Today’s story is engineered to be quite a moving tale.
Track Switch – Steel Dreams
[Slice of Life] [Human] • 12,434 words
Modern just in time supply chains require arcane logistics. The people I work for specialise in that special kind of magic. Me? I just make sure stuff gets from A to B. And I’m good at it. All over western Europe. Always at night. Always alone — just the way I like it.
FROM THE CURATORS: “I have never read a bad story about ponies and trains,” Present Perfect said as we discussed this story. “I don’t know what it is about the two, that they go together and inspire people to write great things, but I’m glad they do.” And while our discussion was full of nostalgia for other great railway writers, what quickly became clear was that Steel Dreams forged its own exemplary direction. “Celefin has basically created an entire subgenre all their own, one I can only describe as ‘Europone train drama’,” FanOfMostEverything said in his nomination. “It’s a pony-on-Earth slice of life with a focus on mundane pony-human interaction and vehicle engineering. It’s also a wonderful tale of found friendship and the intense drama that can be found in everyday life.”
We found ourselves getting sucked into that drama, in all the best ways. “Oof, this one hit me hard,” Soge said. “It has this quietly emotive angle to its writing, which — coupled with the sublime characterization work — made for a deeply empathetic portrayal of its protagonist.” Present Perfect had similar praise: “This surprised me with Celefin’s easy character-centric writing, introducing us to a whole host of folks all at once and making us give a darn about all and sundry. Then you’ve got the way the writing changes style when it’s just Nightline and her train. The words flow differently, the landscape feels different; it’s a really impressive feat the author’s pulled off.” And AugieDog praised how that solid characterization tied in to the story’s deeper themes: “I like how we get the pony character’s point of view on everything — I’m a sucker for stories that look at our world through an outsider’s eyes — and I especially like how it ever so gently gives us the point that even moving to a new dimension won’t change a pony unless that pony’s willing to change.”
While the story isn’t the first in its continuity, we noted it still made an excellent starting point. “Having read [the prequel] Frankfurt Calling first, I have a great deal more appreciation for the character of Penny than I think you might otherwise, but reading this by itself is fine,” Present Perfect said. Part of that was the power the story teased out of unexpected places. “It speaks volumes of the immigrant experience without ever drawing attention to that angle,” Soge said. “It is remarkably lifelike, particularly when it show the small ways in which Nightlight relates to the people around her, or how she goes about making (or not making) new connections.” So perhaps it’s no surprise that our most unanimous sentiment was — as RBDash47 put it — “I would love to see more of Nightline and Trax in a future continuation.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Celefin discusses sapient engines, biscuit imitation, and silver-haired memories.