Today’s story drives its characters to extremes.
Sleep While I Drive
[Dark] [Adventure] [Sad] [Sci-Fi] • 12,791 words
Celestia and Discord, as teens, flee their destroyed homeworld to a new world promised by a letter from Luna. But Discord can’t escape his nature, nor Celestia her memories. Being a chaos mage on a starliner is a death sentence, and yet, Discord has to keep using his mind-control powers to take Celestia’s emotions away, at her request, because otherwise she wants to die. And Gray Celestia, the discorded Celestia with no emotions but the drive to protect herself and Discord, will do anything that needs to be done to save them both.
FROM THE CURATORS: When a story tackles ambitious ideas, our commentary sometimes gets as wide-ranging as the fic itself. “This has got tragedy, mental illness, friendship and horrible things done in the name of survival, all in spades,” Present Perfect said in his nomination, and on its way to a rare unanimous approval, compliments like FanOfMostEverything’s stacked up: “Alara excels at building a universe and finding a place for everyone in it, especially Discord,” he said. “That skill is on full display here, blending ponies, sci-fi, and the interplay of harmony and chaos into a seamless whole. The actual story that takes place in this universe is a breathtaking one, tackling the themes of love, loss, survivor’s guilt, prejudice, duty, and more in an interstellar narrative arc that hurts to read in the best way.”
With so much worldbuilding for the story to do, it walked a fine line between competing extremes, both in tone and character. “The technobabble felt purposeful, and in its relatively short length it manages to build a whole universe, much darker than anything in MLP proper, but still remarkably faithful to the show — remarkable, considering Celestia’s actions throughout the story,” Soge said. AugieDog, meanwhile, remarked on the power of its theme: “The two characters are pretty much destroying themselves in order to save the other, not becoming whole together but becoming echoing, hollow shells,” he said. “It’s a story that could easily wear the ‘Tragedy’ tag if we didn’t know where things ultimately are heading, and maybe even then.”
Along the way, the story also offered some unique accomplishments. “I’m unable to think of the last time I read a story that successfully pulled off both an in medias res opening and a ‘fade to black’ ending,” AugieDog said. “Granted, it helps that we know who these characters are and what will eventually become of them, but to take a piece that doesn’t really begin and doesn’t really end and still make it into a story, that’s some writing right there.” It was a package that added up, as Soge said, to an impressive whole: “This is a fantastic fic, full of character, amazing worldbuilding, and a dramatic flair that gives the whole thing heft and purpose. I don’t think I’d heard of alarajrogers before, and what an introduction this was.”
Read on for our author interview, in which alarajrogers discusses deity elections, well-meaning extremists, and dining-room takeovers.
Give us the standard biography.
I’m a forty-something autistic mom of 4 kids who’s been writing since I was 4 years old. I like to think I have some skills at it now, but the kids nowadays publishing to the Internet when they’re 16 are so much better than I was when I was 16, it gives me a lot of hope for humanity’s future that tends to go against the prevailing zeitgeist. But actually I think generational warfare is bullshit and the kids are almost always smarter and better adapted than the generation before them.
I tend to be overly optimistic about humanity’s future, though. Maybe because of being a Star Trek fan since I was 7.
I am kind of like Haruhi Suzumiya in that I don’t have a lot of interest in fiction about normal people. I want to read about espers, time travelers, and aliens. And ponies. Ponies count too. I don’t like her habit of rewriting the universe to be all about her, though. I believe that good writing means you make the story about all the characters. So obviously I am a better choice for God than Haruhi and you should all vote for me in the next runoff election for deity of the universe.
I studied psychobiology in college, but I work in IT in a weird-ass limbo position where I don’t write compiled code and I try to avoid being a sysadmin but I end up doing everything else.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
Alara J. Rogers is actually my name. I have a very unusual first name and have been fixated on it since I was a young child, so when I got onto the Internet, I decided that I was okay with being up front about who I really am. Over time, I’ve found that perhaps that wasn’t the best idea, but I have 24 years of fanfic published under this name so kinda too late to fix it now.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Twilight Sparkle. I am, myself, overly bookish, have a hard time with real-time personal interactions and had to study human behavior consciously to learn to function in life. I was a privileged child prodigy who nonetheless suffers from impostor syndrome and the gifted child syndrome (aka, if I am not constantly perfect I’m worthless), so I identify a lot with Twilight. She’s the first coded-autistic female character I’ve seen who is a main character and is not designed for the male gaze (aka Seven of Nine and T’Pol from Star Trek, or various anime ladies who are normally dressed modestly but participate in fanservice — characters who aren’t highly sexual people, who aren’t interested in being sexy, but they’re dressed sexy anyway or end up in sexualized situations or panty shots or whatnot). And she’s the main character, and the fact that she’s totally autistic and needs to actually study friendship doesn’t prevent her from making great friends and eventually becoming an expert on friendship.
(But I also love Celestia, Luna, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, and a whole bunch of others.)
You asked my favorite pony … my favorite character is Discord, but I think we all know that. :-)
What’s your favorite episode?
It’s hard to say. It’s very likely that at least one of my favorites is Twilight’s Kingdom, because it has so much good development for my two favorite characters. And The Cutie Map is great because Starlight Glimmer was such a good villain — a well-meaning extremist who genuinely believed in all the bullshit she was doing.
Oddly enough, I don’t actually enjoy most of the Discord episodes all that much. I spend way too much time trying to reconcile things that don’t fit with what I’ve already established or stuff that really didn’t make sense to me. (Like, why did Discord do nothing whatsoever about the fact he was dying in Discordant Harmony?)
What do you get from the show?
I really love that this is a show about six women who are not even slightly sexualized (because they are actually mares and that would be gross) being big heroes in a world where most of everyone who runs things and about half the villains or more are also women, but the story has enough male characters in it to not give the impression that women can only be heroic by subtracting the men, and a lot of the men we see are also heroic in their own ways.
I also really love the worldbuilding. The fact that this is a world that runs on magitech, where the technology levels are all over the place — steam-style trains that run on magic, no television, no radio, but we have DJs and record players. There’s a large number of different races and cultures, a lot of lore, and even language modifications … like a really well-done and original fantasy world that isn’t the standard “steampunk Victoriana” or “medieval Europe”.
And for a kids’ show, the writing is great.
What do you want from life?
Aside from everything I’m about to cover in the next question, I want enough money that I can support my kids into adulthood the way my parents supported me and protect myself from health problems and also be able to put everything I own somewhere and not have it completely taking over my library and dining room. Also time to make more stuffed animals and purses. I’ve been trying to take up sewing as a hobby, and I don’t have any inherent talent at it, so I need more practice.
Why do you write?
Because it was what I was put on this planet for. I’m serious. I’ve been writing since I was 4, I have more ideas than I could probably get through in my remaining lifetime, my specific set of neurodivergences give me a high base level of talent at it and I’ve been practicing for more than 40 years now … and it’s the vast majority of everything I want to do in life.
The fact that I only have a few original short stories published and no novels bothers the crap out of me. I feel like when I’m not writing, I’m wasting my time, because it’s why I’m here. Everything else is incidental.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Don’t obsess over it like I’m doing. It’s not actually a good thing to feel like a failure because you’re not putting out 1500 words a day.
But, if you want to be good, start as early as you can and write as often as you can. They say you have to put in 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. Well, if you only write 1 hour a day that’s like 27 years, so if you’re starting in your 20s, write more than one hour a day as many times as you can.
What inspired “Sleep While I Drive”?
I had a dream. I don’t remember all the details anymore, because what I recorded was the cleaned-up version I thought I could make a story out of, but I remember that the parts about Discord being attacked because chaos mages in space are dangerous and the part about him removing Celestia’s feelings to protect her from her own emotions were both in it.
Do you see the characters we meet here growing into the characters we know from the show?
So the thing is, if this is a prequel, then the story’s dark ending is a lot less ambiguous. We’d know they survive, we’d know that Celestia recovers, we’d know that they will find Luna. So I wanted to leave it deliberately ambiguous — is this an AU, in which case anything could have happened, or is it a prequel? But everyone seems to be treating it as a prequel, and I know that given the choice, I’d interpret such a story as a prequel because it does make it less dark to do it that way, so … I’m kinda stuck with it.
Why go so dark with a story you describe as “Space opera science fiction with PONIES”?
Because that was the nature of the story. I don’t set out to tell a dark story; I set out to tell a story. The story itself decides whether it’s going to be dark or light or somewhere in between.
What is it about Discord that makes him so darn shippable?
Spirit of Chaos. Discord isn’t restricted by the kinds of rules and boundaries that exist on people who function in polite society. He has a flirtatious demeanor with most of the characters he interacts with on the show, and he can in theory be shipped with all of them at once because there’s no reason the Spirit of Chaos would be monogamous. Also, John de Lancie’s voice is very sexy.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I feel as if the fandom is slowly winding down, and it saddens me. I don’t change fandoms easily; I still occasionally get ideas for X-Men, a fandom I’ve been in and out of since 1985. When everyone leaves a fandom, I get left behind, because I never actually leave them. So this is a thing I worry about.