• Member Since 14th Feb, 2012
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horizon


Not a changeling.


T

Troubled. Disturbed. Stabbed. Entombed.

Sometimes, when you're playing a word game with a magical princess from another world, the words you choose aren't just words.


This is a brief "Humanized Pony Visits Earth" tale, based on a minific I wrote for (but was unable to submit to) the July 2017 "TBD" Writeoff.

Rated "Recommended" by Titanium Dragon! "While the Pony On Earth thing might put some people off, here I felt like it made excellent use of the idea … This is a short and punchy piece, and I think a lot of folks will find it worth their while."

Reviewed by Chris! "It's refreshing to read a story with a clear, explicit moral that nevertheless doesn't beat you over the head."

Thanks to Morning Sun for prereading/copy-editing changes, and to Titanium Dragon for the story description.

Chapters (1)
Comments ( 77 )

First comment reserved for author's notes.


This is, ultimately, a story about caring, and I'd like to echo again what I said in the story note above. Please take a moment to make the world a better place, if not every day, then at least today.

The game described in the story is one I've played in cars since childhood. I'm sure there are other sets of house rules for the license plate game out there, but this is the one I know:

Most (non-custom) American license plates have three letters on them, along with several numbers. Take those three letters from a passing plate and come up with words that contain them in order. (Four-letter minimum: If those letters spell out a word, you can't use it.) You can name as many words as you want, and get points in four different categories:

  • First - The person who says the first legitimate answer.
  • Shortest - Make a legitimate word with the fewest letters.
  • Longest - Make a legitimate word with the most letters. (Before you play, decide among your car group whether hyphenated and compound words will count.)
  • Style - The car collectively agrees on which word was most clever, cool, funny, or unintuitive. (Common winners: Words with the three letters widely scattered, especially if it doesn't start with a prompt letter; words that serve as commentary on existing conversation; bizarre or humorous words.)

Break ties by which word was said earliest. End rounds when someone wants a new set of letters (typically when everyone's found at least one word, or given up, and nobody's coming up with new ones any more).

It's surprisingly addictive. Last month, my friend and I passed an "MXC" and both drew a blank; half an hour of dedicated puzzling later, I finally managed to come up with a bullshit technical-term compound word just so we'd have one answer for it. This story's first round is a (slightly simpler) homage to that.

Well, at least this one hurt in a more general sense rather than the straight-into-the-weak-spot way. It's a good kind of hurt, I think.

Noc
Noc #3 · July 31st · · ·

Ah, man. I wish this were five times longer, but at the same time, its length feels perfect for the story it tells.

Bravo, and thank you.

Also, it’s important to remember that for most of us (well, speaking for myself, anyway), the thicker skin we develop as we age tends to go one way – minor to moderate barbs and unpleasantness don’t affect us, but even the most trivial good things (cute puppy pictures!) can make us smile and giggle like idiots. Some take numbness too far for any number of reasons, but it’s important to try and be disaffected towards only the bad, not the good.

Of course, I’m talking here about the more directed and deliberate kind of unpleasantness that needs to be ignored (like jerks on the Internet, etc.), not unpleasant realities that are worth feeling and caring about (such as the in-story example of homeless people).

Given more time to think about it:

I think part of the problem is that, like in so many situations, we're just not psychologically equipped to care for this many people. In the age of the Internet you can't throw a rock without seeing someone in need. There is much more suffering being delivered to our direct, immediate attention than evolution has prepared us to cope with. So the moment your finger is hovering over the donate button, you start thinking "why this one instead of the thousand others you literally passed up in the past week?" Then you get the slipping sensation of being bled dry; giving even a dollar to every single GoFundMe in existence will break the average human. So you turn away and just... don't.

Maybe it's different in Equestria. Maybe the lack of mass media means that you can give healthily to the local Scootaloo storage facility orphanage and that's all you even know about. You never have to turn off.

Noc
Noc #5 · July 31st · · ·

8335760

I think part of the problem is that, like in so many situations, we're just not psychologically equipped to care for this many people.

Very good point. This actually has a name – Dunbar’s Number, also known (as coined by Cracked.com) as the Monkeysphere.

Also: “local Scootaloo storage facility orphanage” – That was awful and I love it.

RBDash47
Site Blogger

On a meta level, I love how you used the prompt.

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I was going to invoke the Monkeysphere. Equestria doesn't -- for the most part -- have instant communication with its entire world; the average pony isn't going to be aware of the average tragedy, certainly not to the point where they're ground down into a numb nub by them all.

Of course, Twilight might have a point too; it's not like human civilization has ever had a Princess of Friendship to solve interpersonal issues on any scale. The existence of such a role would seem to speak to intrinsic differences in ponykind and humankind.

Oh my gosh. I got it into my head for some reason that the narrator was Sunset Shimmer. I was so confused when she started calling Sunset Jeff

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I vote that we make "Jeff" SunShim's inexplicable fandom nickname.

Well, this was an interesting read before 5am. Will have to read it again when I get home to give a better opinion.

MXC

MeXiCo?

If this Twilight listens to OK Computer she's going to flip.

Otherwise, neat little story that I enjoyed. The human was interesting and I enjoyed the cultural differences as they played their game and how the moral didn't feel forced. I really hope to see more from you in the future!

8335760
That's why we need socialism to ameliorate the vast amounts of suffering on this world and also slow down global warming.

Well. That was enjoyably painful. A devastating look at the modern human condition through more innocent eyes, along with the whisper of hope that should come with any Pandora's box. Thank you for it.

Alondro #15 · July 31st · · 1 ·

"And has anyone ever been hurt in the Everfree? Killed in the Everfree?" I asked.

"Well, some ponies get gobbled up by the monsters every now and then," Twilight noted. "But hey, the monsters need to eat too! And the herd must be thinned... FOR THE GREATER GOOD..." :pinkiecrazy:

This was really well written. You obviously have a vocabulary rivaling that of Skywriter, and you did a great job of using show not tell the illustrate that Twilight is really fucking smart.

I struggle with this a lot too, just the sheer amount of suffering in the world. It's really depressing and with Facebook and social media we learn about more of it than ever. I just try to keep carrying on and encouraging my friends and comrades to keep carrying on too. In time, I truly do believe we will make the world a better place. Unfortunately there's gonna be a lot of suffering in that process too.

I don't read pony stories as much as I should anymore, but this reminded me of the "Twilight's Landing" by Merlos the Mad.

Melancholy, but to be expected. And much the same sort of haunting evocation that pinpoints why you are consistently one of the best around here, horizon!

8335077

Last month, my friend and I passed an "MXC" and both drew a blank; half an hour of dedicated puzzling later, I finally managed to come up with a bullshit technical-term compound word just so we'd have one answer for it.

Mexican?

--Sweetie Belle

Hm, different...

I think I like it.

All through this, I was thinking of two famous quotations--

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
--Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

"It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness."
--Confucious

I wish I could say something original, but who am I to try to improve on those guys' words?

You've always had a knack for fish-out-of-water stories, and as I can never get enough of them, I'm quite pleased by this new development in frequent publication. Keep 'em coming!

ouch
Hope she gets back
Equestria does come across as this coddled paradise
And damn the words

This story is easily one of the best I have ever read. I would say I hoped to see more from this, but to be honest, I think that this is better on its own. It provides insight on the way humanity works in contrast to life in Equestria. This story opened my eyes, and my heart.

I reviewed this story as part of Read It Now Reviews #109.

My review can be found here.

Comment posted by PhysicsGamer deleted July 31st
Comment posted by PhysicsGamer deleted July 31st
Comment posted by PhysicsGamer deleted July 31st

The sad thing is that I care about myself and the preservation of knowledge, I honestly don't care about things that don't hinder me or the pursuit of knowledge. I try to care a lot of times, but I fail to, because it doesn't concern me. I do care about individuals that I know well.

Amazing... that's all I can say about this one.

The beginning of this story made me expect to hate it – which I didn’t, I came away liking it. Let me point out what bothered me.

"I don't think I'm going to get anything better than 'neurotoxic'," I admitted, taking a hand off the wheel for a shrug. "It's really hard to find words with the letters 'NXC' in order."

&

I thumbed toward the receding car, glad I'd taught her the license-plate word game I'd played since childhood. "

This is such a BS way to do exposition. The first part because you want me to buy that he randomly explained how the game works in this line, and the second one, well, same reason. This one is arguably not as bad because it’s monologue, but it’s still implied that he’s thinking about it right now.

Just make a paragraph explaining the game. it’s written fiction, not screenplay. You have a narrator. No need to cram it into dialogue. It’s way more honest that way and doesn’t break immersion.

... and since I actually liked the story overall, let me also say something positive

tell-a-vision

That was super clever and subtle and great and I loved it.

Now unrelated. Being an effective altruist, I feel obligated to say this:

If your goal is to feel good, then I can’t tell you what to do.

But if you want to actually improve the world, then it very much does matter what you do. Donating 200$ to the Against Malaria Foundation and saying something nice to a sad person are not equal in how much they improve the world. One has ten thousand times as much effect as the other.

The actual, optimal way for normal people to do good is to donate – after doing proper research where to donate (relevant), because effectiveness can still vary by a pretty large factor across different charities.

8336595
Thanks for speaking up. Somehow you managed to quadruple-post, though, so I deleted three of your four identical comments. :twilightsheepish:

I think it may also have to do with the society that Princess Celestia cultivated. Having someone like her shaping a culture for millennia has probably had some positive effects.

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Wow, I'm not sure how I managed that.

I would've said: "You're right Twilight, people just don't care. Friends never care, families don't care, even the leaders of the world have better things to do from time to time; but I wont stop trying to care, because somebody has to. If it weren't for that we would've destroyed ourselves years and years ago."

Seriously though, great story

Nice, pretty good one-shot.

Twilight... :fluttercry:

Anyways, Equestria-ed and princess-ed are totally real words. The first happens in HiE fics and the second happened at the end of Season 3.

"And has anyone ever been hurt in the Everfree? Killed in the Everfree?"

Yeah, to me this whole exchange, while necessary, actually undercut the message of the story. Twilight's flat denial that the Everfree was a blind spot came across just like that - as denial, not some mystical psychological difference between pony and human. And then you remember that Equestria has, canonically, such terrors as:
1) Extreme shunning of other races (Zecora)
2) Arguable slavery (the sheep in Applejack's pens can talk)
3) Horrors that make the Everfree Forest look like the newbie zone in an MMO - Tirek, Changelings, all manner of pony-eating monsters, etc.

The intended message of this fic is admirable and one that I can get behind, but I think the result would have been 10 times stronger if Twilight, instead of desperately clinging to the illusion of moral high ground, had realized that ponies aren't perfect paragons of goody-goodness either, and both characters resolved to improve their own moral blind spots.

8337071

Twilight bit her lip. "… It's not a blind spot."

This is doubt. Also, desperation.

The panic receded into uneasiness when Twilight slowly nodded. She let out a long breath, and her shoulders sagged, and she leaned against the window, staring out at the distant mountains.

This is resignation.

I'm... honestly not sure where you got the idea that she stopped at flat denial. Their little "debate" ended exactly the way you wished; she just didn't have the emotional wherewithal to deal with it properly at the time. In the face of their world image coming crashing down, no one would.

8337168
But in spite of seeming to agree she spends the rest of the fic acting like Equestria is all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows. I took that more as "I don't wanna talk about it" than any kind of resolve to do better.

This fic wants to call humanity out on not doing better, but having the pony act like magical horses don't have the same problem, regardless of what she nods at, undercuts that message.

Please don't get me wrong, I still loved this, its just that the moral fell flat when it could have been excellent.

Eh, survival is selfish, Twilight. I know it's not the answer most people want to hear, but genetics predispose us to taking care of ourselves and our immediate family than that of strangers. Those moral blind spots are there to protect us. It's not what the author intended, I think, but Twilight's reaction to discovering her own moral blind spots is pretty accurate to how most people would react when confronted with the evils of the world and what we can and can't do about them. It's depressing. Like Jeff, we distract ourselves with humor and shiny objects and games. The world bleeds through these things, but for the most part, they go unnoticed until an outside perspective challenges them.

I for one don't particularly blame anyone or look down on them if they ignore the injustices of the world and focus on their own survival instead. After all, in order for something to be gained, it must be taken from somewhere else. The equation must be balanced and the overall value of it remains the same regardless of how you shuffle the variables around. A bit cynical and perhaps nihilistic, but hey, I sleep well at night.

Take the topic of organ donation, for example. If I signed up to become an organ donor today and committed suicide tomorrow, my body could save up to eight lives and improve the lives of fifty people. Of course, by committing suicide, I would be hurting those closest to me and removing any possibility of future good deeds I could contribute to the world. So which is more selfish? Ask any Equestrian pony this and you're liable to break them in the same way A.I. break when you hit them with a paradox. It's something they just don't think about. Even if you can minimize the selfishness, there's no way to completely eliminate it. An argument can be made for both sides, such as anything else in a world full of gray areas.

In short, moral blind spots are hardwired into us. You can try to improve them if you want, but you can't really play the "holier than thou" card that Twilight tried to play and pretend you don't have any. Have fun rationalizing.

I wonder whose license plate that is...

Came for the license plate games, stayed for the philosophical feels. Well done, especially with that last word.

For the game, try the letters from my Mom's old plate: JAX
(She had to get new one when the number part had faded too much, and she wasn't going to pay for a vanity plate to keep what she had, she to the state changing the layout of the standard plates)

Hell, I'll cheerfully break it down to critter classification. Herbivorous herd animal vs omnivorous predatory social primate.

8338026

For the game, try the letters from my Mom's old plate: JAX

Jadzia Dax? I suppose it has to be one word. Ajax?

--Sweetie Belle

This story was a lot heavier than I expected going into it, but I love the thought that went into its message. The juxtaposition of cultures is in itself a bit numbing and surprising.

That word game sounds quite fun. Did you think of all the words yourself, or were you able to look them up somehow?

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Jambeaux, clearly. :raritywink:

D&D to the rescue!

While I still think these uneventful, talky stories are a bit overrated (give me a minute, I'm trying to come around), I did enjoy this one. Twi's characterization is spot on, and I like how the word game created the perfect device to let her intellect shine. It was fun and felt completely natural.

My only gripe is with the bit about the Everfree Forest, because I'm not sure how leaving nature alone counts as a moral blindspot, or has anything to do with morality at all. The human mentions "dangerous predators" and something about storms, but, again, what does that have to do with morality? Yeah, someone could wander into the forest and get eaten by a manticore, but the manticores need to eat too, don't they? In fact, wouldn't "taming" them present the greater potential for immortality (removing them from their natural habitat, domesticating them, ect).

The story really hits home for me, though, because it sums up the reason why I have so much trouble writing MLP fanfiction, and why I left this site for so long. Equestria is just too nice. The issues I want to explore in my fiction - racism, sexism, poverty, discrimination, and the kinds of flaws that arise from within a society, not from without - just plain don't exist in Equestria.

Just a few months ago, I started writing a story about Vinyl Scratch that involved hip hop - probably my all time favorite art form, and the one that has most impacted my life. But I had to stop halfway through because I realized there is no way hip hop could exist in Equestria; it was born out of hardships that don't exist there.

Or, at least, the version of hip hop that I love can't exist in Equestria. It would be different. Not necessarily any worse, but ultimately not what I wanted to write about.

So, yeah, this story touched me a lot. Thanks for that.

EDIT: One more thing: I did think Twi's reaction to whole conversation was a bit overblown and melodramatic. She came off as utterly devistated here, but I think having her just get upset (even really, really upset), would've worked fine.

There's only so much care we're equipped to have, and people have driven themselves to madness agonizing over the fates of the masses.

We're just people. We care about the people closest to us, and the rest have to handle their own. That's normal, that's natural, that's healthy. It's not about morality.

This was a beautiful story. 'Nuff said

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