Ponyfic: There Can Be Only One

The last Bronycon was a wild roller-coaster ride filled with ponies, lines, feels, and books. It was also a chance for the Royal Canterlot Library to present “Ponyfic: There Can Be Only One” to a standing-room-only crowd.

We started with a shortlist of 16 awesome MLP fanfics, and our goal was to find THE SINGLE BEST FANFIC™ that the fandom has produced. Read on for more information about our contestants, our panel, and our winners!

How It Worked

We ran a nomination thread in June and July that we advertised to all our readers, and ended up with six pages of suggested stories. Our bracket of 16 fics started with the top five vote-getters from that thread. Then ten were chosen individually by curators — five by reviewing the nomination thread and hand-selecting highly deserving fics that fell short in reader voting; and five which could be absolutely anything we personally thought was the best. The last contender was a consensus pick that we all agreed on together. So we ended up with a solid mixture of crowd favorites, personal favorites, and merit picks.

That was where our panel started! We used our hour to pit those stories against each other head to head in a single elimination bracket. Crowd voting determined the winner. If the vote was too close to call, we took it to our panel of curators for a tiebreaker. If our panel also tied, Horizon became our designated scapegoat made a Chairman Kaga-like executive decision.

Disclaimer

There are 127,000 published My Little Pony fanfictions on FIMFiction.net alone. We only had a one-hour panel.

We had to make arbitrary and difficult decisions to create our shortlist, and there are TONS of fantastic and popular stories we couldn’t include. If you don’t see your favorite here, we are NOT saying it sucks. We had to be unfair to hundreds of worthy stories in order to be able to do this at all.

One of the things we set aside time for at our panel was to give shout-outs to fantastic stories which should have also been included. You can find those below, after our introductions for the contestants.

So please keep in mind what our goal REALLY was. We wanted to celebrate sixteen great stories, each of which was deserving of the title, and figure out which of those our at-con audience thought was most deserving. It was about bragging rights. It was all in good fun.

If you disagree with our choices,we’d love to see you run your own “Best Of” contest! Or post a blog/review telling everyone your favorite — whether or not it’s on our list. When we share great stories with each other, everybody wins.

Our Contenders

Sadfic bracket:

Soge: Background Pony is cruel. Shortskirtsandexplosions casts Lyra into true hell, where all her actions have no lasting impact, no consequences – except for her songs, the traces of her melody lingering on ponies’ hearts. It is the ultimate cosmic horror scenario, propped up by marvelous florid writing, lending all scenes an achingly beautiful quality. It is a behemoth of a fic, which forces its readers to feel as much as our poor protagonist, and it makes sure to leave its mark with an impactful ending. If nothing else, this fic won’t soon be forgotten.

Horizon: I might be a little biased toward GapJaxie’s “Around the World in 81 Days because it was written for a crossover challenge I posted a few years back, but it’s great in a way that transcends its source. It’s a magnificent coming-of-age story for Spike. It’s a gorgeous travelogue. But its greatest feat was taking My Little Pony and World War 1 and successfully mixing them. There are chapters I still can’t reread without turning into a sobbing wreck. It feels like literature in a way that transcends most things I’ve ever read.

Present Perfect: “The Keepers of Discordby Hoopy McGee: You can tell a classic because it sticks with you. I read this five years ago, and I still remember it as a triumph of characterization. You have not only Discord, trapped in stone and not altogether pleased with his situation, but also the family of original characters who are tasked with caring for him. And then Hoopy McGee had the audacity to go and reform him two months before the show would, and do it much better. No wonder this has stuck with me.

Soge: The Descendant was a fountain of great fics during the early fandom, with classics such as “Tangled up in Blues”, “Our Gifts”, and “A Cup of Joe”. However, The Railway Ponies: Highball is his crowning achievement. It is about the changing of the times, the contrast between the old and the new, but most of all, it is about characters who are truly passionate about what they do. The OCs are vivid and striking, the description work is breathtaking, and the whole scenario is very well constructed. The result is a perfect tragedy, full of raw emotions, culminating in a final scene that always reduces me to a sobbing wreck.

Adventure/Drama bracket:

Horizon: Hard Reset created a genre. Before it, time loops stories were “Groundhog Day” style character dramas. Eakin turned that formula into a war story, years before “Edge of Tomorrow”, and the result is an amazing mixture of action, drama, death, darkness and hope. It spawned an entire series, an unofficial sequel, and a new way of looking at adventure stories. It was first place in our reader voting for assembling our bracket.  And it’s just darn fun to read.

Pascoite:Nine Days Down” by JoeShogun gives a very unique take on the nature of Tartarus, a huge world incorporating several disparate mythologies into a tale brimming with interesting and convincingly dangerous characters, most of whom appear repeatedly, so they’re not one-and-done threats. Add to that a wholesale reconstruction of the nature of alicorns, which gives the reader the same roller-coaster ride as the protagonist, and this story has plenty to satiate the world-building and character enthusiasts.

RBDash47: The Writing on the Wall” by Horse Voice was so good it made me angry, because the moment I read it, I wanted to put it in the Vault — but I’d already featured an earlier story by Horse Voice. I ended up breaking my own rule of “one feature per author,” because I couldn’t stand to leave it out. This is the best kind of mystery, where all the pieces to the puzzle are given to you from the very beginning, if you only know what to look for. This also makes it the best kind of horror story, because if you do know what to look for, you get a slow build of helpless dread as you follow the characters working it out; if you don’t know what to look for, you get an uneasy sense of something being off and then a knife-stab of terror when the truth is revealed.

Pascoite: The Silver Standard is firmly in Patchwork Poltergeist’s wheelhouse, and I could recommend many of her works on the same basis, but this is the best known, so here we are. She has a knack for characterization, period, but especially for these kinds of characters we love to hate. They become incredibly sympathetic, and not through an expected redemption arc, but by justifying and humanizing them as they are. She’ll have you rooting for characters you never thought you would, flaws and all.

Romance bracket:

FanOfMostEverything: “The Enchanted Library is a fascinating work of frustration, and I mean that in the best way possible. It is a literary chrysanthemum opening layer upon layer of secrets, inventive worldbuilding, Monochromatic’s signature heartfelt emotional and romantic development, and Rarity being unable to actually tell the truth even if her life depends on it. It is not just a romance, it’s a romance that shows its work, and a great AU to boot.

RBDash47: Yours Truly” by Thanqol is one of the best pieces of epistolary fiction I’ve ever read, in ponyfic or elsewhere. We follow along over the course of years as the Mane 6 drift apart from one another but keep in touch via letters, and watch their relationships change as some of them reveal thoughts and feelings they’d never expressed in person but could share in writing — something that I suspect many people in this fandom of online friends can understand. As we read these letters alongside the characters they’re addressed to, we get to witness the development of the purest, truest love, so strong that it keeps the two of them together for fifty years even though they live miles apart. Yours Truly is a powerful celebration of love in general and long-distance love in specific that resonates with you after you’ve read it.

FanOfMostEverything: Dromicosuchus’s “Mendacitydoes one of my favorite things in fiction: Ask an innocuous question and see where it leads the story. In this case, “What if changelings were actual folkloric fae?”, which immediately goes to “What if that’s why Bonbon’s voice keeps changing?” From there, it goes full “Greatest Story Never Told” with the royal wedding, with action, romance, mysticism, and one of the best gadfly OCs I’ve ever read.

Present Perfect: “Lost Timeby bookplayer: You don’t see people writing fanfiction about what marriage means. You don’t see people write about all the reasons their favorite ship wouldn’t work together in a story that ships them. And then you have bookplayer, who is no mere mortal when it comes to writing romance, fanfiction or the Mane Six. Take one part AppleDash, one part time travel, and a whole heaping helping of heartwrenching tragedy, and you’ve got the makings of one of the all-time best fics, shipping or otherwise, to come out of this fandom.

Comedy bracket:

RBDash47:The Best Night Ever” by Captain Chryssalid is a pony classic that has stood the test of time — it will be seven years old next month, and people still come back to it for its pitch-perfect humor and heart. Captain Chryssalid manages to use a Groundhog Day time loop to not just flesh out but actually redeem the true villain of the show, Prince Blueblood, and takes the idea of time loops and puts a suitably MLP spin on it, like when Pinkie Pie behaves differently in each loop. Much like the show we all love, it tackles serious issues — Blueblood’s arrogance and laziness, Luna’s isolation — without getting maudlin or losing that colorful spark of fun.

FanOfMostEverything: My personal choice is admittedly a bit self-indulgent, since it won a contest I organized. Even so, “Evil is Easy, Governing is Harder is a perfect example of Aragón’s work, a bunch of absurdities, running gags, and bits that shouldn’t be nearly as funny as they are capering about until they combine into something impossibly brilliant and insightful. It’s like if Plato’s Republic was written in a series of fart jokes.

Horizon: I need to start this off with an apology to Skywriter. He has written many breathtaking, epic stories — “Contraptionology”, the “Cadance of Cloudsdale” cycle — and he doesn’t think Princess Celestia Hates Tea deserves to stand with them. But I will die on the hill of this being a story to be proud of. It’s iconic. It’s subversive. It relentlessly escalates a tiny absurdity into a worldwide crisis, then stops and punches you in the feels with a powerful statement about the nature of leadership. It was the RCL’s first feature and no story has ever outscored it in our voting process. And it is hysterical.

Soge: If Terry Pratchett collaborated with Douglas Adams to write ponyfic, GhostOfHeraclitus would be their name, and Whom the Princesses Would Destroy would be his masterpiece. Dotted Line, bureaucrat extraordinaire, has to battle such cosmic horrors as interdimentional monsters, Gooseberry Jam, and petitions from nobles, when all he wants to do is to have a proper cup of tea, for Celestia’s sake. This delightful adventure will leave you doubled up in laughter in one moment, to be stuck by powerful compassion towards its cast of the unheralded heroes of Canterlot. It is the kind of writing that makes writers angry, since you probably will never be quite that good, and is always, always impressive. 

Shout-Outs

Fantastic stories which our curators couldn’t quite wedge into our Top 16.

RBDash47:

anonpencil spent months working on “Broken Bindings,” a story that takes true and complete advantage of its medium (a fanfic on the internet) to deliver a multimedia experience that completely sucks you in; my only criticism of it is that it would be impossible for me to publish as an actual book.

Words Failed Her” by Nonsanity — A great, show-episode-esque short story about Twilight trying to solve a magical plague without being able to research it, because reading is what infects you. Also, I think it’s super sweet that Nonsanity started writing ponyfic at his eight-year-old daughter’s request.

In Brothers and Sisters, Alphacat gives us a very unique take on batponies — they aren’t a separate, fourth tribe in addition to unicorns, pegasi, and earth ponies, but just the nocturnal version of pegasi, and expands this conceit into some truly great worldbuilding that manages to stay canon-compliant!

MrNumbers’ The Mare Who Once Lived on the Moon does steampunk right. In an alternate universe, Twilight invents the telescope and discovers Celestia has imprisoned Luna on the moon, and sets out to rescue her in a homebuilt spaceship.

Corejo’s “Reading Rainbow” is a sweet story about Rainbow Dash being a good friend to Twilight when she’s stuck in bed after an injury, but he took it a step further and embedded a perfectly ponified Shel Silversteinesque poem in it!

Present Perfect:

Riverdream at Sunset by GroaningGreyAgony: The perfect HiE for anyone who has an English degree. Great writing, talking horses, what more could you ask for?

It Turns Out They’re Windmills by J Carp: Have you ever struggled with sexuality, intrusive thoughts or literally just anything related to being alive? This story is for you.

In the Place the Wild Horses Sleep by Lucky Dreams: I will go to my grave declaring this to be the apotheosis of what ponyfiction should be. It’s lyrical, it’s whimsical, it’s magical, and above all, it’s written for the target demographic.

Pascoite:

Order from Chaos” by TwilightSnarkle is one of the best stories you’ll find for doing a realistic and convincing job of portraying someone who’s pulled into Equestria and transformed into a pony.

Shoots and Roots” by Bachiavellian is a wonderful and touching tale of how shared tragedy can bring two very different characters together, and even that’s more of a background piece to the main character’s arc.

A Bug on a Stick” by Orbiting Kettle couples a fun take on filly Celestia and Luna with a comedic but thoughtful look at Chrysalis. This is absolutely the right way to do literary comedy: funny, but with rich story and characterization behind it.

Why the Gift is Given” by Impossible Numbers takes on a faithfully rendered child’s perspective, and it’s a sentimental look into a fairly dysfunctional family. In other words, it’s very real and very endearing.

Horizon:

fahrenheit’s “Requiem for a Dream” – The premise is simple: What if Moon Dancer had beaten Twilight to the punch? The mystery isn’t. A heartbreaking story from a fantastic author.

kits’ “Who We Are” – One of the earliest changeling stories, and perhaps the most quintessentially “pony” of them all, using them to make a profound point about the Mane Six.

Cynewulf’s “When The Levee Breaks” – Southern literature meets ponies as Daring Do discovers you can’t go home again. Years and years later, this still haunts me.

Cold in Gardez’s “Lost Cities” – Haunting ambience.  The fandom’s most successful literary experiment.  I think this has spawned more homages per word than even Fallout Equestria. 

Argembarger’s “The Spiderses” – There is an art to enjoyable bad writing which is every bit as intricate and difficult as enjoyable good writing. This is not literature, but it IS a classic.

Dromicosuchus’ “The Rise And Fall of the Dark Lord Sassaflash” – This is H.P. Lovecraft’s MLP, and so help me, it sells the combination. Intricately crafted and gorgeously written.

Soge:

Sharp Spark’s “A Stallion for the Time Being”: This is still the best shipfic in the fandom, tying a lovely romance, absurdly funny comedy, and a clever sci-fi plot into a neat package.

PoweredByTea’s “The Wrong Fork”: The best 1000 words of ponyfic ever written, somehow marrying character work and worldbuilding by focusing in the smallest of situations.

Kkat’s “Fallout: Equestria”: Despite its obvious flaws, this is a fic that reaches highs that nothing else in the fandom is able to. There is a reason for its following, and it still deserves to be read.

Jetfire2012’s “It’s a Dangerous Business, Going Out Your Door”: This takes the Tolkien influences in Equestria’s worldbuilding and just runs with it. A great adventure for fans of high fantasy. Make sure to check the sequel as well! 

FanOfMostEverything:

Through the Well of Pirene, by Ether Echoes: Labyrinth, but with ponies and immanentizing the eschaton.

Alarm Clock, by Meta Four: Time-space weirdness with Best Pony. Meta writes my style better than I do.

The Crown of Night and The Education of Clover the Clever, by Daedalus Aegle: Twin pieces that capture the essence of the wizard who solves slightly more problems than he causes better than the show could ever hope to.

Songs of the Spheres, by GM Blackjack: The most ambitious story I have ever read. A heavily metafictional crossover of literally everything that somehow manages to not only work, but be a genuinely good story.

The Fishbowl, by Shrink Laureate: The most creative take on the EqG world I’ve ever seen, with brilliant thoughts on existential identity by way of human clones of pastel horses.

The Outcome

As voting began, it quickly became clear that the audience had tough decisions to make. With the exception of a few underdogs pitted against fandom juggernaughts, nearly every vote was close. Four different votes were too close to call and went to our panel. One first-round matchup even had to go to executive decision when our panel split 2-2.

There were some surprising upsets. Several newer fics beat instantly recognizable fandom classics. One of our top-seeded fics — reader favorite “Background Pony” — fell to a judges’ decision in the first round after a split audience vote. Our ultimate winner survived its first-round matchup by the narrowest possible margin.

The clashes of heavy hitters continued as our genre brackets narrowed to the fandom’s top sadfic, comedy, romance, and adventure/drama. The final match was a tense, close-fought upset. And when the dust settled, one of the fandom’s most epic and beloved romances was left standing.

You can see the bracket and voting results here on challonge.com.

 

The Winners

THE FANDOM’S BEST: The Enchanted Library, by Monochromatic
SECOND PLACE: Hard Reset, by Eakin
THIRD PLACE: The Best Night Ever, by Capn_Chryssalid
HONORABLE MENTION: The Keepers of Discord, by Hoopy McGee

Congratulations to our winners, to all sixteen highly deserving fics in our bracket, and to the great stories we couldn’t include!

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