Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Ponyfic Roundup 139: Spotlight on Ptolemy

The "favourite episodes ever" countdown that Eunos the Fool is running on UK of Equestria has thrown up its first big shock: "Party of One" has come in 60th. That's right: sixtieth. Admittedly only ten people (including me) submitted their top 20s... but only one (not me) voted for that episode. It just missed the cut for my personal top 20, but I was confidently expecting it to make the overall top 30.

Read it Later story count: 488 (+4)

Today's story was the longest-standing fic on my RiL list – it had languished there for three years. This was largely because the author advertised in 2013 that a "remastered version" was coming soon. As that still hasn't happened, though, I think I've waited long enough. These, then, are my thoughts on what I could read at the time of review. A couple of Wellspring's later works have been very favourably reviewed elsewhere, so I was hoping for a good time with this fic.

Post-review note: I have only now noticed that English is Wellspring's third language. I'll let my review stand, but it's only fair that I mention the fact now.

Ptolemy by Wellspring
Twilight, Pinkie Pie [sort of], Other and Mane Six
Dark/Tragedy; 63k words; Sep 2012; Teen
Twilight Sparkle resorts to Black Magic in an attempt to bring back Surprise.
Surprise was dead, to begin with. She still is. She was also part of the Mane Six instead of Pinkie Pie (so this is in fact unmarked [Alternate Universe]), and reading this story we find early on that Twilight killed her – though her full motivation takes a while to become apparent. Now Twi is desperate to bring Surprise back. Note that this was written before dark magic was canon, so don't expect any reference to that. Even Cadance only gets a very brief mention. There's serious violence, though the gore is kept to strong [Teen] levels. Characterisation is a real problem – though the story's resolution gives a bit of an out. The writing is iffy, with lots of tense shifting and "canary pegasus" stuff. As this story stands, it's a moderate two. Fixing the technical issues would make it a higher two, but I just don't like the whole premise so that's probably its limit for me. ★★

If you'd like to read some more detailed thoughts, with spoilers, then please follow me past the break.

I had absolutely no idea what to expect from Ptolemy, and judging by the BMRL nobody else seems to have reviewed it. The 61,000-word single chapter (plus epilogue) format put me off a little at first, but that ceased to bother me after a bit. What did bother me was that I really couldn't credit what was going on, even from a 2012-fandom perspective. Thinking about it now, I still can't; this Twilight is so unlike "our" Twilight that she needs better writing than this to suspend disbelief.

I do like the way that the absence of Pinkie is taken as read – as indeed it should be in an [AU] like this. Thankfully, the author only inflicts a bare minimum of meta and fourth-wall breaking on us, even though we eventually discover that Pinkie is the reborn (or rather, recreated) Surprise transferred to "our" Equestria after Twilight has destroyed most of the original world. If nothing else, I suppose it gives us another possible source of the "wasteland" world in the Season Five finale!

So, let's talk about Twilight's descent into madness and evil. This is one of the characterisation problems I mentioned: I just can't believe that the rest of the Mane Six, not to mention Spike, Celestia and Luna, wouldn't have tried much, much harder to snap Twi out of it. Luna in particular, given her own tragic history (which admittedly we knew less about in 2012), could have played a more substantial role. It doesn't ring true, and "Oh, it was all in a different dimension" doesn't fix that.

Twilight is said to be desperate to "save ponies" (and especially to bring back Surprise) by using Black Magic, which is explained as being able, unlike normal magic, to create matter out of nothing – and also to destroy it. I'm not buying that she'd start down this road at least in part because she was humiliated at an academic conference; that's not the Twilight way. Still, at least that's not as bad as when she cockatrices Spike, or snaps off Rarity's horn before murdering her.

Oddly, though, as the story descends into grimdark territory it also becomes more interesting. If you can credit Celestia sentencing Twi to death – by petrification! – then the stuff surrounding it, in particular Rainbow Dash rescuing her with a very clever use of a failed rainboom, becomes genuinely gripping stuff. Not pleasant, though: just before Twilight decides to rename herself Ptolemy (it's a rather weak "centre of the universe" reference) she destroys Ponyville and Cloudsdale, killing thousands. Oh, and murders Fluttershy by stabbing her with Rarity's severed horn. Fab.

Although the stuff about Celestia sacrificing herself to save the world (because the Moon's going to hit it) is a bit clich├ęd and silly, it mostly works in context. Unfortunately, there's a truly weird bit around here, involving the Smile Song, written out almost in full but with Surprise's name substituted for Pinkie's. It really, really doesn't work – though it's not quite as bad as the bit in the otherwise decent epilogue where Pinkie (as she now is) sings the show theme...

One of the best uses of actual show canon is reserved for almost the end, when the new Pinkie reveals why she really leapt up in shock when Twilight said hello in the very first episode. There's also some good stuff late on with the Pie family – it's old-fandom stuff with Inkie, Blinkie and Clyde, but the important character is Granny Pie, and that bit's quite clever. On the downside, I find it hard believing that even Pinkie can forgive Twi for becoming a genocidal monster, as she in fact does.

You've probably gathered that I was rather disappointed by Ptolemy. While it has some good ideas, and in several cases some fascinating ones, it mostly doesn't tie them together very well and asks the reader to stretch just that bit too far. Even for a 2012 fic, this could have been a good deal more. I doubt we'll ever see the "remastered" version, so this is the one I have to judge – and I'm afraid I find it fairly hard to recommend it unless you're really into Twilight going psycho for vaguely scientific reasons.

Next time on Ponyfic Roundup: Best Filly Edition!


  1. >61,000 word single chapter

    u wot m8

    That's one off the RIL! :B

    1. And one on to mine, as while checking the BMRL I noticed that another of Wellspring's stories is in the RCL. I want to do another RCL edition of PR fairly soon, so I might look at that then. :)