FimFiction Link - Short ID: 238757/the-children-of-planet-earth
Published: Jun '21 — Aug '21
(As of chapter 5)
This is a language-barrier first-contact fic, and it's the highest-autism story I've seen in years. I love it.
The mission to Equus that's the subject of this fic isn't set in some vague sci-fi future. It launched in 1994, the culmination of an alternate-history space race that diverges with the discovery of a strange object in the outer solar system, which turns out to contain a wormhole to another system with a life-bearing planet.
The ponies on that planet don't speak English, of course. They speak a constructed horse language that the author has apparently been working on for the past five years. In the fic, it's rendered entirely in IPA, which is utterly incomprehensible for mere mortals. At least with Esperanto you can guess at the pronunciation, and maybe even recognize a word or two. Here, what the fuck does upside-down lowercase 'm' even sound like? (At least the narration uses the protagonist's best approximation of the ponies' names, so we get to read about his interactions with "Antir H'lsapa" rather than with [ɑ̃ˈtiɹ l̩sɑˈpɑ].)
They also have their own math, all in base 6, with their own symbols for everything. All that gets described in one of the earlier chapters.
Finally, the author apparently has OPINIONS about romanization of Russian words (Qazaqstan, Jurij Gagarin) and about umlauts (coöperation, whoëver). Not really relevant, but it certainly fits with the theme so far.
As for the actual plot, I'm sure certain anons will be triggered to hear that the first-contact procedures are garbage. The main character is supposed to be a linguist, but in two days he hasn't said or written a word to anypony aside from his name, and he hasn't made any real effort to learn the ponies' language either. He has, however, hit most of the major HiE milestones: meet Twilight, visit the treebrary, attend a Pinkie Pie party, and meet the rest of the M6.
In short: the plot is kind of dumb, but the fic is still incredibly interesting due to the absolutely insane level of detail that the author puts into every bit of it.
‘The Children of Planet Earth’ is a HiE Sci-Fi fic totaling 150k-200k words. Alternatively it can be considered a very elaborate way of showing off the colang made by the author, more on that later.
Right after the end of the space race, scientists from Earth noticed a wormhole next to Jupiter. Further studies found out that on its other side lies a planet potentially capable of supporting human life. Two decades of cooperation later, a giant international spaceship carrying fifty human pioneers (all but two of them still in cryosleep) arrives in its orbit. Much to their surprise, the crew discovers that the planet is already inhabited by an alien civilization. The story follows the ship’s linguist, dr. Adam Somerset, who’s sent to Equestria to understand the alien language and learn more about the equines’ customs and culture. Luckily for him, a certain lavender unicorn from a nearby town is just as excited to learn more about their new bipedal neighbor.
Let’s get back to the colang thing. You see, whatever your opinion on the finished story might be, COPE is very much not a typical fic. The author put *extreme* effort into doing his research and describing an extraterrestrial civilization that both makes sense from the perspective of its independent development and is compatible with S1 FiM Equestria. He was working on it for more than four years and it shows. I could on for an hour listing all the bits and pieces of trivia he included in an attempt to make the world more believable, starting from spaceship nutrition and ending with him placing a huge story emphasis on preventing cross-contamination. The creative world building is truly impressive too, including but not limited to:
>an artificial language created from grounds up with Equestria’s characteristics in mind,
>a fleshed-out senary (base 6) counting system, complete with irs own numerals and operators
>a calendar and time system with properties derived from its senary nature
>tens of thousands of words in Author’s Notes further clarifying some aspects or proving context
Unfortunately, this level of detail doesn’t come without some inherent drawbacks. For one, the author’s note sections are often more than a thousand words long and sometimes feel like essays. This also applies to some of the loredumps in the chapters themselves. They get way too technical, especially regarding linguistics. If you decide to read COPE, I recommend at the very least skimming through the IPA pronunciation keys.
Oh right, I forgot to mentions that this review assumes the reader has access to official dialogue translations. I recommend keeping it open in a second tab starting from the first chapter but if you want a more “authentic” experience you could ignore them for some time. Regardless of your choice, DO NOT even think about not using the translations for the later chapters. At the tail end of the story there are several conversations held partially- or fully- in Equestrian. There’s no dictionary and most of the language learning happens off screen. I pity the readers who were following the story as it was posted, releasing chapters featuring intelligible babbling was IMO an abysmal decision on author’s part. Thankfully the translation fixes this problem for the future readers.
Secondly, while the author’s ingenuity is to be praised, there were some aspects of Equestria he couldn’t find a good explanation for and resorted to some less than stellar solutions. Most notably he made Equestria’s planetary system a heliocentric one, factually depriving the Princesses of their most important duties and at the same time contradicting the very first episodes of the show. If he really couldn’t find a better way to patch this science plot hole, he shouldn’t have mentioned it at all. But no, this detail gets rubbed in readers’ faces not once, not twice, not even thrice but on FOUR separate occasions. I don’t care that he apologized, it’s his story and he should feel bad for leaving those parts in. But enough seething for now, let’s go back to COPE’ing.
The setting is a fairly faithful recreation of an S1 Equestria with the exception of the spaceship floating in its orbit. The author did a good job describing the S1 Ponyville in a way that fully preserves its atmosphere while making it feel just a bit more believable. Other minor locations include the spaceship, Canterlot and the Everfree Forest. All of them are competently written. Bonus points for making Everfree feel dangerous, just like how it was in the early seasons. The fic is mostly progressing at a slow and deliberate pace, with action-packed scenes being the exception rather than the norm. Which is a bit of a shame as they were written quite nicely, too.
Obviously Adam is the main character but Twilight isn’t far behind considering how much attention she gets. The former is a fairly standard human character (thankfully not an obvious self-insert). A linguist who signed on the spaceship mission as a dare from his students. Likable, yes, but not extraordinary in any way that would detract from the plot. However the real gem is how well is Twilight written here. In the year 2021 it is exceedingly rare to see unicorn Twilight done well in a fic but COPE pulls it off almost perfectly. Her curiosity, intelligence and cuteness are all flawlessly balanced without making her more of a Mary Sue than she’s in the show. I’ve been making some notes during my COPE reading sessions and some variation of “such a nice uni-Twi” appears several times on the list. I wish the other Mane 6 were given some more time to shine because if the Pinkie scenes are any indication the author is just good at writing the Mane 6 full stop.
The other human characters are a fairly standard set of “Russian/formerly soviet cryologist reminiscing about the past”, “French Canadian captain shaped by his navy experience” and “Swiss biologist all too focused on her job”. While I personally didn’t care about them too much they got enough character development to be more than cardboard cutouts. I’ve noticed that’s a condition most secondary human characters in HiE fics tend to suffer from. Having said that, I’m still unsure if “wasting” time on them was a good choice. People who read a fic on fimfiction.net presumably want to read more about ponies, not some random humans. Not to mention that the occasional paragraph taking place on the spaceship can lead some readers into mistakenly believing that it’s a story about the founding of a human colony when in reality Adam’s quest is all that matters.
I’d like to end the review here but sadly it’s time to seethe. I cannot fucking believe that the author sabotaged such a potentially great fic with so much bullshit. I’ve already talked about the utter and complete failure of handling the language barrier in a way that doesn’t anger all of your readers but there’s more. If you don’t to get some plot points spoiled the tl;dr is that the fic lacks any direction and makes multiple nonsensical decisions in what is supposed to be a more realistic setting.
First of all, the job “arc”. The decision to include it makes no narrative sense, is so diplomatically retarded that it makes Princess Celestia look like a moron and to top it off nothing important ever happens during it. The jobs that he gets don’t even allow him to practice his language skills. What a fucking waste of both your and the author’s time.
Don’t worry though, the author eventually realized that too and so one day when Adam is picking up the trash he conveniently passes by the Ponyville school. As a result of even more plot convenience, he gets handed a Book of Plot Resolution that lets him break the language barrier over the course of two chapters. That’s it. All of the slow buildup gets thrown out of the window nearly instantly.
But if that wasn’t enough, the transition happens after chapter 17. What’s so special about chapter 17 you might ask? Well, it’s goddamn linguistic infodump that spans 8 thousand words. It reads almost like something you’d find in a grammar book, not a fanfic. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that this colang isn’t cool. As someone who dabbled in artificial languages years ago, I find it very interesting. That doesn’t change the fact that this one chapter has 10x as much info as there should be in one new chapter. Imagine 8000 consecutive words of nothing but paragraphs written like this one:
>Then there was a downward curl, starting from the right side of the glyph, then turning to the left. It also had a single head diagram – meaning it was another neutral vowel – but its value surprised him: it appeared to be another approximant, but one articulated at the teeth rather than the palate or velum. This was a syllabic consonant, no doubt – with a value of either [ɹ̩] or [l̩]. “But which one is it?” Adam didn’t dare to mark anything in the book, but knew he would have to return to it eventually. It could be any number of things – perhaps both, with the difference either being free variation, allophonic, or dialectal.
Apologies for the long quote but I felt it was important to post the entire paragraph. One more annoying detail that was so ubiquitous I have to point it out – about half of the human conversations happen while someone is preparing food. I get that using the state of dehydrated rations as a way to show the passage of time is clever but there’s only so many times you can read "the packet wasn't quite ready but it was getting there" before it gets repetitive. And don’t even get me started about plot threads that don’t get anywhere, there’s more of these than I can count.
This was definitely not an exhaustive list but I’m sure you get the point by now. There’s a lot of things to like in COPE and just as many to hate. For what it’s worth, the later chapters actually manage to salvage most of the fic’s charm and land the ending (heh) without any more glaring issues.
This is also the first review that won’t get a numerical final grade from me because averaging out its strong points and weaknesses makes no sense. Read the first 2-3 chapters if you’re interested and after that it should be obvious if you should continue reading or no. All I can say is that I personally enjoyed it.