FimFiction Link - Short ID: 68356/pegasus-device
Published: Dec '12 — Feb '13
'Pegasus Device' is the fifty-one thousand-word sequel to the (in)famous horrorfic titled 'Rainbow Factory'. It expands on almost everything from the original story, including letting the reader know more about the world; introducing new characters; detailing the factory's purpose and also providing a much more impactful, though not necessarily more satisfying ending. While this story is nowhere near the longest I've read, it's 'special' enough to warrant a deeper look, so let's get into it.
One thing I have to mention now is that there is an inherent dichotomy to this story: If I take it seriously, it doesn't really work. It's campy, full of extreme mood-swings, erratic acting and a plot that seems to go in whichever direction it wants. But, if I consider it from the perspective of a young author, who wanted to include whatever they found cool into a single story, everything just sort of clicks and the underlying logic becomes clear. I am still going to view this story using the former approach, but I wanted to make it clear, that I understand (or at least I think I do), how things are supposed to work and can sympathize. Still, while there are power fantasies anyone can indulge in, - the recently discussed 'The Diarchy' comes to mind, - there are also some, including this fic, that only people who share the author's fancies can truly appreciate. Simply put, while I want to love 'Pegasus Device', I can't even bring myself to like it.
Let's start with the characters. While there are problems even on this front, one thing I really like in this fic is that you can sympathize with the villains too. Every named character of the CWC does what they do due to some twisted sense of loyalty to the company and Cloudsdale, or because they think that their world will end if they fail to keep up production. It's the old adage of "the ends justify the means," but packaged in an impressive number of ways.
Since I'm already talking about the villains, let's look at them. The first two characters we meet are Dr. Hide Atmosphere and the one everyone wants to cum inside, Rainbow Dash. I find both of them a mess. The former spends the entirety of the story clumsily switching between playing 4D chess by intentionally trying to sabotage the facility to prove the point that killing the failures is an outdated method, and gleefully tormenting the protagonists with the very narrative he's apparently against. I assume the author's intentions were that he's wearing a mask that he perfected over decades, but there are hardly any signs of him faltering or even showing that he's pretending. It's almost like he's two different characters at times, the "crazy, not-medical-doctor who laughs maniacally as he sacrifices foals" version and the "still very ethically gray, but ultimately wanting a change" version. I'd frankly be fine with either, but switching between the two just feels incongruent.
Dash herself is even harder to stomach. She feels like a completely different character. When at the end of the fic she calls something "cool", like she would in the show, I was hit with a very strong sense of cognitive dissonance. We're supposed to accept that this is (or was) the same character that prances around with five other ponies saving the world and sometimes naps on trees or clouds or does dangerous stunts. It just doesn't work. "But this is an AU" would be a plausible explanation, but at that point she's RD, because she 'has to be' for the story to work, not because it makes sense with the logic of the narrative that it's her. There's not much I can say about her otherwise, she takes a surprisingly background-oriented role despite how important she is until the very end of the story.
The next character, Gentle Butterwing, is who I'd label the "villain-protagonist" as we follow her for most of the plot. There is no use softening the punch: She is a Mare Sue. From the moment she's plucked from the lower facility, she adjusts to her situation with terrifying speed (going from being distressed to saying and I quote "this is fun" in literal seconds), immediately wows and befriends her colleagues, immediately becomes a master of the CWC's surveillance system, turns a pipe of hailstones into a makeshift pen, calls RD "Rainbow" and she doesn't even care, pulls off a seemingly impossible stunt just to intimidate the protags and even miraculously survives the whole incident unharmed. While she does indeed become crazy at the end of the story, which I guess is the author's way of delivering karmic justice, she still basically walks away with her life, while other characters die like flies. I don't really hate her, but she's too perfect to be interesting. Nothing really proves a challenge to her, so we never even get to know her too deeply aside from a single flashback to her young years, which don't tell us too much, aside from that she was a rebellious teenager who wanted to "create" instead of being a cog in the machine and how ironic it is that she ultimately became just that.
I largely enjoyed the trio of Contrail, Gauge and Pipe Wrench. They are each very distinct characters and the short time they spend together in the story really sells that these ponies have worked together for years. However, the author has went overboard with making Pipe Wrench's speech slurred. I get why he is like that, but when I have to second or even third guess what he's saying then it stops being an artistic choice and starts being a major annoyance. His death on the other hand is done quite well. It catches the reader off guard and has weight. From that point onwards being a main character doesn't mean you are invulnerable. Gauge started out as the blandest of the trio, but his breakdown and the dry sarcasm he delivers at the end of the story largely make up for this.
Now Contrail is a weird beast, in multiple senses of the word. From what I've seen people seem to largely like him a lot and he's probably my favorite character of the roster too, but for much of the story he is very awkwardly written. He is so over the top in his craziness that he almost acts like comic relief in a story that very much doesn't need any. His laughing and jittering just evokes the stereotypical "crazy scientist" image in my mind, instead of someone, who's genuinely unhinged and perhaps even dangerous. After his mind clears, he becomes a much more interesting character and his ticks of laughter and inappropriate jokes work much better at making him unnerving rather than lolrandom. His philosophical clash with the protagonists serves a much needed alternative perspective on the story's main conflict. The only problem - aside from the aforementioned craziness - is that he seems to largely only exist for narrative purposes. I know all characters technically only exist for that, but he feels even more detached than the rest of the cast. He is crazy when he needs to be, he suddenly becomes sane when he needs to be, he delivers exposition when he needs to and once he served his purpose he just slinks out of the story, never to be seen again (until the sequel anyways.)
I can't say I really care for the two ponies who serve as our protagonists. I don't know why, but neither of them feel at all too interesting. They mostly just luck their way through the story and serve as plot devices that move the drama of the CWC-side characters forward with little agency of their own. I have to admit, the moment I stopped reading the story I forgot their names and I'm only half certain about their appearances because they left so little impression on me. Making one of them into a killer was a good move, one I have to applaud the author for, but it still failed to make me interested in them.
The characterization of Absentia/Scootaloo kind of makes me wonder whether the author came up with it on the fly. She switches between multiple personalities in few pages and while some of them are justified, it still feels really jarring. I get that she is heavily PTSD-ridden and has been kept hung up for most of her life, but aside from the sacrifice she makes at the end of the story (which is admittedly a great scene, probably one of the most touching in the entire fic), she just kind of exists. Oh, she also does a rallying speech for the colorless ponies which felt incredibly out of character and just made me wince.
Speaking of which, the rest of the supporting cast, largely made up of these colorless ponies feels very forgettable. I didn't even properly register who Snowflake was before he is killed off in a cliche "you have to leave without me" battle. The furfag, barking pony was more immersion-breaking than funny or anything. So was the quipping computer, who was defeated in the dumbest way possible. And finally the mare who screams about ripping out the wings of failures just makes the unnamed characters seem like M-rated Saturday morning cartoon villains, which hurts the moral greyness of the situation that the story otherwise tries to paint.
Just like in my 'Empty Horizons' review, I'd rather not go over the whole story, because it'd take way too long and my inaccurate recap wouldn't really be as effective as the story itself. I'm sure most of you already know what the story is about anyways. Instead I'd rather focus on specific aspects that caught my attention:
A repeated issue is the very contrasting moods in the story. One blatant example is when the protagonists rescue Scootaloo from her chains and act terrified and shocked upon seeing her condition. Then a few sentences later they are happily snacking, burping and patting their bellies before going to sleep. In an operating theater full of dead ponies and a murder machine. It just throws me right out of my immersion.
Same goes for the swears in this story. Every time I've read "flock's sake" I've sighed with exasperation. This is a story about little children being gored, just say "fuck" for fuck's sake. Similarly shoehorning in WoodenToaster's song is as annoying as it was in the original story too. The author tries to lampshade it a bit by framing as an "old employee educational video," but it still feels forced.
What's up with the ghost that whispers to the protagonists telling them to leave? And the howling foals? The story is otherwise grounded in relative realism, in the sense that nothing that happens in the factory is supernatural, except for this ghost to suddenly pop up, scare the shit out of the two foals and then disappear without a trace, never to be mentioned again.
One thing I really like is the depiction of the factory. I'm a big fan of impossible structures and the implicit horror they carry. Think Aperture Science in Portal 2. The place is so massive and so impossible to understand that the building itself becomes this looming, eldritch entity that holds the characters trapped. Few stories focus on this concept, but this one does it mostly right. I'm saying mostly because at times it almost becomes too self-indulgent in detailing rooms and places that have absolutely no relevance to the plot, but I don't consider this a major issue, especially next to everything else.
The characters are constantly referred to with different words, which makes following the scenes very hard. I believe this is usually called "Lavender Unicorn Syndrome" and it applies perfectly here, especially because one of the protagonists is a lavender pegasus. When I originally read this story years ago, I thought I can't follow the scenes because I'm not a native speaker, but now I think it's rather because the author can't decide on what to call the characters and that takes away all semblance of certainty from any scene that features more than two of them.
I enjoyed Scootaloo's bitter reminiscing about how it was stupid to ever think that they might escape using the exact techniques that they failed on. It's clever and felt like a seamless nod to the previous story.
Atmosphere's plan is at best extremely unhinged (which is I suppose somewhat justifiable) at worst it's idiotic. It requires so many things that should go just right and the protags somehow are able to accomplish all of it. He had one shot at failures escaping and causing a major incident in the facility, failing which would have likely lead to a horrible punishment and totally closing him off from ever trying anything to change the factory again. Once you realize how much of the story is just a chain of very lucky coincidences and events, it's hard to take anything seriously.
Finally I have to talk about the ending, because it's absurd. After the foals finally escape suddenly the whistle is blown on the CWC and instead of the army being mobilized or a temporary state of martial law being declared after it turns out that there is a well-fortified deathcamp in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the kingdom, Celestia just waltzes in, looks at the factory and goes "well shit, you did a lot of bad, but I'm gonna be somewhat lenient on you because it's so horrifying."
What? They are just allowed to continue running the factory and everyone trusts that their new blood-donation method is legit? Even if they aren't shot on sight, Dash and Atmosphere should be in chains and in front of a tribunal, which would have, in my opinion, served as a much more believable ending, one which also justifies them "coming clean." They'd be forced to explain themselves and the tribunal would be forced to acquit them because they are vital to life in Equestria.
Overall: 4/10 'Pegasus Device' is greater in all aspects compared to its predecessor. The good parts are more impressive, the bad parts are even more annoying. I could go on about minor nitpicks and whatnot, but I think I've made my case. Ultimately, it feels like there is an amazing story hiding under heaps of "wouldn't it be cool if..."-s that drag it down. I can still recommend the fic for its historical significance, but otherwise, I've found it fairly disappointing.