Once again, to make sure every story we feature gets its time in the sun, we’re taking this week off. With so many members of the fandom — not to mention more than a few of our curators — at Bronycon for the weekend, we felt whatever story we posted might be overlooked. Rest assured, we’ll be back next week with a brand new feature. Have a fun, safe con weekend, everyone!
Today’s story has a richness you won’t want to put down.
The Wealth of the World
[Dark] • 7,849 words
In the 19th century of Princess Celestia’s rule, Equestria experienced an acceleration of its progress and prosperity as the first westward expansion began. Yet there were some ponies who took this call to progress as a warrant for ever more radical reform. In 1858, 148 ponies left Equestria to realize that radical dream. This is their story.
FROM THE CURATORS: “We’re all into style imitations of classic authors, right?” Present Perfect said in his nomination. “This is a Hawthornian piece about ponies setting off to found a new land out from under the confines of Celestia’s supposed tyranny. And when I say ‘tyranny’, I mean things like ‘having money’. They of course end up succumbing to the greatest of evils … the identity of which is really clever, informed as it is by the imitation and turning it on its head.” This quickly sailed to a feature amid compliments like Horizon’s: “I’m awfully impressed. … Every revolution contains the seeds of its own destruction, I’ve heard from somewhere, and this is a tight and compelling example of that.”
While we agreed it was an exemplary story, our most spirited debate was whether this worked equally well as MLP fanfiction. “For all that it’s a wonderful story, the Equestrian setting is an undeniable drag on it,” Chris said, and Soge agreed: “There is a certain homogeneous hierarchy here that isn’t applicable to the show’s universe.” Horizon disagreed: “It feels like commentary on Equestrian society. It lampshades the way that it’s leaving canon Equestria behind, in a way that is both literal and symbolic — by physically sailing away and establishing a society based upon rejecting Equestrian ideals.” He added that the show has explored similar topics — “in many ways this is Our Town from a different angle” — causing Present Perfect to note, “What this story is missing is a tie-in to Starlight’s village.”
But regardless of the merits of its pony approach, its style easily won us over. “The author captures the Dark Romantic style of Nathaniel Hawthorne, while transporting the themes of Earth’s Holocaust into a complete narrative about the roots of fanaticism and moral failure,” Chris said. “That’s wonderful.” Present Perfect echoed him: “The writing is just wonderful, maybe a little heavy on dialogue for journalfic, but very much portraying a pony of letters.” It added up to a story both moving and literary, Soge said: “Despite never having read Hawthorne, or much of the American literary canon for that matter, I really like the style, as well as how the emotions of the protagonist flow from the writing.”
Read on for our author interview, in which very trustworthy rodent discusses downed waterships, fleeing clouds, and monolithic metanarratives.
As a fairy-tale romance, today’s story shines.
The Lighthouse and the Sea
[Romance] [Slice of Life] • 1,042 words
A short tail of love and lighthouses, seas and sea ponies.
FROM THE CURATORS: Here at the RCL, we’ve featured everything from short-short stories to door-stopping novels — and it’s always a pleasure to find a story that can tell a big tale in a small space. “This is evocative in its succinctness, and uses the reader’s familiarity with fairy-tale conventions to its advantage,” Chris said in his nomination of this Writeoff Association medalist, and that sentiment quickly gathered broad consensus. “It is almost a doodle of a story, utilizing the least amount of detail possible to deliver its premise,” Soge said, and Present Perfect agreed: “We get the bare minimum of words to convey the story, and it never feels like we’re missing out or being shortchanged.”
It was that economy of words — and the emotional depth that went along with it — which drew the most praise from us. “This is a story that shows how to create emotion out of setting and arc,” Chris said. “Rather than trying to smash a bunch of character development into too little space, the author keeps the narrative carefully reserved, leaving the reader to infer the hows and whys from a brief highlighting of thoughts and events.” That was helped by a fine attention to detail, AugieDog said: “The details that the author chooses to include are more guideposts than plot points … I’d almost call it a prose poem that way. Or a lighthouse beam, sweeping over the narrative, picking out certain moments to call to our attention.”
And we found emotional resonance within those moments, from start to finish. “The author’s note laments the ambiguity of the ending, but I thought that was one of its strengths,” Horizon said. “That it’s so gracefully balanced between such different interpretations gives it, if you’ll pardon the pun, a lot of depth.” That effective use of its wordcount added up to an exemplary story, Present Perfect said: “In that tight space, we get that sense of loneliness, so that the romance can be a catharsis. Easy to see why it’s a medal winner!”
Read on for our author interview, in which The Cyan Recluse discusses scientist weaknesses, sturgeon addenda, and silent pigeon-holing.
Today’s story will exceed your expectations, whether it wants to or not.
The Prisoner of Zebra
[Adventure] [Comedy] [Romance] • 22,964 words
Flash Sentry: hero, heart breaker … and self-admitted coward. For the first time, he details his own undeserved rise to heroism (as well as the trouble such a reputation brings him) in his own words.
FROM THE CURATORS: It’s no secret where this story traces its roots to, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is just another rip-off. “The whole Prisoner of Zenda tribute is excellent. Tumbleweed made the right choice, taking the general idea as a start and then breathing new life into it, making it its own thing,” said PresentPerfect. And Augiedog said, “This is also the perfect crossover ’cause it doesn’t assume the reader has any familiarity with George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman books but still captures the essence of those books so well.” And even past its two major inspirations, the story is chock-full of clever allusions, both obvious and obscure. Chris asked, “Wait, is that a Golden Harvest reference?” while PresentPerfect wondered, “did you catch the Icarus reference?”
There’s much more here than “just” a trove of adaptational comedy, though. Chris said, “the footnotes are full of subtle metahumor and other worthy commentary.” Soge particularly liked the take on a coward protagonist, saying, “Flash fits really well into a “good natured rogue” role, being incompetent and vain, but not really malicious.” PresentPerfect agreed, and also noted how this choice helped tie the story to Equestria: “Flash Sentry makes a perfect womanizing coward (which oddly fits the bare minima that qualify as his canon personality).”
But above all, the selling point here is the comedy mined from the “hero”s reluctance, and that was where we focused much of our appreciation. PresentPerfect called it “hilarious at every turn.” Soge appreciated the character humor, commenting, “how he contrasts with the far more well adjusted Canterlotian society was really good, as were his thoughts about his position.” And Augie singled out the tone: “what the author does here is perfect, mixing a certain snideness with a large amount of self-awareness and no real desire to change.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Tumbleweed discusses floundering woobies, uncaught thieves, and social commentary ninjas.
Today’s story will offer you exactly what you want to read in a horror fic.
Unicorns Are Magical
[Dark] [Alternate Universe] [Sad] [Tragedy] • 3,899 words
“Unicorns are wonderful!”
“Unicorns are fantastic!”
“Unicorns are marvelous!”
“Unicorns are glamorous!”
“Unicorns are enchanting!”
“Unicorns are terrific!”
They also like to twist words. What would happen if you asked what they really are, without the wordplay?
Unicorns provoke wonder. They create fantasies. They cause marvels. They project glamour. They weave enchantment. But most importantly, they spawn terror.
For you see, nopony said that unicorns were good.
FROM THE CURATORS: It’s an excellent sign for a fanfic’s quality when it gets lodged in your brain and refuses to leave. “This fic is positively insidious,” Soge said. “It has been two weeks between when I read it and when I managed to sit down to write this, and the otherworldliness of Twilight’s actions and how wrong everything feels simply hasn’t left me.” Chris, who nominated it over a year after first reading it, felt similarly: “I think there’s a lot to appreciate about the way this piece creates and maintains a particular, darkly enjoyable tone,” he said. “It’s a pitch-perfect take on the alien other-ness which defines the Fair Folk in our own world’s mythology, and the MLP setting draws out that other-ness well, with its familiar-but-equine trappings.”
A major contributor to the story’s excellence was its fine detail work. “‘The earth pony sighed’, in the context of the opening scene of this story, is one of those rare single lines that shakes me to the core,” Present Perfect said, while Soge praised the subtlety of its construction: “It is one of those stories that builds a lot of atmosphere not in what is says, but in the things it omits: Wings, horns, weather control, Cutie Marks, and even empathy.” That construction was thoughtful as well, creating impact even from its structure, as Chris noted: “The reverse-chronological order of the five characters’ scenes is used to good effect.”
But an unexpected strength was its work with familiar characters despite the massive departures of its alternate-universe setup. “The author has boiled the main six down to their most basic traits, removing many things that the reader might have imagined would be important to their character and being,” Present Perfect said. “In doing so, they walk a fine line between familiar and alien, and twist that to ensure that the events happening in the story keep the reader guessing.” As disorienting as that sometimes was, it was ultimately the source of the fic’s staying power, Chris said: “There may not be a clear line between some of the main six’s lives and motivations in this fic and in the show (that is, not one that can be directly extrapolated from the AU’s premise that unicorns are essentially malicious fey), but the larger themes of the story circle that idea so smoothly that I can’t help but be impressed by the way the story grounds ‘Twilight Sparkle’ in such an unfamiliar creature.”
Read on for our author interview, in which wille179 discusses robot puns, smile-ripping, and tea pettiness.
Don’t have second thoughts about reading today’s story.
[Tragedy] • 4,033 words
There’s been an accident, in the desert…
Based on Robert Calvert’s 1972 poem Ten Seconds of Forever.
FROM THE CURATORS: Poetry-phobes take heart — despite the story description, there’s nothing but prose here. That doesn’t mean, however, that the story’s afraid to take chances. “Here’s a lovely little experiment, based on a poem, that finds an intriguing way to tell the story of a life and how it led to tragedy,” Present Perfect said. “The poem, I should mention, provides the structure of the story, but reading it first isn’t necessary — the author’s note explains everything.” That re-envisioning was an impressive one. “It’s great to see someone take a piece of poetry and use it as a springboard this way, without being too slavishly devoted to a literal, one-for-one retelling,” Chris said. “This really does stand on its own.”
The success of this unusual piece was primarily due to the power of the prose — something that virtually all of us commented on. “It is a very well written fic, full of nice turns of phrase and some fantastic imagery,” Soge said, and Chris agreed: “The snapshots are well-chosen, and the imagery is evocative; this combination left me engaged by the construction itself.” That let the emotions of the piece shine brightly through, AugieDog said: “Even though the story ends literally in the same place as it began, in getting to know the characters, my emotional involvement grew to an extent that surprised me.”
Our appreciation extended down to the little touches. “It’s an appropriate use of the ‘tragedy’ tag, too, something about which I’ve been known to get a little blustery,” AugieDog said. And working on so many levels, from the big down to the small, added up to an exemplary piece. “There’s so much beauty in here — #5 in particular — that it’s easy to forget within each individual moment that the story is framed within the literal wreckage of a crash,” Horizon said. “The overall effect is properly haunting.”
Read on for our author interview, in which OleGrayMane discusses telegram delivery, paper tapes, and face-down drooling.
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.
You’ll fall in love with today’s story before you know it.
Changeling Courtship Rituals
[Romance] [Comedy] • 38,574 words
For years, Twilight Sparkle and Queen Chrysalis have been at each other’s throats. Both have experienced victory over the other, and both have experienced defeat. Out of all the creatures in Equestria, none despise each other the way the pony Princess and changeling Queen do. They seemed destined to remain locked in battle forever, or at least until one is finally dead at the hooves of the other. The cruel insults, the vicious loathing, and the powerful spells that have passed back and forth between them at each meeting have become the stuff of legend.
Imagine Twilight’s surprise when she finds out changelings consider this dating.
And now they’re married.
FROM THE CURATORS: It’s always a great sign when the five of us approach a comedy and find ourselves unanimously agreeing on its hilarity. “Changeling Courtship Rituals is such a madcap pile of wackiness from start to finish,” Present Perfect said, echoed by Soge: “The story is a riot from beginning to end — the ‘meet the parents’ chapter is one of the funniest things I have read in ponyfic.” Chris appreciated the story’s self-subversion: “When this fic is on, it’s hilarious. Whenever it appears that it’s about to start taking its premise too seriously, it quickly pulls the rug out from under itself.”
It’s easy to see from the story description where the humor in this romantic comedy comes from, but one of the pleasant surprises that awaited us inside was the depth of emotion it also managed to work in. “Twilight decides that her best course of action is to use Chrysalis’ feelings for her to see if she can get Chrysalis to act in a way that’s more acceptable to ponies,” AugieDog explained in his nomination. “The ways in which this doesn’t exactly work out make for both the comedy and the drama, and the author covers every base I could think of.” Soge agreed: “The strong characterization work manages to really elevate its plot. It’s the story of Twilight growing as a person in very important and realistic ways, culminating in a powerful climax.”
He wasn’t the only one praising the story’s strong characters. “The side characters consistently steal the show,” Horizon said. “Celestia’s private reaction to Twilight’s news, and Discord’s first introduction, were both laugh-out-loud moments.” Ultimately, however, it was the story’s breadth — not just in tone, but in the range of humor it covered effectively — which sealed our feature. “It’s full of great character-assassinating humor, refuge-in-audacity silliness, and the like,” Chris said. “And it knows exactly how seriously to take all that audacity. Twilight makes an excellent straight mare in a world gone crazy, and yet that craziness is of a consistent-yet-ridiculous form that makes it easy to understand the world.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Codex Ex Equus discusses flying machines, reading superpowers, and multi-dimensional monsters.
Today’s story explores the consequences of a royal error.
Long Live The Queen
[Dark] [Drama] [Sad] • 6,853 words
During her time-twisting battle with Starlight Glimmer, Twilight finds herself in an Equestria ruled by a tyrant alicorn that calls herself the Queen of Equestria. In this world, Twilight’s friends are gone and beyond her aid, and Equestria’s citizens live in fear of their ruler’s wrath should they anger her.
The Queen herself suffers worst of all.
FROM THE CURATORS: One of the great joys of fanfiction is that it can explore topics we know the show won’t cover — and one of the greatest pleasures in reading fanfiction is finding a story which can do that while remaining faithful to the source material. “I think the highest praise I can give this story is that it feels exactly like what we would have seen in the show if the show ever acknowledged the existence of the Equestria Girls movies,” Horizon said, and Present Perfect explained: “It slots in well to Cutie Re-Mark by virtue of being the ‘Sunset Shimmer bad end’ universe.” That merger drew broad praise: “It’s a solidly put-together glimpse of yet another way Equestria could’ve gone sideways,” Chris said.
The reasons for that quality were wide-ranging and spoke to the story’s depth. “This manages to get into the ‘Queen of Equestria’s’ character without resorting to lazy storytelling,” Chris said. “It explores its dystopia succinctly and without a lot of overdone angst, has a nice mid-story reveal, and the ending is a nice mix of bittersweet and hopeful.” And while several of us found the early going exposition-heavy, we found that eclipsed by the story’s powerful second half. “It would’ve been so much stronger if Twilight and Spike had been forced to leave the map rather than wandering away from it on their own, and there is an awful lot of standing around and explaining,” AugieDog said. “But from the reveal in the middle on out, the slowly dawning horror of the AU is handled very nicely.”
And despite that Alternate Universe tag, this was a story that had a great deal to say about the world of the show. “I’m especially impressed by the way that the tone works both as a standalone piece and as a poignant contrast to the unrepentant villains of Cutie Re-Mark’s bad timelines,” Horizon said. “That examination of a world doomed despite regrets and good intentions is a powerful one.” And one that will stick with you, as AugieDog said: “I found the ending to be positively haunting. Sunset knows she’s trapped, she knows it’s her own fault, and she knows her best chance to make things right again.”
Read on for our author interview, in which DrakeyC discusses bad OC origins, evil Scootaloo, and Final Fantasy fillies.
We pray that you enjoy today’s story as much as we did.
Part-time Goddess (and the Church of Post)
[Comedy] [Slice of Life] • 6,257 words
In this day and age, who has time to be a God? Prayers come in 24/7 and fancy dress is compulsory. Rainbow Dash certainly doesn’t have time. She’s got bills to pay and things to do. Besides, she isn’t qualified for Godhood, surely.
The ponies who say her control of the weather is divine disagree, unfortunately. They’ve given her a funny spear and a robe that doesn’t quite fit. They’ve got their own temple and they take church seriously.
And it turns out she’s not the only pony recently undergone apotheosis…
FROM THE CURATORS: While nothing about this religious romp was serious, it was seriously engaging. “The more I think about it, the more it comes to me just how memorable the fic is,” Soge said. “The concept itself is very appealing, with a really Pythonesque strand of humor to it.” Present Perfect agreed, while praising the nuance with which it approached a potentially divisive topic: “This is just an enormously original piece that’s happily well executed. It pokes fun at the concept of religion, something we’ve really never seen in the show, without being offensive.”
That approach both highlighted the story’s central comedy and its excellent character work. “It’s a silliness borne of everypony treating Dash’s apotheosis like a perfectly un-extraordinary event, coupled with Dash’s pitch-perfect reactions to the whole shebang,” Chris said. “She’s more or less the straight mare, and yet she still manages to steal most of the best lines in the fic.” But Rainbow Dash was far from the only exemplary portrayal. “It helps that all the characterizations are so memorable and accurate,” Soge said. “Even characters with a single speaking line are portrayed true to canon, and the author has a knack for using them in comedic situations that work well with their personalities.”
And all throughout, the story kept up a crisp and consistent humor. “‘Brandistock’ is an amazingly funny word,” Present Perfect said. “Just the fact that Dash trips over it, takes it to show Twilight, and then carries it around for the rest of the story really illustrates what makes the humor work in this piece.” That merging of the sublime and the ridiculous sent this coasting toward a feature, as AugieDog said: “I’m a big fan of stories that employ this sort of straight-forward, matter-of-fact goofiness. There’s none of this ‘vast cosmic power’ stuff: it’s mostly just about the costume Dash has to wear now. The way that it’s portrayed just makes me grin every time I think about it.”
Read on for our author interview, in which HapHazred discusses peg displacement, disqualified Scotsmen, and perfect Pope ponies.