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Addenda: So . . . the positive comments I’m seeing boil down to “this is a great little short story—it’s so quiet and introspective and it uses PDF for lovely presentation!” The negative comments I’m seeing boil down to “this is a terrible little short story—it’s so quiet and introspective and it uses PDF for unnecessary presentation!” Mm-hm.
Not surprisingly, “Wonderbolts Academy”, flawed as it is, pretty well scotches several aspects of the story—though the underlying question and dilemma still hold up. Most notably, the Wonderbolts now appear to be a much larger organization than previous episodes implied, perhaps a full service in its own right rather than an élite arm of the Royal Guard.
There’s no way around the fact that running something that big is a general’s job. Spitfire is insanely young to be holding a rank normally achieved only in one’s forties or later; on the other hand, private conferences with the Crown are much more likely (indeed, they would be required) for a general officer than for a field-grade officer.
However, I'd suggest that if you do utilize pdf format for predictable presentation, you may want to avoid "stray lines" cut off a paragraph at the top or bottom of the page.
It’s nearly impossible to avoid orphans in straight prose; take a look at a representative sample of paperback and hardbound novels. I’ve designed and typeset several dozen novels and other books myself in the course of my professional career, so I’m aware of the issue. Design and lay-out are a balancing act, juggling dozens or scores of sometimes conflicting priorities, and orphans lose.
I’m “publishing” these short stories more or less as a lark. From tooth-grinding experience, I know that the degree of tweaking and the potential for rippling “falling domino” changes would demand more hours than I’m willing to put into addressing such a (relatively) minor item.
The variety of opinions on the matter may be the reason the Wonderbolts’ status one way or the other hasn’t been stated outright.
P.S. Love the PDF
I like the PDF, too. I can see why people might complain; not everybody has software that handles PDF well (Adobe Acrobat is SO clunky), and I'd agree that it's unnecessary. But it's NICE, so I like it.
Personally I am firmly in the camp that believes presentation matters.
Very much just a character study piece, and works very well as such.
I would note that on the consequences of trying to manipulate someone 'for the good of the realm', Celestia may well be speaking from personal experience. She has had plenty of time to make (and lean from) mistakes. I rather imagine the first few centuries of her rule were littered with various failures of foresight before she realized that you can lead a pony to water, but you can't make him drink, before she settled on her current more 'maternal' approach.
My view hinged on the assumption, based on the scanty evidence presented in the first and second season, that the Wonderbolts were a small organization. That, in turn, all but required them to be part of a larger structure in order to be logistically and administratively supportable.
“Wonderbolts Academy”, of course, showed that in fact it’s much larger than previously implied, possibly a full service in its own right.
There’s been at least one reference to them as “Princess Celestia’s own flying team”—and generally that sort of description (“[royal title]’s own”) tends to be reserved for crack military units.
In “The Secret of My Excess”, a trio of Wonderbolts are dispatched to deal with the abrupt appearance of a menacing dragon in Ponyville—an homage to the fighter biplanes in the original version of King Kong.
The flight suits bear an striking resemblance to the gold-on-blue livery of the US Navy’s Blue Angels.
At the wedding reception that closed out the second season, Soarin’ is shown in exactly the undress blouse and tie I describe in the story, complete with collar tabs and rank stripes.
That said, there’s been no formal confirmation of their military status!
Any small, highly trained crack unit within a larger force almost always is selected from that larger force carefully and after considerable evaluation. The details may differ—some organizations may “invite” promising personnel to transfer, while others require that personnel apply for transfer—but in general, such a unit sees itself, usually rightly, as the very best in the force.
That’s achieved by passing personnel through successively more demanding and rigorous standards of training. The US Navy’s SEALs’ induction training, nicknamed “Hell Week”, is so rugged that it has a very high washout rate—and it only accepts young men who already are highly trained, highly motivated, and in peak physical condition. Few if any civilians would survive the first day. (I doubt I would last more than a few minutes.)
I’m assuming the Wonderbolts more closely resemble the Blue Angels instead, but they too function similarly in the sense that they accept only pilots who are among the best in the navy, proven by years of exemplary service.
It’s a methodology proven by centuries and even millennia of military tradition based on empirical experience. From the glimpse of classical pegasus society in “Hearth’s-Warming Eve”, I’m guessing it provided the military tradition from which the modern guard is descended. Admittedly, that’s more of a stretch, and more of an assumption on my part, but it comports with my understanding of real-world military history.
The problem I have with all that is that even Rainbow Dash isn't THAT much of an idiot. She is a Wonderbolt fan-girl, and hopes to attract their attention to get in. If X months of military service were a requirement, she would have done so by now.
It is hard to make it add up really, but I prefer the idea that military-level training concepts (I would mention manuals, but Dash wasn't a reader until "Read it and Weep") are not considered something that should be at all secret. The idea that pony psychology, culture, and physiology are different enough that Celestia could get a high enough quality team by making the first bar to entry "must have such drive for excellence that you train yourself to an elite level WITHOUT anypony EVER forcing you do ANYTHING" is something I see as more plausible than that Dash is going about things THAT wrong (and she IS doing it wrong). I actually have a non-pony setting that has been in my head for over ten years that means I have thought about such a structure. Of course, the situation in that story is weird to say the least. To give you an idea of HOW weird: you have Private Military Companies that are the only people in the world legally allowed to use certain weapons, and those same PMCs are 99% built around ethics that makes the military concept of "command" a dirty word. Almost needless to say, the causality-rate for the newer recruits is sky-high.
I hedged my bets by leaving it ambiguous as well; no certain statement is made by either character about the extent of Dash’s knowledge and understanding. In my own mind, I assumed both Spitfire and Celestia do believe Dash is aware at least that she must join the Guard.
What concerns Spitfire is that Dash may not have connected all the dots and is considering each issue in isolation, if Dash is thinking about it at all. What Celestia promises Spitfire is that she will undertake to ensure Dash makes a fully informed decision, which is why she starts out by saying, “If [Dash] is not already aware . . .”
Your scenario, by the way, sounds worth developing and certainly seems to reflect the current reality of private military contractors—mercenaries by any other name. Similar concepts are being bandied about by a few SF authors, notably Michael Z. Williamson, who publishes through Baen Books. His work might interest you.
I have to ask though, is that a PDF with a 'faded page' background a typewriter font? It looks great, but I have absolutely no idea about PDFs.
No, the body type is proportional, not monospace as a typewriter face would be. It’s a typeface called Oldstyle HPLHS, created by the HP Lovecraft Historical Society. It’s part of a packet of typefaces they sell primarily for creating stage or movie props.
I am very grateful that you took the time to write the work. The interplay between Celestia and Spitfire was simply well-executed in every regard.
It is good that you took the time to examine how being one of the Elements of Harmony affects the lives of the mane six ponies in general, and of course Dash in particular.
As I did last time, I have taken the liberty of forwarding this story to a few of my DA groups. I hope that sits well with you, and I now go back to hoping that you will write again!
The implications of Rainbow Dash’s ambition have been a topic of much discussion in my circle of friends, most of whom are military-history buffs, wargamers, have or had relatives in the military, or similar connections. This story is, in effect, a distillation of those discussions.