(RCL NOTE: We’re attempting the hopeless task of choosing the fandom’s Single Best Story™ at a special panel at Bronycon. Help us pick the competitors! Details here. Voting is open until July 13.)
If your reading is stale, TRY TODAY’S TALE!
Not In Bluff Nor Bravado Nor Loneliness
[Slice of Life] • 7,389 words
Ponies? Yeah, you hear a lot about them growing up in the minotaur homelands, and it isn’t all positive. Actually, almost none of it is positive. They’re different. They’ve got those weird pictures on their flanks and those little prayers they mumble to their princesses. Ponies are gentle, passive. They’re not like us.
See, a minotaur is supposed to act a certain way. You bulk up. You get aggressive. You don’t let anyone else push you around, and you don’t associate with ponies. I’ve heard the same thing my whole life, ever since I was young.
FROM THE CURATORS: Like last week’s feature, this started with an examination of stories we’d overlooked earlier in the fandom — and once it was brought up, we immediately wondered how. “I saw the thread title,” Present Perfect said, “and went, ‘Didn’t I nominate that years ago?’ I guess I didn’t!” AugieDog similarly had fond memories: “I was one of maybe eight or nine judges in the contest where this story got an Honorable Mention. That’s why this seems familiar!” But there was more than nostalgia in FanOfMostEverything’s nomination: “This is an especially interesting story, tackling similar themes on a lot of different levels. It’s about the knee-jerk mainstream reaction to ponies. It’s about toxic masculinity. It’s about stereotypes and prejudice. And the use of Iron Will as a perspective character makes the whole thing work.”
Our praise on that framing was unanimous. “The decision to approach toxic masculinity along species lines was a good one,” Present Perfect said. “It makes the topic more approachable and easier to deal with.” AugieDog agreed: “It’s a nicely nuanced view of Iron Will. Growing up, he feels a kinship with the ponies at school, but since he’s told he shouldn’t, he makes it his life’s mission to change ponies into people that he can feel kinship with. The only acceptable way for him to be more like ponies is if ponies become more like him, and this inherent paradox drives the story right through to the end.” And Horizon was impressed by how much was communicated via showing and structure: “With nothing more than a few conversations with authority figures, we’re shown the ways that a bad system harms both its victims and its beneficiaries, and how it can make even well-meaning people excuse its harm.”
If we had one disappointment, it was that later show canon didn’t back up the story’s sympathetic view of one of the show’s antagonists. “I found Iron Will inherently relatable, and this is a really strong possible backstory for him … before ‘Once Upon a Zeppelin,’ of course,” Present Perfect said. But even though the show hasn’t been kind to the premise here, we found the writing strong enough to carry this on its own merits. As FanOfMostEverything said: “The story is meticulously constructed, every moment coming together in the greater scope.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Vivid Syntax discusses Gandhi quotes, goat symbolism, and parental ponycons.