Here are some views from around the net of Kij Johnson’s Nebula award winning story, “Ponies“.
Lois Tilton, from her bi-monthly column at Locus Online:
Every girl gets her own pastel talking pony with wings and a horn. But before the other girls will let her join the group, she has to take a knife and cut these off. The ending stings, but it’s still Highly Unsubtle.
Ponies by Kij Johnson is certainly the most unique of the Hugo nominated short stories. It is far shorter than the other stories and isn’t actually science fiction, but it certainly deserves to be nominated for this award because it is one of the most effective horror stories that I have read in quite a while eliciting a number of levels of horror in a very short story.
This story is an alagory and does not attempt to be a realistic story. The names of the girls are things like TopGirl, Second Girl and similar. In addition it is a modern day story with unicorns that have wings, horns, can talk and with blood that smells like cotton candy. This is about children who surrender to the crowd who do something they wouldn’t want to do because that is what other people want.
Abigail Nussbaum, as part of an overview of the Hugo nominee list at Asking the Wrong Questions:
I haven’t gotten along with all of Kij Johnson’s Hugo-nominated stories in the last few years, but I always came away from them feeling that there was some substance to the story, even if I couldn’t quite grasp it. “Ponies,” Johnson’s nominee this year, is entirely, and almost insultingly, substance-less, a story as unworthy of Johnson as it is of its nomination for the Hugo. “Ponies” is a vignette–and though in theory I suppose it’s possible that a vignette could pack enough of a punch to deserve a Hugo nomination, none of the recently nominated ones, for example Kowal’s “Evil Robot Monkey” from 2009, have done so–in which a little girl named Barbara is invited to a “cutting-out party” for her pony, Sunny. In order for Barbara to fit in with TheOtherGirls, their My Little Pony-esque ponies have to lose two of their three magical attributes–talking, flying, or their horn. When Sunny realizes that she’s actually going to lose all three of her attributes, she rebels, the other ponies kill her, and Barbara is declared “not OneOfUs.” The End. No, really, The End. I’m trying to wrap my mind around a voting membership that, on the one hand, gave Johnson a nomination for her disquieting, controversial “Spar” last year, and on the other hand sees anything worth recognizing in this simplistic, old-fashioned piece that seems to be patting itself on the back for saying something that has been said so many times before, and in exactly the same way. It’s 2011, for crying out loud–are we really still shocked when someone takes a supposedly benign yet subtly patriarchy-affirming girls’ toy and makes something sinister of it? Haven’t we reached the stage where pointing out that female hierarchies encourage a destructive conformity is simply stating the obvious? For that matter, haven’t we reached the stage where that’s no longer entirely true? Even My Little Pony itself doesn’t buy into the rigid hierarchy of girls’ groups and the tyranny of niceness anymore–the new incarnation of the series, by all accounts, celebrates diversity, features characters who are encouraged to develop their skills and unique personalities, and rejects queen-bee-ism in all its forms. Johnson is too good a writer for “Ponies” not to have some effect, but the tools she uses are so blunt–I found the portmanteu titles like “TopGirl” and “ThisIsTheBestGame” particularly obvious–that I can’t believe that so many people found the story genuinely affecting, much less worthy of a nomination.
A sampling of comments from when it originally ran on Tor.com. (Overall the comments ran about 4:1 positive:negative, with a generous helping of “depressing.”)
- Oh, that’s dark. Well done.
- This story made me feel sick, and I’m a horror fan. I suppose that’s a compliment to the writer but mostly it just hurt and depressed me.
- When it comes to cruelty, no fictional monster has a thing on primary-school girls. Children are monsters. I think that, deep down, we all wear the scars from the day we had to cut our own Pony.
- There are two ways a story about the tyranny of the popular kids can go: you can tell a story about escape or a story about defeat. This is a VERY chilling and very effective story about defeat: the cost of acceptance is always more than it appears on the invitation, and sometimes you can lose everything and still not be accepted (as here).
- Wow, good story! The touches of sugar coating (like the ponies not
bleeding) and realism (like the girls playing on the Wii and listening
to Ipods) really jarred in an effective way. Deliciously nasty.
- Okay, it’s an interesting story, but I’m not moved by it in the way so many people here seem to have been. I came here to read it because I believe this is the story that was nominated for a Nebula, or some such award, but I think this is the wrong story. Sorry, but I don’t think it’s worthy of a nomination. The story’s not deep, it’s facile, I’m not illuminated by it, and I don’t understand what everyone sees in it. It reads like a writers worshop improv with the subject being the toy “My Pretty Pony.”
- It’s like Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” with more emphasis on consumerism and class. Very derivative but interesting.
- A lot of people seem to think the girls represent children, but I think they represent parents. I think the ponies are the parent’s children, and the story is about what parents do to their kids so that the *parents* can fit into their cliques. Then, the children give up the last of their gifts so that they can fit in with their friends. Why else would Topgirl say “Ponies pick their own friends”? Thoughts?
And a random comment from Beyond Reality that I thought was interesting:
It’s like Flannery O’Connor in a cotton-candy fantasyland. Creepy.
Over to you–thoughts?