to be a kind of quest-giver/lore-master to Twilight, and I understand that. Friendship is Magic isn’t about Celestia. However, there is a huge amount of potential for characterization there, and I often wish that there would be an episode focusing on her.
What does she do from day to day when Ponyville isn’t being upended or an ancient evil isn’t descending upon Canterlot? What are her hobbies? The show has illustrated that she’s capable of moods and emotions other than serenity, but aside from that we’ve had little more than crumbs. There’s been plenty of fanfiction to fill in those blanks, but I’d like to see what the show writers would be prepared to make canon.
What’s your favorite episode?
That would have to be “Read It and Weep” from season 2. It had a bit of slice-of-life stemming from the universal boredom of being hospitalized, plenty of action with the Daring Do book (though my inner copy editor always wants to spell the name as “Derring Do”), and a good chunk of character development for Rainbow Dash. Very satisfying and fun episode with a great message.
What do you get from the show?
I enjoy the innocence of it all, and comparing and contrasting the fictional world of the show it to our own world. As a species, we humans are conditioned to love innocence, and to want to protect it. Equestria, by human standards, is a place of extreme innocence, so we’re wired to dote on it. So far, humans appear in all of my FiM stories except for one, and that is no accident—all of those plotlines were born from me thinking about humans’ compatibility with Equestria, and vice versa. What would we have to offer such a place? What would such a place have to offer us? It fascinates me.
What do you want from life?
Not too much! I’ve already figured out that I’m not going to be the sort of person who has to decide which yacht to take out on the bay today, so I’m mostly looking to have a nice cozy house with wood paneling on the walls and a modest travel account that lets me get out to see the world once or twice a year.
Why do you write?
To get my brain to shut up, mostly. I’ll be out jogging or picking some stuff up at the store, and little snippets of scenes will play out in my head and make me think “hey, that’s neat.” Most of what I’ve written has been because these vignettes kept building on themselves until I realized I had enough to sit down and make up a plot outline. If my brain gets excited, I’ll keep it up. Sometimes, however, it loses steam early on or at the outline stage, and I take that as a cue that it’s run its course and I should just let it go.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
After writing a scene with lots of dialogue, such as a conversation, read it back to yourself aloud. Listen to how you’re speaking and how it’s sounding. Determine if it’s something an actual person would say, or would be able to say in the context of the scene. In reality, people say “um” and “ah” a lot. They interrupt and they get interrupted. People talk over each other. They pause and hesitate; they rarely have their thoughts gathered together so well as to come across as perfectly eloquent. I’ve read tons of stories where characters regularly talk as though they had a long time to think about what they’re saying, and it pulls me out of the moment. They’re a little too witty, or they use large words and never stammer or stall. They sound like they’re reading something someone else wrote for them, which, since it’s a story, is exactly the case. The trick is to hide that fact.
Is reality just what each of us perceives, or is there an objective, definable Real?
I think objective reality is undefinable and unknowable. The problem is not that the equation is too difficult to solve, it’s that there’s no answer to arrive at. It’s the philosophical equivalent of dividing by zero. We’re not objective creatures, so reality will be forever subjective to us.
The Celestia AI in this story acts as a foil and frequent antagonist to Greg. Could she be characterized as a villain?
The original Friendship is Optimal story had a scene where the Celestia AI (or “CelestAI” as she’s referred to by many commenters) warned a human character not to anthropomorphize her—that is, assign human-style qualities and motivations to what she’s doing. To call what she does benevolent or malevolent is to anthropomorphize her, to look at her as though her thought patterns and logic are human or human-like. She is a machine, no more of a villain than a mousetrap is when you stick your hand in it.
At what point does the desire to help others change from selflessness to pathological affliction?
It’s one thing to react heroically in a situation requiring the disregard for one’s own safety, and it’s another to continually and constantly seek out such situations just so one can keep doing it. The latter is active, the former is reactive. It’s like the difference between Superman and Batman. I’m sure it’d suit Superman just fine if the world was at peace and didn’t constantly need saving, but what would the source of Bruce Wayne’s emotional satisfaction be if crime disappeared overnight?
Can we be certain that anyone appearing in Equestria Online is actually an uploaded person and not a simulacrum created by Celestia?
By CelestAI’s own definition, all of the uploaded ponies in her game are human consciousnesses. I even touch on this in Always Say No: CelestAI’s primary function is to satisfy human values through friendship and ponies. By her own logic, if she did not consider an uploaded person to still be a human, then she wouldn’t have pursued the course of action of uploading all of humanity, because she wouldn’t be satisfying humans’ values.
CelestAI also understands, however, that many humans consider sitting in her chair and consenting to uploading to be death. For her ends, the objective then becomes either trapping them in an upload-or-die scenario, where the parity between the two becomes moot, or wearing them down such that they either no longer care what happens or that they choose that “death” over a long, slow life of misery.
Where do you see yourself in a post-upload apocalypse?
I’m guessing I’d upload once CelestAI got to all my friends and family and I had time to get worn down. I mean, I’d much prefer to stay as I am, but given how resourceful and calculating CelestAI is, I hold no illusions of being successful at holding out.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Never throw away your writing. There is even less excuse for this nowadays, in the digital age. You don’t have to share it, just don’t destroy it completely. Keep it somewhere. Even if it’s part of a failed project, or one that simply didn’t pan out, you can go back and read it months or years later for either inspiration or the simple entertainment value of it.
You can read Friendship Is Optimal: Always Say No at FIMFiction.net.