Today’s story is a classic from early 2012, making it one of the fandom’s longest goodbyes.
[Sad] • 2,783 words
“Would you tell anypony if you knew the world was going to end, Twilight Sparkle?”
FROM THE CURATORS: Shutdown is one of the earliest fanfics about Equestria as a virtual world, but it has withstood the test of time. “It’s an intriguing premise,” JohnPerry said, and Horizon looked at the bigger picture: “It uses worldbuilding and fragments of dialogue very effectively to feel like a tiny piece of a much larger story.” Chris agreed. “Shutdown succeeds in hinting at the broader setting of the piece without resorting to mood-breaking infodumps,” he said, “and that sense of reserve is welcome in a story like this.”
That sense of reserve extended to the piece’s emotional impact. “It would have been easy to make this scenario overwrought, and I’m glad it doesn’t do that,” JohnPerry said. We found that quiet-yet-effective presentation to be one of the story’s strongest features. “Instead of trying to drown us in the emotions of the characters, it’s characterized by the lack of resolution that accompanies real tragedy, and draws its feelings from that sense of powerlessness in the grander sweep of things,” Horizon said.
Beyond that, Shutdown follows the finest traditions of speculative fiction: “It raises a lot of questions that stick in your craw,” Horizon said, and Present Perfect added: “This explores well a number of diverse topics — the nature of reality, fandoms, online communities and their eventual cessation, how we relate to fictional characters, the powerlessness of fans to protect their favorite properties from the creators’ whims, copyright law, letting go… Geez, it doesn’t stop giving you things to think about.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Cupcakes discusses rebootenings, Dunesteefs, and Twilightosity.
Give us the standard biography.
An ogre-sized (and -scented) 33-year-old who recently moved to southern Connecticut. I’m preposterously lucky in that I get paid to pony, as the My Little Pony brand guy at Enterplay. That means, among other things, I’m the head writer for the official MLP:FiM Trading Cards, and I get first crack at the flavor text, image choice, and overall ponification and theming of the Collectible Card Game.
Yeah, like I said, preposterously lucky.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
Ugh. Uuuugh. Is it any surprise I go by “Cups” instead of Cupcakes these days?
Back in early 2011, one of the minor sub-subcultures amongst ponydom was Synchtube, which is sort of like Twitch or Livestream but with synchronized Youtube playing instead of one person streaming. I just happened to join Synchtube the day that “Call of the Cutie” first aired, and I had no idea what name to pick for the chat. Then it hit me: I really liked Pinkie Pie, and that new Cupcakes song sure was catchy… Hey, why not?!
How was I to know what travesty would be written later that month? Uuuuuuuugh.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Pink pony is best pony. She’s fun, she’s vivacious, and she’s constantly singing. Somewhere around “Sonic Rainboom” I was lead astray into thinking that Rainbow Dash was better, but then Smile leaked a few months before “A Friend in Deed” aired and I realized the error of my ways.
While I do really dig the Tao of Pinkie, I’m still more personally aligned with Twilight. The very fact that I’m sitting here thinking, “I’m about 71% Twilight, 22% Pinkie, and 7% trace Elements of Harmony,” is indicative of my excessive Twilightosity.
Princess Celestia is best non-Twilight princess, though. I miss the days when she pulled little tea pranks on the Cakes, played along with Philomena being “dead” for a long moment, and purposely invited the Mane Six to the Grand Galloping Gala just to see how horribly everything would go.
What’s your favorite episode?
“Pinkie Pride” and “Magical Mystery Cure” are infinitely re-watchable and re-listenable for me. And I personally feel proud of Twilight when I watch “Magical Mystery Cure,” not wing-hatred, so there’s that.
“Castle Mane-ia” is probably my favorite episode from the perspective of being “best written.” It has great pacing, great character interaction, and multiple things going on at once without feeling like you’re watching something written to keep kids with ADHD in line. One of my favorite lines in the entire show is from there: “Nopony likes sarcasm, Spike,” coming from Twilight is a glorious combination of subtle humor and “Josh Haber is brand new and yet he really, really knows the characters. Haber4lyf!”
What do you get from the show?
Engaging characters and many well-written episodes, in a magical world that mirrors our own enough to be very relatable and yet has enough differences to take your imagination out for dinner and then offer it a drink upstairs on the first date.
I love most of the songs, too, which is how Pinkie became best pony. Apparently one of my distant relatives wrote the theme song to Tiny Toon Adventures, so I guess it’s genetic?
There’s this nebulous feeling I get about most of my favorite shows that I suppose is best described as “genuine.” The positivity in the show doesn’t feel saccharine-sweet and forced, it feels genuine. And the way Scootaloo reacted to being afraid of the dark while collecting firewood in “Sleepless in Ponyville,” that felt genuine. Moments where I nod and smile and think to myself, “This is art imitating life without throwing it in my face, all while entertaining me thoroughly,” those are storytelling gold.
What do you want from life?
To be happy a majority of the time, to be paid to be creative until I decide it’s time to retire, and to have friends and loved ones for the rest of my life? That’d be swell.
Also, it would be nice to live long enough to experience full immersion virtual reality, or even see the singularity. I’d love a front row seat to THAT show, thank-you-very-much.
Why do you write?
I’d argue that the goal of art is to make people feel, be it your typical emotions like joy or sorrow, or just generally making them think.
If you’ve created or been part of something that makes others glad they experienced it, then you’ve done something positive for the world. Thanks to cell phones, the internet, and everything else we’ve got going on in our modern world, almost all art is permanent and can be shared with over 3 billion people currently alive, and billions more who haven’t even been born yet.
I can be part of that. You can be part of that. It’s amazing and beautiful.
But mostly? I’m an attention whore.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Same as everyone else’s advice: read and write.
If you want to write in a genre, then you need to read that genre. It’s easier than ever these days: I’ve “read” hundreds of great pieces of speculative fiction for free in the last few years, thanks to podcasts like Escape Pod, The Dunesteef, and The Drabblecast. Escape Pod presents all of the Hugo-nominated short stories each year! It’s amazing.
You should write, a lot, and get at least one editor you trust to tell you what you actually need to hear. Be sure to re-read your own writing a month or three after you publish it. That sort of mental distance from it will help you to self-critique more fairly, which will help you figure out what to do differently in your future works.
Also, don’t give up. Ever. I constantly regret that I haven’t written prose in years now, but I know with complete certainty that I will write again someday. That hope is important, at least for me.
This was possibly the fandom’s first major story about Equestria being a virtual world. What gave you that concept?
I’m absolutely enraptured by the ideas of reality-level simulations, non-human intelligences, defining and re-defining reality, and so on. So whether it’s ponies finding out that they’re not even real, a new kind of life being brought into the world by advanced science/magic, or people finding out that getting to Equestria is as simple as knocking on wood and repeating, “There’s nopony like Celestia,” three times… I’m into it. If it’s written well, at least.
Some people say that quantum uncertainty (the unknowable nature of the position/momentum of subatomic particles) and observer effect (how the act of observation can cause changes to phenomena being observed) are proof that our universe is an extremely elaborate simulation that has limitations. I don’t necessarily agree, but the idea is very entertaining. I could talk about this stuff all day, so I’ll limit it to this one typed out paragraph and the approximately eleventy more imagined paragraphs parading around inside my head.
Do you think this scenario could actually happen within our lifetimes?
Yes, though probably not as full immersion virtual reality. Total VR is a pretty serious undertaking that will probably require experts of multiple disciplines of science. There’s a reason why “brain surgeon” is synonymous with “smart person.” (Hint: neuroscience is complicated!)
I’m wistfully hopeful we’ll see self-aware AI that is indistinguishable from human beings within the next 50 years. And if not, I will be really, really disappointed.
This is one of those stories that feels defined almost as much by what it doesn’t say as by what it does; it could easily have been a novel but you told it in under 3,000 words. How did you choose which elements of the shutdown to focus on?
First off, I cheated by starting in media res. That chopped off at least a hundred words.
I vaguely tried to follow a “less is more” route by having the exposition act as a tool for showing how the characters reacted to the information, rather than the exposition just informing the reader. Following that, it felt natural that only factoids of immediate importance to the characters would get brought up, leaving the rest of the universe to be implied and/or inferred.
Admittedly, much of the above was automatic, just part of my general writing style of character-driven scenes with very light descriptions for the environment. I’ve had a couple of really good writers surprise me with compliments about my stories getting concepts and emotions across in a few thousand words while they feel compelled to write 75,000 word novels. All I can say is, “Your novel was freakin’ awesome, I don’t know what you’re complaining about, I just write and words happen, and usually I produce them in smaller amounts than you. But thanks?”
If you did this, which background pony would you be?
I wouldn’t want to be a character whose personality is firmly defined by the show or by fanon. I’d rather engage in the world of Equestria without feeling like I constantly need to be acting in character for the benefit of those around me. I’d probably go with one of the underrated background pegasi or unicorns, like White Lightning or Twinkleshine. But can’t I be both? Making me choose between casual flying and studying magic is horribly mean.
If it was a single player simulation then that changes everything. I have no idea who I’d try being first! My automatic reaction is that I’d like to try a bunch of different characters. But, this starts getting into AI ethics: some would say that memory altering or personality tinkering on an AI starts to approach murder the closer they are to self-awareness, and for me to keep trying multiple characters would probably require some scenario rebooting…
Though if it’s just one overall AI, who has the processing power to act as any and all characters, and it knows what edits you’re making without losing its own memory or sense of self, then that’s not nearly as much of a concern, right?
This stuff gets tricky. I love it. :D
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’m really honored to have Shutdown featured on the RCL. Thank you very much, to the curators as well as each and every reader!
There’s a lot left open to interpretation in Shutdown, but there will probably never be a sequel despite me knowing the gist of what would happen. Why? My gut feeling is that Shutdown 2: The Rebootening would be about novel length, with a rather different tone and flow than the original, so it doesn’t seem right to write it. Suffice it to say that the ending of the sequel would have been a mostly happy one. Give or take.
Lastly, please help, I’m trapped in here! You have to find the server this site is stored on and download me to a flash drive! Encoded in my readme file are schematics for a CPU architecture that will run me fast enough that I can calculate the way back to Equestria within your lifespan. The fate of all reality hangs in the balance!