You might want to keep a whiteboard handy for today’s story.
[Sci-Fi][Slice of Life][Human] • 8,419 words
Magic and technology may have pierced the void and blazed a path between the realms, but that was the simple part. Adjusting to the changes that follow can be far more daunting.
Yet despite the complexities involved even in basic communication, Serendipity has found friends to talk to among humankind who can cheer her up when she’s down. And occasionally inspire her to bursts of ingenuity unhindered by such trifles as foresight.
FROM THE CURATORS: As Present Perfect said in his nomination, “we don’t get a lot of well-written, original science fiction that is under novel length,” and despite the magical subject matter, this work still manages to be fairly “hard” sci-fi.
“It presents a truly fascinating world,” FanOfMostEverything said, “and considers a question asked by few others who deal with human-pony relations: Equestria is a whole other universe. What does that entail?” This fascinating world enraptured RBDash47 as well. “I’m a sucker for harder sci-fi that drops you straight into the universe and doesn’t hold your hand when it comes to figuring out the lingo, cultural norms, historical events, and so on. It was a delight trying to piece together what came before the events of the story and figure out what things like ‘the Quench’ are.”
There was a lot of appreciation for the thoughtfulness paid to every aspect of the story’s world. Soge praised “the way that the author plays with the concept of different senses between both species, and how it impacts the way they see each other’s world”; Present Perfect was likewise impressed by the “strong focus on perception, the ways things like a color monitor would be useless to a species with different eye biology from ours.” RBDash47 noticed that thoughtfulness extended to the story’s formatting as well: “The choice to emphasize by underlining instead of italicizing struck me as a little odd, but then I realized it’s not odd at all: all of the ‘dialogue’ here is written, not spoken, and when writing things out we do indeed underline for emphasis…”
For all its charms, this piece might not be for everyone. AugieDog pointed out “this reads to me more as a headcanon dump than a story”; Soge suggested “it feels like the CliffsNotes to something much more interesting.” RBDash47 agreed — “this feels like an excerpt from a novel, not a standalone 8k shortfic” — and loved it anyway — “but what’s there makes me feel like I’m peering through the porthole of a spacecraft, drinking in what view I have and desperate for more.”
Read on for our author interview, in which MSPiper discusses memorable moments, transcendence, and sensorial realism.
Give us the standard biography.
Uh… I grew up in the EFNW area?
Yeah, that’s about the best I can do: some people have a knack for talking about themselves in a way that’s entertaining, and I’m not one of them. It’s probably best that I not subject the RCL readership to my flailing attempts without a lot more practice first.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
Initial + initial + surname, because I strive to be creative in every aspect of life.
…And also because I always feel weird just making up a screenname, for no reason I can adequately explain. It doesn’t help that nicknames tend to just sort of slide off me, so I can’t simply repurpose one on account of not having any.
Who’s your favorite pony?
I can’t give this question a definitive answer yet, since I’m very much not caught up with the show itself let alone the extended franchise, but going by what I have seen so far:
The major character who immediately springs to mind as my favorite to watch is Rarity, since she’s got so many unforgettable standout scenes and episodes. However, I’m honestly not sure whether that’s because she really is the one I like the most or simply because her memorable moments tend to be memorable – it’s possible that another character would take the top spot but for that they’re too subtle to recall as readily. Still, Rarity is at least a top contender: I’m a sucker for her style of melodrama, its contrast with her moments of understated virtue makes those moments even stronger, and of course I so feel where she’s coming from as a creator despite me and fashion generally striving to deign pay each other as little attention as possible.
As for the character I’m most like and the character I’d best get along with were I to actually meet them, both most likely go to Twilight Sparkle – the other possibility might be Moondancer, but just what’s shown of her in “Amending Fences” isn’t really enough to say either way. I could probably spend paragraphs elaborating, but the fact that as a student I’d sometimes fail to complete homework assignments because I was too distracted studying extracurricular subjects seems like it ought to suffice. Or we’d drive each other crazy in under a week with our conflicting OCDs, but I’d like to think we’d be smart enough to figure something out.
And of course, the character I most dearly wish had gotten more screentime is Kerfuffle, who is objectively the best don’t even try to dispute it. Unless you’re Admiral Biscuit, in which case I’m willing to permit an exception for Torque Wrench.
What’s your favorite episode?
Again bearing in mind that I’m not in any way caught up yet, my favorite of the episodes I’ve seen is probably “The Perfect Pear.” I always have a hard time figuring out what my actual favorite of anything is, since my emotional assessment at any given moment has an unfortunate tendency to be dominated by whichever specific example of that thing I happen to be the most in the mood for right then and/or whichever I encountered last, but “The Perfect Pear” tends to stay so consistently near the top despite that that it seems like the best candidate to take home the star. Beyond that, it’s hard for me to say much without rewatching all the episodes I’ve seen first: I tend to prefer comedy, slice of life, and character-building episodes somewhat, but as long as it’s executed well I’m a fan of most everything. (No relation – although we do share a birthday, so then again….)
What do you get from the show?
Primarily, the fandom and the setting. Don’t take that as a knock against the show itself, though – I’m just really not a TV person, so the fact that I’ve already gone through as many episodes as I have despite not having any close friends or family pushing me to watch it with them is a mark of it doing something right.
For the most part, I’m not sure there’s much for me to say about the fandom: most of what I could talk about has been covered dozens of times in ways far more eloquent than I could ever hope to manage. However, given the context of an interview about writing, it’s probably worth repeating that the FIM fandom is insanely ridiculously good for creative work. By this point I’m even up to half a dozen cases where a source I encountered completely independently has referenced a FIM blog or tutorial or video on how to write or draw or compose, so even if I hadn’t gotten pulled in for other reasons, I probably would have ended up in it anyway simply because it’s such a good place to learn the creative arts.
As for the setting, that would probably require at least a full blog post to even attempt to cover. For now, suffice it to say that something about the FIM world gets my imagination and creativity running wild moreso than any other I’ve yet encountered.
What do you want from life?
Immortality, transcendence, and generally casting off the limitations of biological and human nature to revel eternally in a better universe. But since that’s pretty much outside my control, I’ll settle for joy and doing what small part I can to improve the state of things, and simply hope that the ripple effects of my actions help lead to the researchers who are chasing those goals making them a reality as soon as possible.
Why do you write?
Like so many authors who’ve answered this question before me, I’ve been both storycrafting and an avid reader for essentially as long as I can remember, so interpreted in a broad sense it would be fair to say I write because I can’t not. However, the reason I write-write is pretty much because I spent enough time in the fandom to catch the authorial bug. Before that, I was generally content to spin stories for my mind alone, with only a vague impression that I might want to learn how to transfer them to the page someday, but once I spent long enough around so many other authors, that someday arrived. At that point, it was basically just a matter of studying and practicing until I felt confident enough to finally submit something to other peoples’ scrutiny. Which… definitely took a while, but I did eventually manage and that first time was by far the hardest, so tally another win to the fandom’s artist-making scoresheet.
And, well, I do have to admit that the possibility of making money is also something of a draw. I’m certainly under no illusions that I could realistically hope to pay bills with writing anytime soon, but since I already do for fun pretty much everything an author needs to do anyway, it does seem like I might as well take advantage of the opportunity to have a hobby that occasionally earns money rather than constantly spends money. On that front it’s certainly more practical than, say, trying to make stained glass art in my flat would be – much though I’d love to know just how the management would react to someone’s attempt to justify soldering in the living areas after cutting the glass on their room’s glass-topped table by pointing out that they plan to sell the finished works, that seems like a hobby that probably ought to wait.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Can I just say “Go read everyone else’s answers to this question”? No? Okay, fine….
Well, there’s already tons of writing advice out there and as a novice author I probably ought to be dubious about trying to provide any anyway, so I’ll simply say that for me, the most important single thing has been my tendency to research everything, which vitally includes not only stuff I know I don’t know but also stuff I think I do. Sometimes I discover that what I’d learned was wrong or incomplete – that’s especially a hazard for word definitions, since I tend to add words to my vocabulary by seeing them used and it’s not uncommon to encounter cases where the most natural guess as to their meaning is wildly misled. Other times I find that what’s true has changed since I learned it – obviously a constant thing to watch out for in science and technology, but the real danger is that it happens everywhere else too and just tends to be more subtle. Most often, though, it serves as an aid to creativity – much like how newly-learned material tends to spark new ideas off of the old, going back over old material in a different frame of mind lets it spark new ideas off of what’s been learned since.
And of course, researching everything is also a great way to pick up all that writing advice. So in other words, go read everyone else’s answers to this question.
What inspired “Autumnfall Change”?
The broader setting “Autumnfall Change” is part of initially nucleated around a transformation-focused pun I came up with during a wikiwalk tangent off of some research I was doing as part of helping preread for “Breakfast with Rose,” since apparently the universe in its infinite foresight felt that it was important that my answer to this question be able to cram in as many stereotypes of myself as possible. At first I was just intrigued to see if I could possibly figure out a way to justify the pun in an actual story, but in the process the concept crossed itself over with an original-fiction setting I’d been working on and turned into an attempt to figure out how to reconcile the magic seen in the show with known physics while, of course, still preserving the pun. And then I kept spotting ways to build off of other ideas I’d worked on or researched and things kind of snowballed and now I’ve got literally hundreds of pages of design notes about that one setting alone send help.
The story “Autumnfall Change” itself most directly owes its existence in the conventional sense to the 2019 Autumn Pony to Human TF Contest, almost four years down the line. For obvious reasons, said existing setting that was based heavily on leveraging transformation spells for fun and profit and had, shall we say, a certain copiosity of design material to work from jumped out as a natural fit. Given just how copious that copiosity was, the actual story-planning phase largely came down to just tossing ideas at each other until I hit on a combination that would be compatible with the contest theme and then figuring out how to work in all the essential information without veering into infodumps or the dread So As You Know. And then it quickly became apparent that my original length estimate was spectacularly off and I ended up throwing half my planning completely out the window as I desperately tried to cram the plot in question into a wordcount limit half its size, which needless to say meant the final result looked rather different from what I’d originally envisioned – for example, the two halves of chapter two were originally meant to be the full chapters three and four, and that change was moderate compared to some of what happened to chapter one.
Finally, the title “Autumnfall Change” is entirely due to the fact that I’m slightly terrible at coming up with titles except as actual narratively tied story elements – generally speaking, either I figure out some way to turn a key aspect of the story into a title I like the moment said story first takes shape or I spend the entire time I’m working on it struggling to come up with anything I think remotely works. This was very much one of the latter. Once I hit the point where the story was about as ready as I could hope to make it for publishing, I essentially just gave up and mashed together the main elements of the metaphor it used to fulfill the contest theme so as to avoid sitting on it for months and months while trying to come up with something better.
Why make the barrier between humans and ponies so extreme—can’t see the same colors, can’t make the same sounds, et cetera?
Essentially because that’s an element of realism that, at least in my experience, rarely comes up in stories, and almost never seems to get treated with anything approaching as much depth as I’d love to see.
Sensory differences in particular tend to get glossed over, presumably because they’re ironically the hardest ones to notice. Every living thing is only able to perceive an incredibly infinitesimal sliver of all that’s out there, and even though the constraints of physics and biology cluster those slivers in an extremely tiny section of the theoretical possibility space, they still only vaguely overlap. Yet typically it feels as though the most acknowledgement I’m likely to see is a tacked-on mention or two of a sharper sense of smell, or maybe a couple of paragraphs about senses humans outright lack – understandable in many stories, where it would just be a distraction, but pretty disappointing in transformation and sci-fi works where exploring that sort of thing is the whole point. One reason for focusing so much more on sight and sound than the usual stereotypical choices was to try to give the reader an impression of just how much scope for difference people normally overlook: even the “familiar” senses exhibit such variation that despite Equestrian ponies in this setting being much more humanlike than Earth horses (who themselves are much more humanlike in many ways than most other creatures), even the mental rewiring the transformation spell has to do to make the new body usable at all can’t come close to masking the differences from the transformee. And of course, the same basic argument holds true in general for all the other myriads of ways each living thing is unique.
Plus, of course, this story was written for a contest with some real prizes on the line, so I wanted it to stand out enough to have an actual chance of winning. Since nearly all of my attempts at fiction writing that I’ve gotten feedback on have received some variant of “The idea’s good/great, you just need to work on the execution,” I figured my best shot was to try making my entry novel and creative enough that the voters would be willing to overlook the inevitable issues with the actual story. Whether I succeeded I’ll leave up to the reader to judge, but I think it’s fair to say that the attempt did at least result in an entry that managed to be distinctive.
Did you intend the Quench to be a force that actively interferes with Equestrian magic or more a passive property of the humans’ non-magical universe?
Neither, actually, although technically closer to the former. Its exact nature wasn’t directly relevant, so it only got a single sentence of explanation (and that in the middle of one of Twilight’s bouts of lecture mode, making it extremely easy to miss), but as used in common parlance the Quench is simply the name for Earth life’s innate magic, which happens to be focused entirely around negating any magic it encounters other than itself. Basically, way back in the deep past quenching won out to the point that it drove all other magic on Earth into extinction, and it had just enough accidental benefit in other areas to stick around and get passed down to all living things on the planet ever since.
The reason Azahar only mentions the Quench as negating magic on Earth’s side of the Gates is simply because all the Worldside Gates are on-planet, and a single human has no more ability to quench away the ambient magic of an entire World than a single pony has to overcome the combined might of every organism on Earth shutting them down. Once Worldside technology advances enough to allow it, anypony or anyone who ventures into space beyond the reach of said ambient magic will find themselves in a neutral environment just like the one on Earth’s lifeless Moon, where the only magic of either kind around is that brought with or created by the travelers themselves. (Incidentally, the Earthside equivalent of that situation is the in-setting reason the story takes place where it does: it’d be way more convenient to have most of the Earthside Gates on Earth itself, but even holding one open in any reasonably close orbit takes so much oomph that just sticking with the Moon is less hassle.)
Are you still planning stories to cover the events before and after this one?
Absolutely! I’ve already got the general outlines for something like a dozen stories at various points in the timeline of this setting, plus vaguer concepts for a bunch more, and at this point the main challenge is keeping myself from coming up with even more ideas until the existing ones are actually written out properly. As for the events consequent to the original two chapters of “Autumnfall Change,” I’m strongly considering including at least some of them as one or more additional chapters on “AC” itself: there are a few things that didn’t make it in that just about need to be addressed, and the most logical place to do so is as a direct continuation of the scene the story currently ends on, so making them the opening to a sequel instead would be kind of weird. I’ll probably leave “AC” tagged complete until I know for sure which option I’m going with, but either way I’m planning to announce its continuation or sequel with a tagged blog, so hopefully people who don’t track complete stories won’t accidentally miss it.
That all said, do bear in mind that I exist at the unfortunate intersection of “slow writer” + “wordy writer” + “innately distracted”, so I can’t guarantee any further content will happen in anything remotely resembling a reasonable timeframe – even though one of my primary forms of distraction is getting diverted into working on a different story, I’ve got so many stories across so many settings that getting any finished by random switching could take quite a while. Contests help a lot, particularly if they have prizes I have a realistic shot at, since they make it much easier to stay focused on a single story, but they can also be a bit of a double-edged sword in that sometimes that single story ends up being yet another new one to add to the pile rather than an old one to complete and take off the pile. Otherwise (and I may come to regret suggesting this), the thing that would probably be the most helpful is if other people took it upon themselves to pester me about why stuff’s taking so long – my personal chronology-sense is broken to the point that everything that happened to me before the last day or so just kind of blends together in my memory, whether it was months or years or only half a week ago, so having external reminders of just how long I’ve left things untouched dramatically reduces the chance that I’ll blithely let the seasons slip away unknown.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I don’t doubt I’ll think of a dozen things I wish I’d said after this interview gets posted, but for now that’s all I’ve got. Thank you the RCL for having me, and thank you the reader for reading!