We hope you plan to pick up today’s story.
[Comedy] [Sad] [Slice of Life] [Alternate Universe] • 4,092 words
Years have passed since the Crystal War ended. Twilight Sparkle visits an old haunt to spend some time catching up with her friends. Then comes the question of who picks up the tab.
FROM THE CURATORS: When most stories on a topic crank their drama up to 11, finding fics with the confidence to take a more nuanced approach can be like stumbling across an oasis in a desert. “After ‘The Cutie Re-Mark’,” FanOfMostEverything said in his nomination, “stories set after the war with Sombra have become something of a subgenre, most of them little more than vehicles for PTSD angst or Rainbow Dash wing amputation drama. The Tab is not one of those stories. It seeks to capture the full spectrum of the veteran’s potential experience in readjusting to peacetime conditions.” As this story sped toward a feature, Soge agreed: “If there is one big thing right this fic does, it is its distinct portrayal of how trauma affects different people differently.”
There was so much to like, though, that we all cited different elements as our favorites. “Its greatest strength shines in folding the exposition that any AU has to churn out into fantastic character interaction between the Canterlot friends,” FanOfMostEverything said. “The subtext here is rich and plentiful, from Twilight keeping metric time to Twinkleshine’s nickname to a single sentence that says volumes about Rainbow Dash’s status in this timeline.” (Soge agreed: “That it speaks so much of its world building — rarely directly alluding to it — is phenomenal.”) Present Perfect appreciated the characters: “They are all distinctly themselves … Twilight especially comes off as ‘Twilight, after serving in a war’.” And Horizon liked its framing: “It’s a story about good (and authentic) ponies being good (and authentic) to each other,” he said. “And that’s its power: showing us the beating heart of its characters, affected by their experiences but not defined by them.”
In the end, it was simply exemplary execution which carried the fic. “There’s not really anything surprising about it, but it does a damned fine job portraying post-war life,” Present Perfect said. The surprise, Soge said, came in the emotions that it prompted: “It is a powerful and emotional story, with sublime characterization, and a real humanity and care for the characters involved. The actual ‘tab’ scene got me all teary-eyed.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Antiquarian discusses surrounding heroes, sacred stupidity, and the heroism of everyday life.
Give us the standard biography.
Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. Those who do study history are doomed to watch other people repeat it.
And, since I don’t know how much the ‘standard biography’ entails, I’ll say that I’m what you might call a semi-professional historian. The advocacy work that I do isn’t a history job per se, but it impacts how I set policy and run programs. Plus, the work I do is in part about fighting genocide — so, it’s sort of a history job. Military history and genocide are my primary areas of study at the macro level, but I’m particularly studied with regards to medieval history and religion in Europe as well as the World Wars. Storytelling is my passion, and fanfiction provides an outlet for my creativity and a chance to share the truths that I’ve found with other people.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
My friends often joke that I’m a bit of a ‘man out of time.’ And, yeah, my worldview isn’t exactly contemporary. When enough people joke that your perspective is antiquated, but you continue to hold it anyway, you own it.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Twilight. Applejack a very close second.
What’s your favorite episode?
Tough call, but probably The Perfect Pear. Such a powerful message about family, love, and forgiveness. Runner-up is probably The Cutie Map 1&2. Given my area of study, I’ll let you guess why.
What do you get from the show?
As a historian I look to see what a society values, because our values impact how we treat people. There is much of what our society values today that I find abhorrent, and there are few shows that I watch because our media tend to reflect our values. This show is one of my exceptions.
My Little Pony shocked me with the deep and abiding virtuousness of its characters. There is a goodness in them that is a sign of contradiction to the times, a sign that shows a better path. I think it’s vital to surround ourselves with heroes, both real and fictional, who are worth emulating. Our actions and worldviews are strongly impacted by the stories we consume. If we expose ourselves to filth, we are more likely to act in a filthy manner. If we expose ourselves to moral excellence, we are more likely to be good.
On a lighter note, the characterization is brilliant and the episodes hilarious, so it’s both edifying and light-hearted entertainment. Many an evening after a hard day at work has been spent unwinding with these pastel ponies.
What do you want from life?
I might not be a sports guy, but one of my heroes is Coach Vince Lombardi. He was a religious man whose faith taught him to believe that excellence on the field began with excellence in the soul — that it was necessary to be a good person before one could be a good athlete, employee, parent, etc. While he was sage enough to know that flaws are a reality of life, and thus we cannot catch perfection this side of eternity, he also believed we should still try. In his own words, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” I believe that, whether you are religious or not, this is a worldview worth having. I strive to let the best shine forth in myself and to help the best shine out in others as well. If I can help even one person along the path that Vince spoke of, I know that I’m doing well.
Why do you write?
As I said, stories shape what we are and what we become. People need heroes to emulate in order to bring out their own best selves. I look at so much of the media that we are bombarded by and become sad because there aren’t many true heroes being portrayed. Only villains seem to be shown but, the thing is, villains are only part of the story. Evil is very real, yes; you don’t need to tell me. Like I said, I study genocide professionally. I know evil. But history shows that the good in the world is so much greater, that no matter how dark things get there are always lights to oppose it, and that we can rebuild even from the greatest of tragedies. We are made for more, capable of more, and I just want to remind people of that. I want them to see that they can be better, and that the world can be better, and for them to find the confidence to be who they were born to be.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Your words make more of a difference than you think. I know I’m sounding like a broken record here, but what we produce comes from what we absorb. Even in a light, silly story, there is an implied worldview and perspective of life, which itself will be either helpful or hurtful depending. So spend some time really thinking about what your story is implying as well as what it explicitly states. For example, what does it say in Star Wars that the Old Republic was supposed to be ‘good,’ but was comfortable using an army of human men grown in vats and bred for war? I.e. mass-produced slaves.
Good and evil are labels we often sew on characters, but if the ‘hero’ acts in a villainous manner then they don’t deserve the title ‘good.’ And that can be the point of the story, but do that deliberately rather than just having a murderous edge-lord ‘hero’ who is morally indistinguishable from the villain and yet still supposedly the one we should root for.
This isn’t to say that everything needs to be serious — there’s a time and place for stupid. Heck, the late John Paul II once said, “Stupidity is also a gift of God, but one mustn’t misuse it.” So have your silly stories and silly moments. Life needs that too. But, serious or silly, my point is this: spend some time considering the impact your words will have.
What inspired “The Tab”?
Um … I’ll take “Battles of the Crusades” for 400, Al.
In all seriousness, I don’t remember the full details. However, I always make a point of doing military tributes on the military holidays (The Tab is a tribute for Memorial Day), and none of the other ideas that I’d had before The Tab really spoke to me. I knew that I wanted a positive story which emphasized life moving on after tragedy — the camaraderie and honor found amongst righteous warriors. I wanted to make it clear that each soldier’s experience in war is unique, to disabuse the notion that all soldiers return from the war shell-shocked and broken, and to demonstrate that even those that do can still heal and lead fulfilling lives. I also wanted to touch on the joy of remembrance after a loss; to combat the idea that tragedy must spell the end of happiness. I just needed a story that fit that bill. I’m not sure where this particular iteration come from exactly, but once I started it just flowed, so I went with it.
What drew you to the “Crystal War” AU?
To be blunt, the lack of a need to establish much. The focus of this story needed to be on the main cast getting together to reminisce as friends and comrades-in-arms. If I’d had to spend a lot of time setting up how the war started, who the belligerents were, what time period it was, etc. I would have lost the narrative. The Crystal War AU has a pretty set basic theme already, so the readers can fill in the blanks without me and I can just tell the story. That’s also why I went with Twilight and her Canterlot friends rather than the Main 6; the 6 (sans Twilight) already have established roles in the war, so it was easier to slot the others into place rather than explain how the Main 6 got in the same unit.
How much research did you do before writing the story?
Well, I’ve literally studied military history and genocide since I could read; does that count?
If anyone wants to shortcut that because you didn’t have my not-quite-standard childhood to jumpstart you, I’d recommend The Father of Us All by Victor Davis Hanson for an overview of how war works throughout the ages (the tech and terms change, but the basics stay the same). For first-hand accounts that give an insight into the military mindset, a personal favorite is the Band of Brothers book (though the show is good too). For novels, Alan French wrote a lot of great medieval and ancient historical fiction like The Red Keep. Brian Jacques grew up during the Battle of Britain and worked that into his fantasy books, and, of course, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis fought in WWI, and the effects show in their writing. I have plenty of others I could recommend, but that’s a good start.
You’ll notice that this is a mix of historical works, legends, and myths. Well, that’s because the human story is a collection of all those things. We are all, arguably, the result of our myths and legends as much as our real history. The Tab may be a pony story, but it’s the product of human lore throughout the ages.
The only specific research that I did for the story itself was to study Medal of Honor recipients to get an idea for how the citations are phrased.
What do you think it is about ponies that makes them work so well addressing serious topics?
On that count I can really only speak to my own experiences. The show captured my attention because it deals with morality in a refreshingly direct way. Good and evil correlate to visible power, and the complexities of emotion and relationships are openly discussed as a rule. This makes the world a ready vehicle for examining concepts both deep and mundane. Add to this the fact that it can shift gears from serious to ridiculous in a heartbeat without stalling, and you’ve got a very versatile platform for storytelling.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
In both my writing and my personal life, I talk a lot about heroism. To do this, I often tell stories of people in grandiose situations. But the fact of the matter is that most of us won’t find themselves in such epic struggles. Our struggles are more mundane.
The thing is, though, that doesn’t make the struggle any less heroic. Heroism is simply doing the right thing even when it’s difficult, even when we don’t want to, even when it costs us. That can be really obvious (saving someone from a burning building) or really tiny and subtle (calling your friend out on their hurtful gossip even though you know you’ll get ribbed about it, or calling a friend you haven’t seen in a while to tell them how much they mean to you).
The world isn’t made a better place by the big things alone — without the little things, there’s nothing for the big things to stand on. Be kind to all, courteous to all, respectful to all, and do not bow to cruel and wicked things. Act with integrity, do your best to live well, and own up when you fall short. In this way, we can all be heroes. Then, if the building does catch fire, you’ll already be the kind of person who gets someone else out.