Dig into today’s story for a rousing archaeological epic.
The Celestia Code
[Adventure] • 70,356 words
Princess Twilight Sparkle discovers a centuries-old mystery hidden in the Royal Archives. Her investigation leads through layer after layer of deception and misdirection, setting her hooves on a path that seems to be leading to a mysterious secret. Along the way, she learns that some friendships can be very, very strange.
FROM THE CURATORS: Despite its title, this story is “mostly not a Da Vinci Code crossover,” Chris noted. “What it is is a history-delving adventure, with some touches of mystery and romance on the side. The result is a story which is often funny, full of forward momentum, and — after a bit of unfocused jumping in the first chapter or two — settles into an engaging mix of action and history.”
Not only engaging but memorable: it’s not often that we stop debate to reminisce about the story’s great moments, but those filled our thread. “What an amazing battle scene in Chapter 22,” Present Perfect said, while Horizon paused his reading after Chapter 8 so he could comment: “Goddamn but that was a glorious chapter.”
We all cited different elements in our search for what made it exemplary, which was a sign that The Celestia Code got a lot of different things right. “It compellingly wove together a lot of big ideas, and the worldbuilding felt effortless, which is generally a sign of a huge amount of work behind the scenes,” Horizon said. Present Perfect appreciated the characterization: “You’ve got a well-voiced Twilight who grows as a character over the course of the story.” While Chris agreed — “Twilight is quick with a quip as narrator, and the vibrantly unique voices used throughout breathe life into the story” — he focused on the bigger picture: “It’s a fast-paced story which is easy to follow despite its mystery elements, and which is funny, clever, and exciting in equal measure.”
That solid execution carried it through some rough spots (such as a lackluster romance subplot) to earn a well-deserved feature. As Horizon put it, “this is a novel of big ideas, magnificent setpieces and brilliant moments — a summer blockbuster of a ponyfic.”
Read on for our author interview, in which iisaw discusses pony motivations, coyote nomenclature, and the heartbreak of spousal “Best Pony” disagreements.
Give us the standard biography.
I’m primarily an artist, though I’ve made my living at many different and diverse jobs over the years. I worked as a 3D animator in the video game industry for quite a while and it gave me the perspective to know just how good some of the work on MLP is. (Hint: Incredibly good.) I currently do specialist computer stuff because it’s easy work and gives me the opportunity to travel to odd corners of the world. I sail and futz around in a couple different martial arts for hobbies along with my wife, who also loves MLP. (She isn’t anywhere near as fanatical about it as I am though, and takes the demonstrably wrong position that Pinkie Pie is Best Pony.)
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
It’s the Hopi word for coyote. I had it hung around my neck as a derogatory nickname for a while when I was a kid and had several Hopi friends who I managed (unintentionally, I assure you) to get into trouble many times. Years later, I discovered it makes a great user name because it’s never taken when I go to sign up on a new site.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Right from the start it was Twilight Sparkle. An introverted intellectual as a lead is incredibly rare, and she matured and grew without being “fixed”, as so often is the fate of such characters. I am very fond of all of the mane six, but Twilight is the pony I most enjoy watching.
What’s your favorite episode?
That’s tough to answer because there are so many excellent ones. For a long while it was The Best Night Ever, because of the awesome subversion of expectations. Lesson Zero and Luna Eclipsed shouldered their way to the top of my list when they came out, along with Magic Duel and several others. Now, I would have to say Twilight’s Kingdom, mainly because I am an unrepentant fan of Badass Twilight moments.
What do you get from the show?
I’ve always loved animation, but lost interest in most cartoons during the Ugly and Stupid era. MLP rekindled my love of the media with its devotion to excellence in every aspect of the show. Aside from the fun I get from good-hearted characters and uncynical stories, it’s given me a very valuable life lesson that even the worst sort of dreck can be turned into something wonderful.
What do you want from life?
Enjoyment! Really, I think that may be the secret to life: Have fun living it! As far as taking my own advice goes … so far so good, and I’ve been at it for quite a while now.
Why do you write?
See above. For a slightly less terse answer, I’d have to say that it is the fun of mentally exploring the land and characters of Equestria coupled with a bit of OCD that compels me to put my mental explorations down in a formal and organized manner. The fact that other people enjoy reading my stuff is just an unexpected bonus.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
The thing that I think helped me most was to mentally run through each scene I wrote from the viewpoint of each pony in it. This stopped me from handing the idiot ball to a cardboard sketch of a character because it would be convenient for the story on more than one occasion. Knowing what each character’s motivation was from moment-to-moment made writing some scenes almost effortless. It also had the unusual effect of sometimes letting the ponies take over a scene and drag it in directions I hadn’t intended or anticipated, but I think that’s a good thing, overall.
The other thing that I think is of critical importance is to get a good editor or two!
What were your influences in writing The Celestia Code, especially in regard to the titular code?
The “code” (it’s technically a cipher) came out of a book on codes and ciphers that I downloaded from Gutenberg.org and was the spark for the whole story. One of the examples used to pictorially encode information was a stylized sun, and that got me thinking about Celestia, and from there… well, I really can’t recall all the steps that followed. It was only later that I realized that the title would very likely be taken to be a slight twist on The DaVinci Code, something I hadn’t intended.
In general, I’ve always loved the Indiana Jones and Nathan Drake sort of adventures, and that type of story could only be better with the addition of ponies, right? Other than telling a fairly straight-forward adventure tale, most of my aims were to subvert some of the common tropes in pony fanfic; Tyrant Celestia, The Awful Secret, Sudden-Onset Romance Syndrome, and suchlike.
My strongest literary influences would have to be Jim Butcher and Terry Pratchett.
Twilight in this story is both a mature princess, ready to take charge of tricky diplomatic situations, and the lovable science geek she’s always been. Tell us about what went into her characterization.
I simply tried to keep her as true to her established canon personality as possible, with the only difference being that she was slightly more experienced and comfortable with her role as a princess. I just set up the circumstances and events around her and then asked myself, WWTSD? 
 What Would Twilight Sparkle Do?
Though not tagged a comedy, the humor in this piece helps keep it grounded in the show’s tone. How did you balance humor with the more dramatic adventure pieces?
Even in dire situations, people will laugh and joke around when events permit. Seeing the humor in serious, even tragic, situations feels more realistic to me than keeping things confined to a more limited spectrum of emotions just because of the genre of the story.
That said, there were several places where I inserted or avoided a lighter moment just because it “felt” right to do so. Balance was definitely something I had in mind, but I think I did it mostly by instinct.
Why did you format the footnotes the way you did?
I was catering to my own personal tastes with that. I read pony fics almost exclusively on my kindle, and having to click through to the end of a chapter to read a footnote and then try to go back and find the place I left off reading is maddening. Scrolling on a computer screen and/or using ctrl F is easier, but still cumbersome. I thought the footnotes would add a bit of Twilightish fun to the story, but in the future (particularly after hearing the trouble VisualPony had with them in his audio version), I might go with parenthetical remarks instead.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Like Twilight, I’m a just bit on the compulsively organized side of things. To-do lists really are magic! I could write a book … *ahem* Anyway, I track what I read, with brief notes on whether or not I own the book, what format it’s in, and how much I enjoyed it, and over the past few years pony fic has crept up in the ratings of both volume and enjoyment until, as a whole, it’s at the top of both lists. I don’t know exactly what that proves, other than the world is more unpredictable than I ever imagined and this is a frikkin’ great fandom.