Bronies: For the Love of Ponies is a collection of short stories that attempt to relate to ponies or bronies in some way shape or form. Each of these short works of fiction is distinctive, each new story scarcely even resembling the ones before it. But much like the inkblot Pegasus emblazoned on the cover, these distinctive parts come to together to try and tell a larger story - the story of Brony as an Idea.
Let me be blunt. If your interest in pony literature begins and ends inside the world of Equestria, this is not the book for you. You will not find any of your favorite ponies, and much of the imagery contained within closely resembles the fantasy ponies of yesteryear or the ones you see on farms. The content does not shy away from adult themes, providing a tone that is often very un-FiMlike. Otherwise, the tatterdemalion collection that is Bronies: For the Love of Ponies is brimming with potential, and certain to excite, enlighten, and frustrate in equal parts.
Once you are within its pages you will find worlds you never expected to travel to. From the inside of a computer to a little girl's party to a zombie apocalypse, there is something here for nearly everyone to enjoy. I have been repeating myself a lot on this point because I cannot emphasize enough how different each story feels. Every author brings unique ideas and a different skill set, and no two of them approached the issue of this book in quite the same way. Some of these you will love, and others will feel awkward or boring. I cannot tell you which ones, because it will be different for each of you. I can say with confidence though, that if every one of these stories excites you equally then you are a person of far more eclectic tastes than I can hope to be.
But however entertaining you may or may not find any of these individual stories, they are not assembled without purpose. What ultimately determines the value of the anthology is how well those parts function as a cohesive whole. But to what point and purpose was this book assembled? The afterword is clear on this: to tell the story of Bronies. For the Love of Ponies is intended to be an introspection on everything it means to enjoy a thing society says is unacceptable, to fight against established gender roles, and occasionally to take a passion too far and be burned by it.
Considered in this context, Bronies: For the Love of Ponies is a complicated success story. Not every story is woven with equal skill, and not every story is as concerned with the tale of bronies, specifically. Kij Johnson's Ponies exemplifies this as the crown jewel of the anthology. Her story is about fluffy cotton candy unicorns and little girls and the horrible game of politics that sits brewing in the middle of that milieu. Short and absolutely brutal, it's a piece that resonates strongly with any reader who has been on the receiving end of schoolyard power struggles, but it is only a brony story insomuch as it happens to intersect with some of the common elements of our lives.
The salient point in all of this is that fully enjoying this book means reading the entirety of it. You have to take the funny with the bland, the amazing with the awkward, the children and the xenocidal space snipers who read Black Beauty as a stress relief. “You draw inspiration from the magical talking pony that you have, not the magical talking pony that you want.” Despite the afterword's insistence that bronies are this and bronies are that and bronies are this other thing, the only thing that bronies invariably are is complicated. People from all walks of life have come together for the mutual enjoyment of a cartoon and what it means to them is different with each new person you talk to. It's not the sort of phenomenon that can really be explained without liberal use of the phrases, “I think that...” and “Well maybe it's like this”, to say nothing of the time we'd need to talk just to fit everyone into the discussion. Perhaps then the tapestry painted by this book is a happy accident. Whatever the circumstances, the authors of Bronies: For the Love of Ponies depicts an image of the fandom that is as complete as any I've ever seen (while still bearing the potential of being entirely incorrect).
So, here is the bottom line: should you buy this book? You may have noticed that I have had a difficult time classifying much about it over the course of this review. Like any purchase, this represents a risk. But at $14 for a physical copy (or $9 for the e-book), it's the type of risk you can afford to take. I can't promise you perfection, but Bronies: For the Love of Ponies is an afternoon of reading that will stick with you. Consider it.