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I was going to get some stuff done this weekend: scraping the snow off the roof, prepping for work this week, getting some writing done. But what did I do instead? I binged on Alpha House (highly recommended for fans of political comedy, by the way) and had it brutally demonstrated to me once more that I'm terrible at video games, this time courtesy of a friend trying to get me into Magica.
I did find time to read Kits' Who We Are, though. Check out my review, after the break.
Impressions before reading: The description is pretty vague; other than the slice-of-life tag and the "plot hook via Celestia," I don't have a lot to go on. I've read and enjoyed some of the author's other stories, though, and that's always a good sign.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: When Twilight and her friends find out that one of them is a changeling--and always has been--there are two questions which everypony needs to grapple with. First, who's the changeling? And second, what does this mean for their friendship?
Thoughts after reading: Let's start with the technical stuff: Kits has some issues with under-comma-ing, and occasionally with run-on sentences, but the writing is generally clear and easy to follow, tending towards the grandiose. That might not be to everyone's tastes, but I found it appropriate given the extremity of the situation which the story deals with. The story also does some interesting things with perspective, including several brief first-person snippets of what the yet-unrevealed changeling is thinking as the story progresses. These do a nice job of filling in the story's corners, and manage not to give away the identity without becoming annoyingly opaque.
Now, onto the part I really want to talk about.
Changelings have been interpreted in a lot of different ways by a lot of different authors; given how little we know about them from their one in-show appearance, they've offered plenty of versatility to fanfic writers, and plenty of opportunities for worldbuilding. Unfortunately, Kits' vision of changelings is a spectacularly poor fit for the story he's trying to tell, and this made it very hard for me to empathize with the way the characters were approaching their dilemma.
There's a very strong "is she still our friend even if we met under false pretenses" theme through the story, which makes sense in and of itself... but the story also explains that changelings are capable of manipulating memories, and the changeling in question explicitly states that she's done so to her friends in the past (that she hasn't recently is, for me at least, beside the point). The ponies all know this, which makes the above question feel to me less like a philosophical point and more like Stockholm Syndrome; manipulating thoughts in order to fit in and make friends may be a very workable changeling concept, but it's hard for me to see how that's a forgivable bit of misleading (unless the point is that the changeling is still manipulating their minds, but she denies that in her sections). The fact is, it destroys the entire basis of that argument; the changeling can talk about how "the love and friendship of her friends was freely given" all she wants, but it explicitly wasn't. Not just in the sense that "you were our friend under false pretenses," which, again, I could follow easily enough, but in the sense of "we're friends because you mind-raped us into being your friends when we first met." It's inconceivable to me that any interaction after that point isn't poisoned beyond redemption.
Now, it's been brought to my attention before that I feel much more strongly about the immorality of directly, deliberately tampering with another person's thoughts and memories than some readers. But it really, really bothers me that, in a story which is at its core about the confluence of friendship and dishonesty, the most disturbing question is never even addressed (save obliquely, if one takes it to be rolled into the "can you be friends with someone who lied to you" issue). Again, given that all the ponies explicitly know that their memories and/or emotions have probably been forcibly changed to something more amenable to the changeling's wants and needs--and they're right--I just can't imagine that the single most disturbing, frightening, important issue in the entire story is swept under a rug and ignored. For me, that makes the whole story ring distressingly false; either the characters show a stunning degree of willful ignorance, or the changeling is lying directly to the reader about what it is and isn't doing to the other ponies. While that might add an interesting meta-element, suggesting that the changeling is affecting the reader's mind just as it affects the ponies', it's pretty obvious that wasn't intended here. I actually found this story offensive in its morals, in addition to being unbelievable in its characterization; I can understand why others wouldn't, but there's far more unaddressed evil here than I can ignore as a reader.
Star rating: ★☆☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
I was initially going to go rather higher than this, on the grounds that I know a lot of readers won't share my total incredulity with the way everypony reacted throughout the entire fic. But I truly feel there are "significant, systemic problems with this story," and if I'm not going to one-star something that had me chocking on bile through most of the last half, what should I use it for?
Recommendation: Kits does a nice job of keeping who the changeling is ambiguous right through to the end; readers looking for an example of how to leave an identity unclear without being grating might want to use this as an example. But anyone who thinks that things like "free will" or "the sanctity of the mind" have any intrinsic value will probably wonder not only why none of the main six seem to agree, but why they seem to be unaware that those are values in the first place.
Next time: Thrown Abroad, by Niaeruzu