Review: 'Bronies: For the Love of Ponies', edited by L. Lambert Lawson
The title and subtitle, Bronies: For the Love of Ponies suggests that this is an anthology of stories set in the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic world. Not exactly. Oh, there’s no question that Hasbro’s mega-popular MLP:FIM October 2010 TV cartoon series is the inspiration for this anthology. But these fifteen stories go beyond what might be expected of your typical Brony fan-fiction.
“This anthology, then,” says Kij Johnson at the end of her Foreword, “is a melting pot for all these things. Bronies. Boys and ponies. Girls and ponies. Girls and bronies. Boys and horses. Humans and alien things remarkably like horses but not quite. Pubescent crushes on things that are not other pubescents. Adult crushes on intellectual properties. And so forth. Maybe even girls and their horses.” (p. 9)
In “Warden of the Valley” by Blaise Torrance, “the entity” – apparently a young human girl named Sophie – becomes the guardian of a small valley of flying unicorn ponies with names like Kind Snowdrop and Merry Tulip. Sophie is entrusted by the Goddess From The Stars with keeping up the high Wall that keeps the monsters out of the Valley of the Unicorns. But all is not as sweetness and light as it appears.
In “Ponies” by Kij Johnson, which won the SFWA’s Nebula Award in 2010, Barbara must decide whether she wants to become one of TheOtherGirls enough to give up two of her Pony Sunny’s traits of her wings, her horn, or her voice. Adolescent girls can be cruel, and so can their Ponies.
“The Extinctionists” by Rance D. Denton is hard-core s-f about two interstellar mercenary killers, Hyde and Argyle, who specialize in protecting scientists exploring alien worlds by killing all the native monsters that attack the scientists. On one world the native animal looks like Black Beauty. What’s an extinctionist to do?
“The Girl Beneath the House” by Gillian Daniels is about Sara, a pony who wants her own girl. All the girls are dead, poisoned by the mare Miss Melody. Is Moonbeam a new girl, or the ghost of one of the old ones?
In “My Way is The Way of the Pony” by Tod McCoy, Earth is invaded by interstellar aliens who want to kill all humans, but the men don’t want to fight because they are all being bronies and adopting names like Sparklehorse (sorry; that’s what Spencer insists on calling his daughter Sylvia). After all, even with aliens killing people right and left, The Way of the Pony is peace and love and understanding.
“Thoughts on Early Spring” by Michael H. Payne is about August, a wheelchair-bound paraplegic at Chrysalis House convalescent center whose only enjoyment is watching MLP:FIM on TV, until he learns that he can talk to and understand El Brujo (a.k.a. Spooky, the center’s new therapy cat) and El Jefe, the leader of a murder of crows outside in the garden. Together, the animals give August a richer life than just watching cartoon ponies on TV.
“Her Little Pony” by Ted Wilson is set after an apocalypse has destroyed civilization and turned almost all humanity into mindless, flesh-eating ghouls. The nameless narrator watches in horror as a beautiful pony goes trustingly to what had once been a little girl.
“Larry the Magic Goddamn Talking Pony” by Pete Butler is narrated by a nameless hippie writer who is a pretty good writer but has no originality. He gets a magic talking pony who is better at creating original ideas at the State Fair, pretends Larry is a pet, and makes a living turning Larry’s ideas into stories, although he is not sure keeping a pet pony is worth getting a reputation as the neighborhood weirdo.
Become an object of local curiosity as a writer who for some weird reason has a goddamn pony. Become immensely popular with the neighbor kids, because you have a goddamn pony. Become a pariah because seriously, you leave one pot brownie where those greedy little bastards can filch it … (p. 100)
The narrator compares Larry to Michigan J. Frog because he won’t talk when anyone else is around; but hasn’t the narrator ever heard of Mr. Ed? So this is the status quo when one day the narrator happens to watch a TV cartoon for little girls about magical unicorns, and Larry goes apeshit.
TWINKLY DAGGERHORN SHITS ON YOUR IDEAS OF GOOD AND EVIL! […] TWINKLY DAGGERHORN! LORD OF THE UNICORN ASSASSINS! ALL HAIL TWINKLY, IMPALER OF THE GODS THEMSELVES! (p. 104)
Larry is off and galloping, the narrator is frantically scribbling notes, and soon Book 3 of The Last Unicorn Assassin is eleven weeks on the best-seller list, and optioned by Hollywood, with Samuel J. Jackson to be Twinkly’s voice. Take that, sweetness & niceness!
“Long in the Tooth” by Osgood Vance puts Pete, a neophyte prospector, and his surly pack horse Scrimshaw alone in the desert for a month. As Scrimshaw grows more and more unruly and undeniably carnivorous, Pete remembers an older prospector’s stories about the Indian legends of feral horses, wendigos, that would stomp you into a shapeless mash that they could eat ...
In “The Button at the Base of His Spine” by Robert Bagnell, Jeff’s pony is really an ultrarealistic cyberdroid. That’s okay, because Jeff is an android himself.
“A Brony Born” by Kim Krodel is set in a magical world, but a dark one where to be identified as a Brony is to get lynched. When the nameless bartender narrator serves a Brony instead of denouncing him, but the bar’s other patrons figure it out and form a mob to hang him, the bartender has to decide whether to get involved or not. The rainbow herd of magical unicorns led by Nuclear Star Cluster gallop to the rescue, but too late. Or did they and the Brony mean it to be that way?
In “The Return of Old Warpaint” by Nathaniel Williams, old man Gus is the only original inhabitant left in a neighborhood gone to ruin, with mostly empty houses and a next-door neighbor running some illegal drug sales openly out of his home. Gus is resigned to a live-and-let-live existence, until his imaginary childhood horse, Paint, returns to remind him of their boyhood ideals of the lone sheriff and his faithful steed bringing law & order to the Wild West. What can Old Gus and an equally decrepit Paint do today?
“The Prognostiquestrian” by Jamie Lackey is Cap (Thunder Cap), a talking pony in the Kiddy Corral who tells Max, a TV weatherman, that he can forecast the weather infallibly and will do so for Max if Max will help him escape the endless round of the Kiddy Corral. Max can’t hide a pony where he lives, so he enlists his single-mother girlfriend’s daughter to help him at their larger home. Max, Minnie, and Cap are happy until it becomes obvious that Max's girlfriend, Minnie’s mother is really sick. Cap is magical, so can he save Emily? Can Max ignore any chance to save Emily, no matter if Cap assures him that it is doomed to fail and he will doubtlessly die himself?
“How Bacon Saved the Pony Express” by Kristy Buzbee is a Western. William and Jim are young Pony Express riders who are sure that they can get through despite the Paiutes being on the warpath. They guess wrong and are captured. William can understand the horse talk of his & Jim’s mounts and the Paiutes’ horses. William trusts his horse Silver’s unusual advice to cook bacon, and their bacon is saved.
“Nellibeth” by Nathan McKnight, the final story in the anthology, is both the longest and the only one about a normal, non-magical horse. In fact Nelibeth, an old mare, is barely a supporting character. In the slightly far future, “Uncle Gene”, the elderly owner of a livestock farm in New York state, is relying on his young nephew MacElray Dresch to advise him whether to sell out to Nutrielle LLC, a large corporation engaged in nutritional tissue experimentation. Mac is wooed in more ways than one by Poula Santiban, Nutrielle’s charismatic “Nutritional Tissue Consultant”; a combination of a head project scientist and the company’s leading recruiter of research staff.
Poula both wants to add Unk’s farm to Nutrielle’s holdings, and to add Mac to the new class of promising trainees. She gets close enough to Mac to show him some of her private research into experimental tissue growth, which goes beyond developing new edible meats into creating new life forms. Mac has been looking forward to developing new foods for a hungry world, but playing god is something else again. Are you wondering where Nellibeth comes into this story? Don’t worry; she plays a very small but very important part. “Nellibeth” arguably does not belong with the fourteen prior stories, but it is a very good science fiction story and I thank Bronies for making it available to us.
So. Fifteen stories. Thirteen are arguably fantasies ranging from pure Magical Cute to Monster/Horror. Two are sort-of Westerns. Two, “The Button at the Base of His Spine” and “Nellibeth”, are science fiction. Slightly less than half are what might be called hard-core Brony stories; a few have unarguably magical talking ponies but without any hint of Bronydom. Anthropomorphically, Bronies: For the Love of Ponies is a weak anthology; most of the protagonists are humans with the magical ponies in supporting roles. The bottom line is that, while I found it easy to qualify all my recommendations, I am very glad that I read this book.