Today’s story is a smart take on punishment and forgiveness.
[Sad] [Slice of Life] • 3,010 words
Princess Luna created me in order to make sure she never would forget the pain she caused Equestria.
But this? This is not the way to accomplish my directive.
If only I could let her know…
FROM THE CURATORS: It’s no secret that we at the RCL are fans when fics take novel approaches to language — we’ve repeatedly featured poetry, for example — but even so, this story is a first for us: one which has major elements structured as programming code. “This fic hits a lot of good points for me, all centered in how it uses its premise: the Tantabus as a magical computer program,” Soge said in his nomination. That quickly drew praise from the rest of us, techies and non-techies alike. “The code gimmick was really solid,” Present Perfect said. “I mean, just the way it let Chinchillax world-build in single lines was pretty amazing. It’s easy to follow, and there are some interesting suggestions about the way spells and emotions interact in Equestria.”
What impressed us went beyond the unusual formatting, though — and into character drama and big ideas. “The first chapter here is a little weak, but the code gimmick maintained my interest, and the last two chapters do a nice job of shifting the focus to the Tantabus itself — what it is, what it wants, and what it’s being forced to do,” Chris said. Soge, too, appreciated the uses to which the code was put: “Chinchillax recontextualizes the Tantabus’ actions, casts its relationship with Luna in a new light, and even manages to hit some interesting sci-fi-inspired notes about an artificial intelligence that is aware of the mutability of its nature.” Chris commented on that as well: “I like how there’s an argument about AI development hiding in the wings of this story, and how the author never feels the need to draw it to the forefront.”
Ultimately, we decided, it was the emotional strength which turned this from a strong gimmick story into an exemplary one. “The story about forgiveness is the real draw, of course,” Present Perfect said, and Chris agreed: “This is ultimately a story about forgiveness and suffering, and Chinchillax never allows a clever writing trick or a bit of lore to get in the way of that.” As AugieDog said, much of that power came from the unexpectedly sympathetic look at its protagonist: “Well-rounded villains always see themselves as heroes … it’s nice to see the artificial intelligence here running amok for very good and very Pony reasons.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Chinchillax discusses flashlighting, fandom fandom, and literary sleep aids.
Give us the standard biography.
I’m currently a User Experience Designer living in Utah. I was born and raised in Texas, and lived in Japan for a little while. I’m a bit of a learning junkie, and I hate not knowing things. I watch and listen to pretty much everything at double or triple speed and I spend a lot of time lurking on the internet, trying to understand people.
I tend to write strange philosophically dark stories.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
Someone once asked me to pick a favorite animal, and the only thing that came to mind was a chinchilla, because it had a funny name. I then realized that “chillax” could combine with “chinchilla” quite well.
It’s also a username for someone I hope to someday be. I strive to live like the smiling, chill Chinchilla in my avatar, and not the stressed out panic-prone person I am in reality.
Who’s your favorite pony?
My favorite character is Spike. He gets little respect, little love, and is practically a butler/slave at this point. In a sense, he shouldn’t be there. He just doesn’t fit.
And that’s precisely why I love him so much. I don’t really feel like I fit, but I’ll try my best to help along the way in any way I can.
What’s your favorite episode?
Probably Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep. It’s just phenomenal in so many ways, with a lot of fun character interactions and things to think about. And it did a fantastic job on presenting the message of self-forgiveness.
What do you get from the show?
I mostly watch the show because I love seeing the fandom around it.
My favorite fandom is actually the fandom fandom. I find it fascinating that there’s people out there that love things! And I like investigating why people love the things they love. That’s kind of how I got stuck in the pony corner of the internet. I just had to see what all the fuss was about. And I ever since I arrived, I haven’t left. I love you guys!
What do you want from life?
A swift death.
Why do you write?
That’s a very good question.
I write because the ideas don’t let me sleep unless I write them down. I’m a very reluctant writer. I don’t feel like I have the time to write, but if I don’t write I can feel myself psychologically breaking down. I have to write or I feel terrible inside.
Though a lot of the things I write are pretty dark, and so I avoid writing them … which kind of makes a strange feedback loop volcano of frustration which results in dozens of mostly finished stories sitting in my Google Docs.
I guess I write because I want to be able to sleep at night.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
1) Understand that you are different than every other writer. Take advice when you think it can apply to you, and toss it out when it isn’t relevant to you. Unfortunately, we are all very, very different from each other. So when you read writing advice about how you should write by the seat of your pants like Stephen King, or plan out everything in advance like Brandon Sanderson, know that you are not them. It’s perfectly fine to be you. And you’re going to be a different writer than other people. Part of the struggle of writing is trying out other people’s methods of writing and amalgamating them into something that works for you.
For example, my personal writing style is called Flashlighting. I have a general idea of where I’m going, but I’m also discovering a lot as I get there, shining the flashlight on more of the plot as I come across it.
Everybody writes differently. You write differently. And that’s okay.
2) Keep a personal journal. Journal writing is just you writing to no one. Not even your future self will have time to read all that illegible stuff. This can be writing at it’s most raw and free form. I’ve handwritten hundreds of angsty pages about life, the universe, and everything. Having a consistent place to privately write anything makes it much easier to write things later on.
3) Recognize that everything is conspiring against you to prevent you from writing.
For details, consult The War of Art. It’s the greatest book on creativity I have ever read.
What inspired “Magical Intelligence”?
Lots of little things here and there.
First and foremost being that Princess Luna is essentially psychologically self-harming herself. What’s worse, she’s created a creature for the sole purpose of causing that harm. I thought a lot about how that relationship would come about and the psychological harm being caused to the Tantabus itself.
And I’ve pretty much had Artificial Intelligence on my mind ever since reading the book Superintelligence.
I also wonder a lot about magic systems. Hypothetically speaking, if there was a magic system for earth, what would it be? Well … math, really. And math, specifically binary calculations, is what allows computers to function. In a very real sense, the magic system for earth is programming. This allows people to create new things that didn’t exist before that accomplish fantastical things most of us can’t even comprehend. How are you reading this right now anyway?
Using computer science principles and applying them as a vague magic system colors a lot of how I write about magic in most stories. Even the algorithmic way in which Twilight navigates her way through The Library of Discord follows CS principles. This story was the first time I’ve written a magic system so overtly coding focused.
I tried not to pick a single language, but the code in the story ended up as a strange mix of selecting filepaths, CSS, and Java.
For those of us who know next to nothing about computers, what are the sections in machine language telling us about Luna’s relationship to the Tantabus?
In a vast multiverse, Luna (and Celestia) have the permissions to create life in Equestria and alter it at will. Luna creates the Tantabus, granting it an invisible cutie mark and giving it the destiny to “Ensure Princess Luna does not forget the pain she caused Equestria.” However, the flaw in Luna’s programming was that she took a shortcut to giving the Tantabus memories of the pain she caused Equestria. She gave it a linking spell to her own memories, causing the Tantabus to be aware of every aspect of Luna’s life.
Luna also doesn’t treat the Tantabus with the respect it deserves. She views it as an efficient monster and only wants it to obey that role. When it tries to go beyond that, she removes its voice and contemplates deleting the Tantabus entirely.
It’s the linked memories at the beginning of the story that set everything up for the Tantabus to go beyond its core programming. It knows just how much she has changed, but can’t communicate that to her.
How was the process of featuring a villain from the show in a positive light, without actually changing its canon actions?
It was a matter of changing perspective. The first time I saw the episode I was really struck by Luna’s line about how she created the Tantabus. There is a lot of subtle horror hidden in those lines. Horror for Luna — and, when I thought about it more, absolute horror for the Tantabus. The mere fact it escaped means that it was trapped by Luna. It doesn’t talk the entire time, so it’s probably stuck in an “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” situation. It was created to cause nightmares, and that’s all it knows and all it will ever know.
From there, it felt natural to write the Tantabus as a trapped AI, forced to obey its programming, but desperately wanting to escape.
In the story, the Tantabus is an artificial construct. How different is it writing such a character when compared to a “biological” pony?
I’m not sure if this was lazy writing on my part, or something I did intentionally, but the Tantabus’s narration was very basic. The entire story consists of a lot of short paragraphs without much detail.
A biological perspective would probably have a bit more prose to it.
Tell us a bit about exploring the theme of forgiveness.
Forgiveness — especially self-forgiveness — is the most crucial thing anyone can learn. Our current conscious selves are the sum total of everything we’ve done and failed to do. But we make mistakes. We fail to get an assignment done. We lie to someone we care about. We accidentally harm others in ways we can’t even imagine.
We experience life from a single perspective, but that perspective is flawed and skewed in our favor. Looking at things from others’ perspectives can make us realize that we did something wrong to others.
Thinking about those mistakes too deeply can lead to guilt, unceasingly forcing us to relive every moment we’ve ever done something wrong. We fail to recognize that we can change, and in that mindset we are stuck.
Forgiving others allows for a change in our relationship to another person.
Forgiving oneself allows for change within ourselves.
It’s one of the things that makes MLP so wonderful. We have so many characters that wouldn’t be there if no one had offered them forgiveness.
I’ve spent a lot of time in my head psychologically harming myself for things I should have or shouldn’t have done. As much as I don’t like where my thoughts end up, I’m me, and I can’t change that without admitting that and moving on. It’s difficult to do, and I will probably continue to struggle with it for a long time to come. My life is a constant struggle in forgiving myself and trying to change for the better.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you for the interview and for letting me be a part of the Archive.