Today’s story shows us what stars do: they shine.
[Crossover] [Dark] [Human] • 216,600 words
Isolated from her friends and taken prisoner in the middle of a war, Twilight must deal with the very real dangers of being perceived as an enemy as well as the nightmares of her arrival on ‘Earth’. Can she overcome her own fears and the fears of her captors? Will the wayward unicorn’s assistance be a boon or a curse to the ‘humans?’ Most importantly, will she ever find her way home?
FROM THE CURATORS: Lengthy stories like this sometimes languish in our queue for a while, as we all try to make time to read them around our jobs and other hobbies, but Stardust sailed through, from nomination to approval, in less than a week. “I was looking for something of doorstop length to sink into this weekend,” commented Augiedog, “and this one did the trick quite nicely.” Chris also noted how easy it was to devour, saying, “This is a story that does an excellent job of holding the reader’s interest, despite its length and wide-ranging plot.”
Although this is a video game crossover, we all agreed that it did an excellent job of being accessible. “I think that familiarity with the source material isn’t really necessary,” said Soge in his nomination, and the rest of us were quick to confirm as much. “As someone with only the vaguest of ideas what XCOM is,” said Chris, “I can attest from personal experience that this holds up well even for the non-gamers among us.” Augie, meanwhile, noted that he couldn’t tell which of “the humans here comes from the game or from the author’s imagination.”
But of course, this is a story about ponies, and especially about Twilight Sparkle. “Twilight’s characterization remains solid throughout, slowly adapting to her new environment and her experience,” said Soge. Chris agreed, noting that “her curiosity, naivete, and general desire to be helpful are all key story elements, and all fit her character well.” And we found elements of the show to appreciate even beyond the main character, with Augie noting that “the story also contains one of the best renditions of Discord I’ve ever read,” and Chris praising its tone, calling it “a long-form story that uses interspecies war as a backdrop, but friendship and basic human decency as its raison d’etre.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Arad discusses plotbugs, whim purchases, and weaponized unicorns.
Give us the standard biography.
Just a brony living approximately two and a half hours away from anything interesting, who really likes reading and writing crossovers.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
The name that I usually went by online and in other places was ‘Aradamis’, a mutation of ‘Artemis’. When I got into a rather popular MMO, Aradamis was inexplicably taken and I had to shorten it down to Arad. After that it stuck.
Who’s your favorite pony?
What’s your favorite episode?
Lesson Zero, though I haven’t caught up with the newest season (yet).
What do you get from the show?
I tend to prowl Netflix and other video services looking for various TV shows to watch and enjoy, but I always come back to FiM as a palate cleanser.
What do you want from life?
Oh boy, I could write a book about this question, but in the end I suppose it all boils down to hearing three little words sincerely said.
Why do you write?
Because if I don’t then the plotbugs will eat my brain. Seriously though, I have a high school friend who encouraged me to keep writing through college, and this is the natural extension of that.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
The hardest lesson I had to learn was that you cannot write a story that everyone will love. No matter what you do, someone will always have a problem with how your plot develops. Which is fine! Some people like specific kinds of stories, and by extension there’s some stories that those same people wouldn’t like. I personally like my sugary happy endings and triumphant victories, and just because I don’t like a tragic ending doesn’t mean that a tragic ending is bad. It’s just my opinion.
Talk a little about your history with the XCOM series, and why you chose to cross it over with MLP.
My history with XCOM starts out literally the week before XCOM (2012) came out. I had just finished plowing through one of the Super Robot Wars games (also turn-based strategy) when I saw on Steam that XCOM was going to be released in the next week. I did a bit of research and bought it on a whim. While playing the game after that, I was struck with the first question that is asked at the start of every crossover: What if one of the mane 6 ended up on Earth during this? That led to the question of how an outsider would view a humanity not at it’s best, but during its darkest hour.
When writing a crossover between two series with such different tones, how do you manage the story in order to stay true to both?
I suppose the best way to explain this is with a bit of mental imagery. Imagine the two settings as spheres that will never change so long as they’re separated. When the two spheres touch, they begin to blend together from the point of contact. The longer contact is maintained, the more change radiates from the point where the two meet, and that’s the key. Immediate changes to established canons based on that contact are unbelievable. It’s a gradual change that ensnares people.
Much of the story deals with the interaction between humans and ponies. How do you view their differences, and how does that influence your writing?
(Beware, minor setting spoilers for XCOM and the first couple of chapters for Stardust.)
Before I get into this, I should probably clarify one thing. A human from the XCOM setting prior to Stardust is a frightful, paranoid creature and with good reason. Anything that isn’t human is with the invaders and should be feared (or shot on sight). Their motivation is the survival of themselves and their species, and all other considerations come in at a distant second.
Twilight’s arrival tore her from the comfortable setting that she had become accustomed to, and she’s desperately trying to shape her new surroundings into something she considers familiar.
It would not be a stretch to consider these traits to be core to the early conflicts in the story: the humans that Twilight interacts with are caught between disbelief at her motives and a hunger to weaponize what she can do against the invaders, versus Twilight’s attempts to befriend the humans so she can establish some small semblance of normalcy in an alien setting.
Many characters in the fic have to deal with the aftermath of traumatic events. What was your thought process when dealing with this sensitive theme?
Contrary to popular belief, I am not some sadistic puppetmaster that enjoys tormenting his creations. Every loss and setback has a purpose that serves some sort of need later in the storyline, just as every success and achievement. I wouldn’t really say that the characters ‘deal with’ what happens, as it implies some finality to it and what happened is forgotten.
My characters learn to cope with the tragedies they survive, and how they cope shapes who they are. Some cope better than others and bounce back with minimal effort. Others take significantly longer. Each is different, and it’s interesting for me to explore just how each of my characters survives what lies ahead.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Don’t give up on a story idea just because someone else is writing something similar! The story Research Project: Twilight Sparkle had a similar premise for what I was planning and was started a couple of months earlier than Stardust, and I had no idea if that story was going to do exactly what I was planning (it didn’t, thankfully, but that’s beside the point).