Friday, June 28, 2013

Fridays are Magic: Fan Fiction

"Would you like to read my Lyra/Bon-Bon adventure 'fic?"
Way back when I started this blog (a whole not-quite-two-months ago!), I mentioned offhand that I've written Friendship is Magic fan fiction. As with most aspects of my broniness, I was initially really embarrassed by this, and it took a lot of... I don't want to say "courage," but something sort of like it... to come clean about what I was doing. I wasn't writing weird stuff or anything like that--no clop, thank you--but it seemed very, very strange to me that, after years of lethargy, the muse that finally inspired me to start writing again was a cute cartoon show for little girls.

As I've mentioned, I find FiM's world to be really fascinating. The show rarely goes into the history of the setting, but a lot can be extrapolated from the things we know and occasional glimpses into the past. The story of "Hearth's Warming Eve" shows us that, long ago, the earth ponies, pegasi, and unicorns lived in separate and culturally diverse realms. They eventually united to found Equestria, and some indeterminate time after that, Celestia and Luna came to rule it. During their reign, they came into conflict with a chaotic demigod named Discord and sealed him in stone. And, eventually, Luna was turned to the Dark Side by a shadowy force known as "Nightmare" and launched an ultimately failed coup against her sister.

Behold, the savage beastmaster.
A few other bits of setting detail hint at the past. The literal Gates of Tartarus exist--within a few days' gallop of Ponyville, no less--and are said to contain many of Equestria's greatest foes. The season three premiere featured King Sombra, the ruler of a once-powerful empire who used his sorcery to trap his subjects outside of time and space, becoming a creature of smoke and shadow in the process. Ancient pegasi certainly seemed to have a Spartan aesthetic, and we've seen at least three monsters straight out of Greek myth: griffons, hydras, and minotaurs. Are they related? Is there a common history between them? There are zebras, their culture apparently based on African shamanism; where do they come from?  There are mules and donkeys and cows that all seem to have human-level intelligence; what is their role within Equestrian society?

These questions aren't likely to be addressed within the show itself.  Some of them might be, eventually; the answers to almost all of them are, apparently, contained in the show bible Lauren Faust created several years ago. But for every question you could think to ask, you can bet that a fan of the show has already come up with an answer, and some of those answers might be better than even Faust's.

Quite frankly, from a world-building perspective, fanfiction is magic.

Yes, of course this exists.
I'm familiar with maybe a fraction of the work written by my fellow brony wannabe-authors, and some of it I only know through osmosis. I know the general idea behind the massively popular Fallout: Equestria series (and the shared universe it created), though I've never been particularly motivated to slog through multiple novel-length stories about ponies with mohawks and power armor. I'm familiar with The Conversion Bureau, a story wherein the human world has merged with the pony one, and human volunteers are allowed to take equine form, even if I have no particular desire to read it or the many, many spinoffs it produced. I know of several authors who have become big deals in the community, who host panels or hawk self-printed copies of their works at conventions.

It's also where most of my knowledge and understanding of the various background characters comes from. Once you've read The Vinyl Scratch Tapes, you're always going to see Scratch and Octavia as vitriolic best friends (and maybe something more). It's hard not to wonder if Lyra's talking to Bon-Bon about humans whenever you see them in the background if you're familiar with Anthropology. And you will never stop wondering what the hell Cloud Kicker's up to once you've gotten into The Life and Times of a Winning Pony.

As with any fandom, a lot of the stuff being produced is pretty lackluster.  For every Smiling Flowers, you have a story about Trixie going Super Saiyan and battling Twilight over the skies of Canterlot. (Actually, that sounds kind of awesome.) And then you have some of the more infamous stuff like Cupcakes or Rainbow Factory. (You can get the links yourself, thanks.)  And then you have the clop. The horrible, horrible clop.

But every now and then, you find a story that's genuinely good and that really expands on your understanding of these characters and the world they live in. Here's a few of them.

The Best Night Ever, by Cap'n Chrysallid, is one of my favorite fanworks of all time. It's a pastiche of Bill Murray's classic Groundhog Day, in which the main character was trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of repeating a single day over and over again until he could get things to go exactly right. This version stars Prince Blueblood, the object of Rarity's obsession (and subsequent disappointment, and subsequent rage) throughout the show's first season.  (He's also a character I sort of adopted for my own stories.) Forced to relive the day of the Grand Galloping Gala repeatedly, Blueblood is gradually forced to grow into a genuinely decent pony; it only takes him a century or so of madness, despair, suicide, and--at least once--destroying the world to get him there. It's brilliantly written, it's completely hilarious, and I love it to pieces. You should read it.

The Flight of the Alicorn, by Ponydora Prancypants, is a story that I might be a bit of a zealot about promoting. It's a novel-length tale in which Rarity finds herself the only pony who can stop a war between the griffons and Equestria, which puts her squarely in the crosshairs of a massive conspiracy determined to see it happen. Intrigue, betrayal, romance, action, adventure, exploration, world-building, steampunk airships and ancient arcane artifacts, this story has everything. It's also written by a man who has a deep knowledge of and affection for the kind of lifestyle that Rarity herself so desires, which gives a bit of detail and genuineness to the proceedings that most folks couldn't hope to muster. It's not just one of my favorite 'fics, it's one of my favorite books, period. And if you're not convinced already that Rarity is best pony, you will be.

I've mentioned that I love Cheerilee, right? She's not a character that's had a lot of screentime, but I've got a lot of respect for her as a fellow teacher-type-person, and her starring role in the season two episode "Hearts and Hooves Day" won me over. (There's a little scene near the beginning where the Cutie Mark Crusaders are pestering her about not having a "special somepony" on Equestria's version of Valentine's Day, and she gives this look that's just amazing before forcing herself back into teacher mode.) Another big contribution to that is Paleo Prints' School Daze, a story which transplants Cheeri into a 80's "let's save the school/orphanage/dorm" movie, complete with, I kid you not, actual musical montages. Paleo's a teacher himself, as is his wife (who his Cheeri draws a lot of inspiration from), and School Daze is one of the most heartwarming and hilarious and fun fanfics I've ever read.

There's a lot of other stories I could recommend--I've mentioned some of them already--but if you're at all interested in reading some genuinely good ponyfic, those three would be my recommendations of where to start. You could also, I suppose, read my stories about Blueblood, if you're interested in reading a long, meandering adventure tale about a classical antihero and his screwed up Oedipal complex towards his adopted sister and a tendency to make everything around him get worse and worse, only to have things end with a sudden, unfinished conclusion coupled with an apology from the author.


Anyway, that's all the ponies for today.  Right now, two disparate groups of people are tearing up the floor of my home and replacing it with slightly fancier versions thereof. It's a bit loud and distracting, you see.  I'm hoping to see either White House Down or This is the End (or, ehh, World War Z) this weekend, so I imagine the next post will be a review.  Until then, well, you've got plenty of recommendations of other things to read, so maybe you should get on that.

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