All right, I’ve accumulated a few more exceptional fics, so here’s a full review:
The Powers of Harmony (ongoing)
Synopsis: Half the power of the Elements of Harmony is transferred to the Bearers during the battle against Nightmare Moon. Celestia discovers this, but withholds the information. The Mane Six continue their lives, unawares. Two months later, Celestia sends thirteen members of the Royal Guard to monitor the Bearers as they manifest and develop their new abilities. However, the members of the Guard aren’t what they seem, for they carry a secret of their own.
Review: I’ve read relatively few alternate-universe fics; most of the time, I prefer to stick to the world as shown in the cartoon, with characters and events conforming to their canon equivalents. This one begins just after the events shown in the 2-part pilot of the show, and quickly takes things in another direction entirely. Specifically, it answers the question, “If the individual Elements of Harmony (as opposed to the Elements all together) conferred powers, what would those powers be?”. We’ve seen multiple times in the show that once the Mane 6 put on their jewelry and get in formation, they produce an Orbital Friendship Cannon, but wouldn’t it be interesting if the Elements were more than just two-dimensional plot device trotted out a couple of times a season to take down the latest Big Bad(tm)?
…if this fic has anything to say about it, the answer is “Yes, yes it would”. What really drew me to The Powers of Harmony was the character work — the fic applies a magnifying glass to each of the Mane 6, developing their individual characters as they discover their newfound powers. There are some really neat nuances that the world-building lends to the characters; the nature and mechanics of magic in Equestria, for instance, is much better defined: Unicorns have a static “pool” of magic that only regenerates while sleeping, and attempting to cast spells with an empty pool is hazardous to the caster’s health. Twilight was born with an abnormally-large pool and has had to function her entire life with artificial limiters in place to prevent a repeat of the wild-magic incident that caused her cutie mark to appear, while Rarity has been forced to become an expert on spell efficiency and careful metering of power, as her chronic insomnia means she’s constantly operating in or near the danger zone.
After a few hiccups early on caused by an overabundance of named characters (13 OCs who all enter the story simultaneously), the story flows extremely smoothly and becomes significantly hard to put down. I especially liked the scenes that occurred whenever one of the Mane 6 unconsciously used one of their developing powers — the author repeatedly pulled off a fascinating literary effect analogous to the filmmaking technique of subtly desaturating the world around the camera’s focus, then having it snap back once the scene was over. Recent chapters have started to move the plot forwards at an ever-increasing pace, and I look forward to seeing where this one goes.
Arrow 18 Mission Logs: Lone Ranger (ongoing)
Synopsis: The star system Omega Centauri was just another oddity on a map to scientists in the not too distant future. However when they found the star was orbiting an earth-sized, earth-like planet instead of a black hole as its motion had suggested, a mission was scrambled to investigate this most unusual of celestial behaviors. Hamstrung by politics, and nearly crippled before it began, the ‘Lone Ranger’ mission was reduced to just one crew member and left to his own devices. These are the logs of Arrow 18 and its lone commander.
Review: All right, now THIS is how you do Human in Equestria! Actual first-contact HiE fics are so hard to find, and this is the one I’ve found that does it best. This story covers the journal entries of a man in an FTL-enabled sci-fi future who is sent to investigate the bizarre astronomical phenomenon detected in a remote corner of the galaxy, which (of course) turns out to be the result of the magic celestial interference portrayed in the show.
What follows is a thoroughly enjoyable romp through a first-contact scenario, as seen from both sides (with the supplementary “Sparkle’s Notes” side-story located here). Honestly, it reminds me of some of the fun bits from the Band webcomic — no, alien entities aren’t going to suddenly speak your language, but any smart sentient being should recognize math as a common starting point for communication. Twilight makes an excellent foil, obsessively learning as much as she can about human culture and technology while the protagonist investigates the seemingly-physics-defying magic that the ponies possess and compares their culture to his own. Overall, it’s a refreshing take on an overused genre, with surprisingly few handwaves and a lot of fun critical thinking.
Harmony Theory (ongoing)
Synopsis: Rainbow Dash awakens one thousand years in the future, with no idea of how or why she came to be there. She doesn’t know the language, the geography, or any of the rules of this new time. She must make friends and allies, and find out why she has been sent to the future so that she may find her way back.
Review: World-building is where this shines. A character we’re familiar with is propelled into a world set hundreds of years after an unspecified cataclysmic event which culminated in the disappearance of the Princesses and the devolution of Equestria into two competing kingdoms separated by a magically-scarred no-pony’s land. Genetic drift has changed how cutie marks work and weakened the race’s inherent magical abilities over the centuries, and the arrival of a certain rainbow-maned pegasus from the distant past with Superman-like abilities has upset the delicate balance that the powers that be have been maintaining. Powerful figures on both sides of the divide can’t wait to get their hands on her, and all Dash really wants is to figure out what went so very, very wrong and get back to her own time so she can prevent it.
As if the fascinating setting weren’t enough, the world of the distant future is populated with interesting, relatable characters. Heroes and villains alike have discernable motivations, and even incidental characters often turn out to be surprisingly deep. Vaguely-sympathetic point-of-view characters working both for and against the protagonists ensure that no faction ever seems like a cardboard cutout. I’ll definitely be following everything this author puts out, as the other short story they wrote (The Archer and The Smith) shares similar spellbinding properties.