Where everything is an anachronism

For me, writing, even informally, in the current My Little Pony universe is rather like having bees live in my head, because every single prop introduces the nagging question: “Would ponies actually have these?”

Seriously. There exists a fan-made video, and a darn good one, in which we see (briefly) Vinyl Scratch punching out somepony’s number on what looks like an iPhone. And then she says “Why do I even have this?” and tosses it into the fireplace.

The Round Stable has taken note of this phenomenon:

The first episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic opens with the turn of a storybook cover, establishing that Equestria exists in a self-contained fairy tale universe — fitting, considering that the first characters we meet are a dragon and a unicorn. But keep watching the show and you’ll notice that things start to get … strange. A steam engine here, a light switch there. A photo booth. A Technics turntable. At some point we abandoned the Middle Ages and we didn’t even notice.

The results can be fairly jarring. In one of my own story arcs, Equestria has fiendishly complex nanosurgery operating at the genetic level; however, they only just got Internet access, and it had never occurred to them before to take a census. At times, it makes sense — air mail, for example, comes via pegasus — but then again:

It’s not about the technology, it’s about the design. Sure, we can invoke unicorn magic to explain how video games function, and therefore why Equestria should logically have its own version of satellite television and even an information-sharing ponynet. But to do so would risk breaking immersion in the world the show has constructed, which is a far greater sin than ignoring an “X leads to Y” commandment of scientific progress.

Which ultimately, I think, demonstrates that Arthur C. Clarke was right; get the technology up far enough, and it might as well be magic. And frankly, I get a kick out of faking up explanations. From Second Act:

Both unicorns and pegasi take advantage of this hypervibration, each tribe having specific access points sensitive to its frequency. For the unicorn, it’s near the base of the horn — the tip of the horn is a transducer, used to propagate energy. For the pegasus, it’s between the wings, between the backbone and the spinal cord. No such receptor exists on the earth pony, and early experiments with directing magical beams at earth ponies, in an effort to find a resonance point, were unsuccessful.

It was not until the year 878 that science was able to answer this question of earth pony magic. The physicist Prismatic, analyzing the hypervibration to discover its components, determined that there exists at very low levels a second vibration, at a frequency too low to hear: approximately 1.61803398875 cycles per second. (Twilight Sparkle, of course, would insist on at least eleven decimal places.) Thinking this might be an impurity in the waveform, Prismatic rigged up a crude high-pass filter, which would eliminate the low-frequency component. His assistant at the time, an earth pony whose name has been lost to history, fell ill, and did not recover until the filter was deactivated.

That “eleven decimal places” business references this scene.


  1. fillyjonk »

    26 April 2013 · 7:21 am

    Actually, it’s the weird little differences from our reality that (in part) make the show so interesting to me: wind-up Victrolas instead of iPods, airships and trains instead of cars. Apparently no Internet, and very few phones. (And yeah, occasionally canon is broken….)

    I’m sure there’s some kind of cultural-studies Master’s thesis out there in examining the technology (or lack thereof) in the fully-imagined fantasy worlds: Narnia, Middle Earth, Equestria…..

  2. CGHill »

    26 April 2013 · 11:34 am

    I do my best to handwave away the differences, with perhaps modest success.

  3. nightfly »

    26 April 2013 · 2:47 pm

    Clarke may well have said that any sufficiently-advanced science fiction is indistinguishable from fantasy. A lot of that hand/hoof waving applies to those shows as well. Take Heisenberg compensators – Star Trek’s transporters require them, so they can read both the state and the location of your atoms in order to correctly reassemble them. When asked how they work, one of Star Trek’s technical writers replied, “Very well, thank you.”

    Wibbly-wobbly, sciency-fictiony.

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