FimFiction Link - Short ID: 244611/an-academic-visit
Published: Jan '15 — Mar '15
'An Academic Visit' is a seventeen thousand and six hundred-word shortfic. After a foiled invasion of the human world, a part of the Griffon Empire is annexed by the U.N. A pony mathematician is invited to visit the isolated nation.
This story is a brilliant exploration that makes us appear alien in a way that doesn't feel contrived. This is accomplished by cleverly edited prose and small touches. Things, like the way our walking is described or the italicization of words that make sense to us, but would require massive amounts of context to the pony protagonist, really sells it that from his perspective this is an alien world. Even something as mundane as a passport machine elicits wonder from the protagonist - and through him the reader - despite the fact that the latter clearly understands what's going on. Though I have some qualms with this, I also appreciated how dangerous the author portrayed humanity, despite the ponies' ignorance about our weapons. I liked the moral ambiguity as well. Though this part felt a bit patronizing, having been spelled out so explicitly, it's nice how, despite the spirited speech of the Griffon prince, when the humans talk about their intents, it is as mundane as you'd expect. Real life has no mustache-twirling villains. On the other hand the loophole in the treaty that allowed humanity to stack ballistic missiles on the other hand of the portal is something straight out of the Cold War, making the situation feel tense. I also appreciated the few subtle jokes in the story. Compass "taking care not leave baggage behind" after the train has warned him was pretty funny.
My heart bleeds for saying this, but as much as I adore the world-building in this story, the actual plot feels mediocre to me. While the concept of a small, U.N.-controlled enclave embroiled in a Cold War-esque conflict against a foreign, magical world is a deeply intriguing concept, the story really feels like a prequel to another far more involved fic. On one hand, I really cannot blame the author for this, because Compass feeling like a pawn in a delicate political game is part of the story's point, but this sadly causes things to be resolved before they could be explored in proper detail. The "hostage" situation in the end is perhaps the most salient example. The author hypes up a big battle between the U.N. and the Empire... and then they jump-cut in time. It was a bit disappointing. Also, as mentioned before, while humanity is portrayed as dangerous, the amount of boasting about weapons and tech almost feels a bit circlejerky. Makes sense in-universe, but it gets a bit old quickly.
Overall: 8/10 While the narrative of this story didn't win my heart, its worldbuilding and alien depiction of humanity certainly did. For that alone, I can only recommend reading it.