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D G D Davidson

Joined April 2012
377 followers

D. G. D. is a science fiction writer and archaeologist.  He blogs on occasion at www.scificatholic.com.

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Jan
4th
2013

I have a human-in-Equestria novel in progress, but something occurred to me today that made me think I need to revise it.

It occurred to me that ponies are creepy as hell.

There's an old episode of The Outer Limits, entitled "The Zanti Misfits," in which Earth is invaded by aliens who look like really big ants.  Some military guys battle the aliens ants, some deaths happen, and the episode ends with one of those pop philosophy Aesops that characterize Star Trek and much of the television sci-fi that came before it.  What really makes the episode memorable and makes it a classic of television is the alien ants' highly expressive, human-like stop-motion faces.  The Outer Limits created some brilliant monsters with its shoestring budget, and those human-like ants are among the most famous.  They are famous because they can make your skin crawl.

Man, that thing still gives me the creeps.

We humans have a funny mechanism, one for which, as far as I know, there is no satisfying explanation (though there are some creative crackpot ones):  we get weirded out at the sight of human-like faces that are neither sufficiently inhuman nor human enough.  Cartoon characters don't bug us, but realistic CGI characters can.  Puppets or expressive but goofy looking robots are no problem, but those Japanese androids are hella creepy.  That zone, where a face causes a feeling of dread, is of course the so-called "Uncanny Valley."  Perhaps the earliest writer to note this phenomenon was the Romantic composer and author E. T. A. Hoffman, most famous for "The Nutcracker" and "The Sand-Man"; a highly sensitive individual, Hoffman found human-like automata unbearably disturbing and successfully used them as objects of horror in his work:  the seductive woman-like automaton of "The Sand-Man" practically created a new genre, inspiring the woman robot of Metropolis, which has informed every android since.  In Hoffman's story "Automata," a character discusses the sensation of dread he experiences upon seeing a clockwork sculpture (based on the famous Turk) play chess, and as he explores the nature of that dread, it becomes clear that what he is describing is what we now call the Uncanny Valley.

The Zanti of The Outer Limits are right smack in the middle of the Valley, and that's why they're such good horror monsters.

You know where I'm going with this.  The ponies of My Little Pony have round faces, short muzzles, and large, binocular eyes.  Their faces are half-horse, half-human.  They don't bother us on the television because they're cartoony, but now imagine them in, as it were, the real world.  Imagine a horse with a human-like face.  It would be the equine equivalent of the Zanti:  "ponies in real life" would not appear cute and cuddly, but really, really disturbing.  It might take humans a lot of effort to interact with them successfully.  I touched on this in "Brony Steve Makes Out with Fluttershy," but failed to explore it at length.

I think we need some Uncanny HiE stories.

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Comments ( 20 )

#1 · 67w, 5d ago · · ·

Hmm.. well we like cats and they have big eyes. And some people really like the Navi from Avator. Maybe ponies would the same thing.

#2 · 67w, 5d ago · · ·

>>678289

That's a good point.  Of course, cats don't have human-like facial expressions.

But you're right that Avatar and plenty of other movies manage to strike a balance by creating expressive human-like faces that aren't in Uncanny Valley territory, so it's possible that ponies might be more N'avi than Zanti.

#3 · 67w, 5d ago · · ·

Describing ponies as creepy to humans is only really interesting from a "hard science fiction" standpoint, in my opinion. It's a fun concept to toy around with, but it doesn't really bear any relevance to bronies' experience of the show. In "Brony Steve" you used the effect to symbolize the unnaturalness of wanting to escape from the real world and make love to a pony, and it worked out pretty well. But just throwing the detail in for the sake of realism (whatever that means in a universe like this) would seem superfluous to me.

#4 · 67w, 5d ago · · ·

Chapter One of "Oh to be Old again" goes into that for a bit in the beginning. It's not much, but it's there.

#5 · 67w, 5d ago · · ·

>>678431

Thanks for directing me to that one.  I haven't read it, but I think I'll add it to my list.

>>678422

I realize some fan authors have gone for the hard sf angle, which is certainly an unexpected and potentially intriguing way to deal with sparkly magic ponies, sort of like the hard-sf view of vampires in I Am Legend, a story Hollywood has never gotten right even after three tries.  Sooner or later, of course, the attempts to explain magic with SCIENCE! become strained; I Am Legend, by which I mean the good novel and none of the bad movies, lost my suspension of disbelief somewhere around the time it proposed that bacteria could animate corpses and make them shamble around in search of living victims.  Hard sci-fi pony stories lose me somewhere around the time . . . um . . . the flying horses walk on clouds.  I mean, seriously.

Personally, I'm more interested in people than in test tubes.  I think the Uncanny Valley could have mileage in a story about ponies and humans learning to get along, whether or not any hard science comes into play.  We could also ask whether there's a reverse Uncanny Valley, by which ponies have the same difficulty interacting with us that we might have interacting with them.

Most important to me would be avoiding the All-American Girl "everyone's a racist" trope.  Just because it might be difficult, at least at first, to sit in a room full of talking horses doesn't mean humans will devolve into pony-hating lynch mobs.  If anything, I think modern men would be more likely to go overboard trying to ingratiate themselves to an alien species than they would be to hold them in contempt.

In my HiE novel-in-progress, I set myself the ground rule that there will be no bigots in the story; every character's opinions of every other character or group of characters must have plausible reasons.  There are to be no one-dimensional large-chinned villains saying, "They're just animals so we can make them our slaves" or "Kill them all because I hate people who look like giant plush toys" or anything similarly unlikely and stupid.  Admittedly, this means I've removed from my toolbox an easy source of conflict.

#6 · 67w, 5d ago · · ·

>"ponies in real life" would not appear cute and cuddly, but really, really disturbing.  It might take humans a lot of effort to interact with them successfully.

I'd still like their rainbow vaginas :moustache:

#7 · 67w, 5d ago · · ·

>>678689

le epic troll XDDD

#8 · 67w, 5d ago · 1 · ·

A fanfic that I've always wanted to write, but probably never will, would be one about an arranged/forced marriage between a human!Shining Armor and pony!Cadance, both unwilling. Every time it bounces into my head, and somewhat capitalising on its AU nature, I picture a reluctant Cadance being reassured by Nightmare Moon that, "It's not permanent. You just have to outlive him." I don't know why Nightmare Moon's there instead of being either Luna or on the moon, but she is.

Tying this back into the blog, both of them would've suffered from the uncanny pony valley -- both would've been physically disgusted by each other. Except I'd also set it up so that their personalities mesh too well, make it so that they really are absolutely "perfect for each other". Mental attraction + physical repulsion + forced marriage so that Celestia can keep the uppity humans in check (+ a human!Twilight ward of Celestia who now thinks she's a horse). It's something which I really want to explore, if only because I want to write an edgy/taboo romance (and get a slice of that ratings pie) without whoring myself out.

Oh, and >>678481

>proposed that bacteria could animate corpses and make them shamble around in search of living victims.

Counterpoint: Ophiocordyceps unilateralis. They're not corpses, grant you, but the leap isn't that impossible, especially if the subject was only ever brain dead.

>Personally, I'm more interested in people than in test tubes.

This is my problem with most Sci-fi: too much world building/speculation, not enough characters. Wacky technology's easy; people are hard.

#9 · 67w, 5d ago · · ·

>>679136

That story sounds right up my alley.  If you write that, I'll probably gush about it to everyone.  Slap an AU tag on it and, as far as I'm concerned, you have all the excuse you need.

It reminds me of an unpublished story I wrote some years back, and which I ought to revise, about a prince forced to marry a tentacled insectish extraterrestrial to seal a political alliance.  He managed to get himself out of the marriage by discovering an obscure linguistic phenomenon in the alien language.  Some people who read the story asked me if I was a linguist, and I took that as a huge compliment.

Oh sure, there are illnesses that can affect behaviors.  No doubt about that.  But in I Am Legend, we're talking about bacteria that can animate a corpse, cause it to walk and talk, and make it attempt to seduce people so it can suck their blood.

Your issue with sf inspired the New Wave movement and other movements since then.  I don't think sf as a whole has ever gotten the reputation of being big in the character development department, but it's also avoided falling into the trap of most "literary fiction," which has devolved into plotless character studies of miserable people.

#10 · 67w, 5d ago · · ·

>>679136>>679136 I would read the hell out of that.

#11 · 67w, 5d ago · · ·

>>679136>>679343

Seconded.  In fact, every time I read that short description, it sounds more and more kick-awesome.

#12 · 67w, 5d ago · · ·

>>678716 lelelelelelerelal XxDxdxdxdDD

#13 · 67w, 4d ago · · ·

Of course, it's arguable how horselike would the ponies look in "real life". I'd say the mares, with their almost completely round heads, don't even look that much like a horse at first sight (:rainbowhuh: <- would you be able to immediately recognize what this is if you've never seen a My Little Pony before?). Yet the vast majority of HiE fanfics, oddly, have the humans describe the ponies simply as "colored talking horses", without noting the fact that these horses have giant, face-spanning eyes, a tiny torso atop bell-bottom legs, and a very short and small muzzle (if it can even be called that). I've read a fic, though, which described the more cartoonish Fluttershy's face as looking more like a doe than any horse, which is a wee bit closer.

>>678481

> Most important to me would be avoiding the All-American Girl "everyone's a racist" trope.  

Curious--I remember reading AAG and being surprised by how non-racist the humans were. In fact, sometimes it was jarring how quickly they got along with the newly encountered races (perhaps the most jarring example is pony-human marriage, which is portrayed as almost completely uncontroversial among humans, except for very, very few minor bad guys... kinda like in a bad slash fic.) Of course, that's in comparison to other "human" fanfics, where everybody just waits, with their chainsaws revved, for the first pony to stick their head through the portal so that it can be tortured, enslaves and cruelly experimented on... Everybody but the bronies. Bronies are awesome, and like to angst about their species so much.

#14 · 67w, 4d ago · · ·

>>680443

Yet the vast majority of HiE fanfics, oddly, have the humans describe the ponies simply as "colored talking horses" . . .

Even better is when the human character, after a first glance, hits immediately on the word "pony."

One solution, the one I'll probably use the most, is to suppose that the cartoon is representational, and that the ponies "in real life" would be much more horse-like in appearance, behavior, and other attributes.  In my HiE novel-in-progress, the narrator, after arriving in Equestria, focuses on how the whole nation smells like a barnyard.  The ponies, when described, are translated into mostly real anatomy, with only a few of their cartoonish characteristics retained.

Curious--I remember reading AAG and being surprised by how non-racist the humans were. In fact, sometimes it was jarring how quickly they got along with the newly encountered races (perhaps the most jarring example is pony-human marriage, which is portrayed as almost completely uncontroversial among humans, except for very, very few minor bad guys... kinda like in a bad slash fic.)

Perhaps I focused overmuch on the "minor bad guys," but those bad guys are both what stuck in my mind and what destroyed my suspension of disbelief.  Shinzakura depicts anyone who suggests that maybe a man shouldn't screw a horse as some sort of raving bigot without motives.  Those who are in favor of horse-screwing are likewise unable to explain themselves, and the debate between the two is, in the first chapter, literally resolved with a screaming match, the pro-horse-screwer winning the argument apparently for no other reason than because he cusses more fluently.  Meanwhile, running throughout the story is the heavy-handed message that if you oppose horse-screwing, it's like hating black people.  DJ herself, a remarkably unlovable character, moves through life by biting everyone's head off at the slightest provocation, and is for the most part rewarded for it and treated like some kind of crusader.

The problem, as I see it, is that Shinzakura wants to discuss a serious moral issue, but lacks the vocabulary or the training or the something that he needs to address it intelligently.  DJ's high school sweetheart and later husband (I forget his name) gets called a "horsef***er" and he responds by sticking his chin out and rebelling and claiming he's proud to be a horsef***er.  Everyone reacts emotionally, but no one, never, not once, actually asks the obvious question:  is it right, good, noble, and true for men to f*** horses?

The story gives me the vibe that everyone is a racist until proven otherwise, and that the litmus test of your non-racism is whether you approve bestiality.  I grant that I may be misinterpreting the story or reading it uncharitably.  It enthralls and impresses me, but also really, really rubs me the wrong way.

#15 · 61w, 4d ago · · ·

The Uncanny Valley is what tells us not to mate with mutants and deformed people. It's our brain saying DON'T FUCK THAT THING

Due to Asperger's I'm pretty much immune to the Uncanny Valley effect. As well as contagious yawning.

#16 · 61w, 3d ago · · ·

>>836047

. . .

And I stand by my comment that "there is no satisfying explanation (though there are some creative crackpot ones)."

#17 · 57w, 3d ago · · ·

Went on a Google search, but didn't find anything that made my skin crawl quite like that ant man did. At least, not anything that was a pony - google got pretty vague pretty quickly on this one, and the amount of "Uncanny Valley" pictures which were just previous generations was just saddening.

I figure ponies in real life would look something akin to the garry's mod / Gameloft models of themselves. Not quite exact to the show's style, but a very close estimation, and still generally adorable and non-creepy looking.

#18 · 41w, 5d ago · · ·

Looking at the SFM images, the ponies don;t seem all that disturbing to me.

#19 · 30w, 4d ago · · ·

See this for information about creepy things:

Also, flip the perspective. Wouldn't we be creepy to the ponies for the exact same reasons?

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