• Member Since 13th Oct, 2013
  • offline last seen April 20th


I'm a long time science fiction and animation fan who stumbled into My Little Pony fandom and got caught -- I guess I'm a Brony Forever now.

More Blog Posts570

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Future Equestrias - II. Direction of Change · 8:24am Nov 23rd, 2015

II. Direction of Change

The next major question, after "how far into the future?" is "what sort of changes occur?" We first should determine the direction of change. There are five overall possibilities.

A. Progressive - This assumes that change is generally in the direction of rise rather than decline. This is, historically, almost always the case in terms of technology, though not as uniformly the case regarding culture, politics or diplomacy. This is because there is a "ratchet effect" operating in technological progress -- a technology, once developed, tends to be remembered at least until superseded by a more capable technology. For example, to take a field near and dear to the heart of Rarity, clothing has generally improved in terms of ease of production, quality and comfort since sapients first start protecting themselves with leaves and animal skins.

The same ratchet effect does not operate as strongly in matters of culture, because it is not as apparent just which cultural practices are superior. What's more, cultures may enter periods of decline, in which a breakdown of organization forces a retreat to earlier and perhaps less efficient overall practices: this can be seen at the end of the Greco-Roman Classical civilization, and during the many Times of Troubles China has suffered. Politics and diplomacy are even less stable, as coalitions can shift from decade to decade, even year to year.

The West has historically tended to see change as progressive (and hence "good") because our history from medieval times onward has been much more rise than fall. This is a small-l liberal assumption, as it implies that by dint of positive effort things may improve on the average over time. It is also the assumption most able to support civil and economic liberties, because it implies that change should only be resisted by governments if the change is clearly bad: most change is not bad.

Based on the evidence from vanilla-canon, Equestria also seems to be in the middle of progressive change -- we see a rail net spreading through the land, what looks like an industrial revolution well under way, and a general tendency for old racial animosities to dissipate. This is possibly-contradicted by some of the IDW comics, which seem to imply that there has been no fundamental technological or social progress over time. (This may be lazy writing on their part).

The Shadow Wars Story Verse is nakedly and obviously based on the assumption that progressive change is the norm in technology and can occur in culture, politics and diplomacy as well. Equestria advances from an Iron Age feudal society to a vast Post-Singularity interstellar commonwealth. The Lost Kinds are found and Reconciled with the Three Kinds of Equestria. Ponykind and Earthlife spread through the Universe to become its new Guardians against the threats of the Shadows and other omnicidal enemies.

B. Regressive - Before the Renaissance, and in most other human societies before the 19th-20th centuries, it was generally-assumed that we were in decline from a previous "Golden Age" to an increasingly-imperfect world which would ultimately die due to its imperfections. This is obviously a small-c conservative assumption, as it implies that the best we can do is to hold on to what we have by copying the past: any change is likely to be degradation and hence should be resisted on the face of it. In the end degradation will destroy the world, with possible hope of some supernatural regeneration.

The most famous Western heroic fantasy of all, J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth, is a regressive fantasy. Soon after their appearance, the Elves developed advanced arts and sciences far beyond anything achieved by Men, and in Middle-Earth gradually lost them. The civilization of Numenor, which was partly-descended from Men who wed Elves (specifically, from Beren and Luthien) attained great heights but fell from them; even the revival of the Kingdom of the West (under Aragorn and Arwen) will be but a temporary respite in a fall which does not end until the Bronze Age of our history.

I've very occasionally seen MLP:FIM fanfic written regressively in this fashion. This usually involves the assumption that a higher-tech civilization created the Ponies and that this technology was lost in whatever event enabled the Ponies to become free. This may or not be coupled with an attempt to regain the lost technology.

The Shadow Wars Story Verse, despite being Progressive in the the longer sense, is Regressive in some aspects of its ancient history. Before Ponykind, other races rose and fell upon the Earth, including the Great G'marr (who genengineered the first Ponies out of Equus equus stock) and the High Eldren, who created the Five Pony Kinds (Earth Ponies, Pegasi, Unicorns, Flutter Ponies and Sea Ponies) from the Primal Pony stock. Before the Time of the Reclamation, earlier civilizations were smashed by the Warlords who almost entirely exterminated Ponykind. Before the time of the Crystal Empire and Equestria, Ponies rose to the great heights of the Age of Wonders, only to be smashed back down to Iron Age barbarism by the Cataclysm, from which Ponykind is still recovering at the time of Luna's Return. Each of these catastrophes saw a fall from a prior golden age -- though the Second Age of Wonders, which is (by later convention) held to begin on YOH 1500 when Luna is liberated from her Nightmare, sees Ponykind rise higher than it or any other Earthly race has ever done before.

Interestingly, this is close to the way the Night Shadows view reality. There is an ultimate life form (themselves) and a mode of life consisting of preying upon other Universes. This is ultimately doomed to fail because all the energy in all the Universes will achieve heat death, and then the NIght Shadows will simply be the last to die in an eternally-frozen Omniverse. This goes a long way toward explaining why they are evil: if this is how you view reality, the best one can logically do is simply be the last to die, because you've first eaten everyone else to stay alive.

C. Rise and Fall - This assumes that civilizations rise and then fall, in an inevitable cycle of barbarism emerging from the previous shattered civilization, rising itself to civilization, then expanding to become a successful empire, and then freezing and declining to fall. This is probably true as regards culture, politics and diplomacy in real civilizations (with the cycle lasting many centuries, perhaps over 2000 years). I've assumed this to be true in constructing my own Equestrian past -- Equestria is the second cycle of North Amareican civilization since the Cataclysm, and is heir to the culture of the Crystal Empire in exactly the same sort of way that Western Christendom was to the Roman Empire.

This is generally not true in reality as regards technology. The world of the European Dark Ages, while economically-impoverished due to the breakdown of large-scale political adminstration and hence the frequency of raids, invasions and brigandage, was technologically more advanced not only than the world of the Classical Dark Ages (10th century BCE Greece and Anatolia) but even than the world of the Late Roman Empire, in all respects other than infrastructure and mass production.

This was Robert E. Howard's assumption in creating his Hyborean Age world, and it was also the general assumption of Clark Ashton Smith and H. P. Lovecraft in creating the larger world of the Cthulhu Mythos in which it was embedded. Since the Cthulhu Mythos is part of the backstory of the Shadow Wars Story Verse, this is partly true in the SWSV instead -- though it's only part of the story of the high destiny of Ponykind. This is also the optimistic way to view the patterns of change in Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion Multiverse -- the pessimistic way is Random Change.

D. Eternal Stasis - This is the lazy approach to writing fantasy. Simply assume that there is no change, because thinking about change means that world-building must be longitudinal -- in other words, that the technology and culture of a particular people may change over time. A lot of Extruded Fantasy Product assumes Eternal Stasis -- take a character from one age, plunk him down in another age, and he would find merely a change of the roster of individuals who happen to be alive at any particular time.

The great problem with Eternal Stasis is that it means that there is no larger story beyond the characters. There is merely The Way Things Are, which Villains occasionally rise up to menace (through threatening to cause destructive Change) and Heroes who rise up to stop the Villains from wreaking this harm. This literally means that all there is or can be is fighting and relaxing; there is no possibility of large-scale constructive achievement. I personally find this concept incredibly depressing and nihilistic, only marginally superior to Regressive Change.

Most lesser Night Shadows act as if they believe Eternal Stasis to be true, because they're neither smart nor brave enough to face up to the full nihilistic implications of their civilization's larger world view. They act as the disruptive Villains only from the point of view of their prey: from their own point of view, they are merely ensuring a steady supply of energy so that they may maintain their Shadowverse at its eternal hell of false-entropic maximum. This is also why they become so terribly demoralized in the Poniternity, when the Ponies begin to wrest control of the Shadowverse itself from their grasp.

E. Random Change - Things rise or fall randomly, in no particular pattern. This is an unpopular worldview because it allows for no pattern of history at all. This is the pessimistic version of Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion Multiverse; it's also how his Lords of Chaos view reality. There is of course one entity in the Show who sees things like this -- Discord, who is modeled after a Michael Moorcock style Lord of Chaos. In the Shadow Wars Story Verse, Discord recovers his sanity in part because he is converted to a more Progressive concept of life spreading throughout the Multiverse and diversifying into chaotic complexity, which is not coincidentally the view of his mate Fluttershy.

Comments ( 7 )

Tolkien would be proud.

Heh. Extruded Fantasy Product. Similar to non-dairy imitation cheese substance. Technically edible, but why would you want any if there's anything better?

An excellent rundown of the ways one can think beyond a single generation.

Would he? Jordan uses the polar opposite model of historical change. Still, at least both of them bother to think about the long view, which is more than can be said for some writers.


Generally, stories set in some amalgam of a world like Middle-Earth and/or the Hyborian Age (though that one is slowly fading from casual fannish awareness) and Dungeons and Dragons, in which the culture is usually inexplicably like a cross between the early 21st-century Anglosphere and the Theme Park Renaissance Faire version of the European Late Middle Ages to Baroque Era, but with no guns. Usually marked by a combination of Political Correctness and Ultra-Violence that is a wonder to behold. The setting usually makes zero sense on analysis, because it was not so much crafted as applied from a tube.

To be precise, I use an overall Progressive Future with Rise and Fall Historical Cycles embedded within it, so that each cycle tends to start off at a much higher level than its predecessor. This is both because it's what I observe in real history, and because it makes for good story drama.

Aha! Finally, someone who acknowledges the great advances in metallurgy during the Medieval period!


Metallurgy, industrial chemistry (including soap production), milling, mechanics (especially in the High to Late Middle Ages when education began to spread and engineers were inspired by awareness of Classical techniques). The Late Roman Empire actually impeded the practical applications of technology, largely for fear that any change would crash their economy. There were parts of Europe in which the fall of the Roman Empire came as an intellectual liberation.

I remember reading Olaf Stapledon's "Last and First Men", and I noticed his future human history portrayed in that story, and other ones in its sequel "Star Maker" also fits type A and C; while civilizations could fall after the climax of a spectacular rise, history is still one of progress, with each succeeding civilization rising to greater heights than the one from the previous cycle. Of course, they fall harder with each succession as well.

Of course, Stapledon's future history ultimately ended in the destruction of all civilizations and life in both stories; the human one in "Last and First Men" when the Sun finally died two billion years into the future, and the alien ones in "Star Maker" when the universe underwent heat-death and the Star Maker starts over. So there is a bit of type B in it...

Tolkien appears to have been a product of two forces: being an Anglo-Catholic (and thus getting treated like dirt) and getting shipped off to Belgium to prove his loyalty to King and Country by getting his brains blasted out for Britain. He was on the losing side of religion and technological progress and decided he wanted no part of the world we live in.

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