The last stop for today’s story is the RCL spotlight.
The Last Pony on Earth
[Adventure] [Mystery] [Human] • 102,429 words
Until yesterday, my life was no different than anybody’s. Go to work, pay the bills, sleep. Today, I woke up to a world without humans. The streets are empty, the power grid is running down, and not another soul is in sight. That might not be the worst thing, if I wasn’t also a pony.
Where is everyone? Why is this happening to me?
Will l stay sane long enough to starve?
FROM THE CURATORS: “I’m surprised to see Starscribe hasn’t been featured before,” FanOfMostEverything said at the start of this story’s nomination — launching one of the longest and most spirited debates we’ve ever had. High and low scores flew; all six curators wrote essays filled with praise and critique; and when the dust settled, Soge’s final vote pushed it over our feature threshold. “I have many complaints,” he said, “but this fic gets a ton of things right — compelling OCs, well-crafted mysteries, a ton of humanity in its portrayals and the dilemmas of the characters, and plenty to enjoy. The Equestrian chapters in particular are deserving of special honors. There are many small, special things which make this fic, and it is thanks to the sum of it all that this story comes off as so strong.”
And while all of us found things to complain about, an equally common theme was the ways in which gripping, unique storytelling overruled those to keep us invested regardless. “If there’s a big thing right for me, it’s the use of layered media to tell the story,” Present Perfect said. “We’re primarily in some excellent journal entries for the bulk of the fic, but along with images, these are supplemented by transcripts, interviews, and journal entries from another character, not to mention ARG-style codes for the faithful to solve. I’m really impressed with those codes, they were not easy to crack. And this has the absolute best use of second-person I have ever seen in a story.” Soge, too, offered a superlative: “The journal format is one of the best executions of this format I remember reading in Fimfic.” And Horizon was broadly impressed: “The world around the protagonists was never less than vibrant, and every mystery the story brought up came to a satisfying resolution,” he said. “Most importantly, I felt that on the whole my trust in the author was rewarded with genuinely cool and thoughtful twists. The ultimate source of the ‘numbers station’ caught me off guard at least twice, and HPI walked a tricky tightrope between threat and resource which served the story very well.”
It’s worth noting that we found reading pace mattered. “I’m not sure how it will read when it isn’t a daily serial,” FanOfMostEverything noted, and after some critical comments from speed-readers, Soge was grateful that he decided to slow down. “I decided to read this fic at most two chapters a day, so I could properly appreciate it in its original context,” he said. “Doing so helped make the pacing more natural, and allowed some of the mysteries enough time to make me properly excited.”
And in the end, the fact that the story got us invested enough to react so strongly — both to our dislikes and our loves — was a mark of its effectiveness. “I have to point out my favorite part of Last Pony: when Alex gets the full story of what happened,” Present Perfect said. “This is a story celebrating humanity — something of an oddity, when it comes to fanfiction centered on human/pony interactions — and Alex is such a strong character, not to mention that excellent second-person writing, I couldn’t help but be angry, and absolutely loving that I was. It takes phenomenal effort to evoke feelings like that in a reader. Compared to other survivalist fics, HiEs, and PoEs, this comes out positively on all points, and I’m glad to have read it.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Starscribe discusses outlined organizations, Olympians, and optimism.
Give us the standard biography.
Got into pony back on the cartoons board of 4chan. Never imagined I’d write fanfiction, until 2014 where I started and couldn’t make myself stop. I’ve always been interested in writing, but in terms of the real world I’m a college student about to complete my computer science undergrad at an American university. Pretty standard answers, probably, though since LPoE finished I’ve taken my writing semi-pro and intend to pursue fiction full-time one day.
Let’s see, what else. I’m an avid gamer, reader, and roleplayer, and I think lots of those have an impact on my writing. In some ways every story I write is really just a roleplaying game with particularly cooperative players.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
It was given to me, though I’m not sure there was anything more involved in its selection than me being a writer and wanting to find something pony sounding. Endemic of the way I do things in general with writing, since most of my characters were named by editors.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Twilight Sparkle for sure, which is why I’ve used her likeness on FIMFiction since the beginning. I think she has an unfair advantage in that department, though, being the unofficial protagonist of the show.
What’s your favorite episode?
“Luna Eclipsed.” Awesome to see Luna’s magic finally explored for the first time, as well as overcoming some of the consequences of her actions in the past. Not many episodes manage to deal with a subject as serious while also staying fun, but I think this one did it best.
What do you get from the show?
I like that the issues often dealt with on the show are relatable. The show has a wonderfully interesting fantasy setting, but instead of using it to fight monsters and accomplish ancient prophecies, they’re just cute characters going through everyday life (most of the time).
What do you want from life?
All the standard answers. But more relevant to this, I think I’d like to take my writing professional one day. Fanfiction is an excellent playing field to practice and hone the craft, but doing so has helped me discover that writing is a passion that’s going to last me the rest of my life. I aim for the life where I can one day find something I wrote on a bookstore shelf, as well as on FIMFiction or wherever.
Why do you write?
Because writing is a tool for exploring drama that outstrips the limits of the world we live in. It lets me play with extensive “what if” questions, like the “earth without people” scenario of Last Pony on Earth. The drama we encounter in fiction might be divorced from reality in important ways — as a fanfiction writer, most of my characters aren’t human biologically, but that doesn’t make their stories any less significant.
Along those lines, I know I’m doing my job when readers comment to me about the emotions they feel during the course of the story. When I’m reading, I love it when stories can pull me in and make me care about the pretend lives of these pretend people, and that’s what I try to do when I’m the one with the keyboard.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
First, be honest with yourself about whether writing is really something you want to do. Many people who want to write really only want to have written, which is a bit like wanting to win an Olympic medal without being an Olympian. Writing can be painful, lonely, grueling work. You’re going to have roadblocks along the way, you’re going to have discouragements, and for many people those difficulties are going to outstrip their desire to create. Just look at the absolute minefield of dead fics on FIMFiction and you’ll see what I mean.
But if you look deep into yourself and discover that writing is indeed something you want to do despite all its difficulties, then make that decision mean something and do it. Ultimately there’s no practice, no research, no reading or planning that can prepare you for writing quite like actually hitting the keyboard and getting those words down.
When I was just getting into it, I thought writing was something supernatural, unearthing a mystical artifact with no creator and entirely at the mercy of the fickle mistress called inspiration. But this impression of writing is wrong — it’s a craft, like so many others. And just like carpentry, welding, or any other craft you choose, there’s no substitute for honest-to-goodness practice. Decide on how much practice you’re going to have and get that practice, come boiling rain or Nightmare Moon.
What inspired “The Last Pony on Earth”?
This book: http://worldwithoutus.com/about_book.html. I often read nonfiction, and something I happened to snatch at random off a thrift-store shelf turned out to be a fascinating analysis of human impact on the planet. Of course, the inspiration contained no ponies or magic, just colorful depictions of rotting monuments and flooded subway tunnels, but that provided a fascinating seed for a setting.
The setting of LPoE combines the familiar with the unknown in a similar way to zombie apocalypse scenarios, where we get to see characters free from the constraints of society and civilization to build what they choose. While apocalypses like Fallout and Mad Max are interesting for their own reasons, they never matched my impression of people very well.
People always seemed generally good to me, and it’s that kind of optimism that attracted me to the show in the first place. The “almost everyone is missing” and everything we know rotting away creates the perfect drama. Become a wasteland-esque raider, or … maybe something else? I think the answer for most people is something else, and that’s the world I created.
How complete of an outline did you have before you began writing, and how closely did you find yourself sticking to it as the project went along?
I’ve never been much of an outliner, and that was doubly true for LPoE. The scenario gets the crutch of a survival setting, which means most consequences follow from what characters did in the previous chapters.
I did have the major signposts of the plot figured out before I started writing, though. I knew the organization existed and would eventually run into the characters. I knew that another character who appears near the end would eventually be the one to help in various ways. Other than that, I just figured out the details and backstories of each of the characters and just let them do their own thing.
I didn’t know when sitting down to write when characters would get into an argument, discover something meaningful, or master some aspect of pony magic. But I did know which of my next “sign-posts” I was aiming for next, and I did try to subtly direct the story towards it from one chapter to the next. I also knew the “rules” of the Event as well as the timeline behind it, so I could naturally reveal information over the course of the story and present a persistent picture.
Why make a plot point out of Alex’s gender?
Originally I intended it to be much more integrated into the story, possibly into a much more serious exploration of gender and sexuality. In my original signpost outline, confronting Luna would be for Alex the moment where she finally and completely confronted her gender identity issues, since the way the transformations worked was sorting people into their “natural” pony bodies.
But the story’s popularity was … dramatic, and the feedback I was getting suggested that for most people the fascination with the story was more survival and mystery focused. People were coming away with information on the lifespan of fuels and what happens to the power grid, and frankly there just wasn’t enough room on the stage.
I was firmly of the mind that if I couldn’t treat the issue seriously, I shouldn’t really include it at all, so in the end the version of LPoE that was created went from having Alex confronting gender on a near-daily basis to the occasional hint.
And honestly, those hints even surviving are an artifact of the back-and-forth with the comments. LPoE was a very interactive story, it updated daily, included riddles and codes to break, and I took reader feedback pretty quickly at the time.
Did you intend the story to grow into the saga that it’s become?
Hah, no. I never imagined a sequel for the original story — Last Pony was meant to be a small and self-contained story. But it was hugely popular and had a whole audience of people clamoring for more, and at first I dug down deep into the setting to see what else there might be.
As it turned out, there was quite a lot. I’m still writing a tiny bit of PaP fiction today, exploring the far-future implications of some of its minor elements introduced in the beginning.
How much did the recursive fan fiction for “Last Pony” influence your decisions for future installments in the series, if at all?
At first I imagined that something like what happened with various Displaced and Fivescore recursive fics might be possible. I came up with specific rules which would allow recursive stories to stay consistent with the setting’s creative vision, and thus be canon. At the time I imagined that would mean the recursive fiction itself might be enough of a springboard for the story to go on, instead of exploring further and further down the settings timeline as I ended up doing.
But that proved a nobler goal than it was a reality. Many of those recursive stories ended up being “what would I do” scenarios without the kind of linking drama I could’ve incorporated into my writing. There are a few, though, and a handful of the various side-characters we see in later stories are the protagonists of recursive fics, featured in some minor role.
I’d say more influential on the setting were the many conversations on my Skype/Discord server at the time, where various aspects of the setting/magic system/ etc got explored. Much of the feedback from community members ended up incorporated into the story.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
If there was anything I’d end on for discussing LPoE, I think the one thing I’ve carried with me all these years later is the setting’s optimism. Surviving that world isn’t easy, but doing so is possible because of the best parts of all of us. I think most of us could stand to embody them a little more, particularly in a world like the one we’re living in now.