2022 Programming: Draft Panels

We’re excited to see folks again at this year’s 4th Street Fantasy! Please take a look at the proposed panel descriptions below, and if you’re interested in volunteering to participate or giving feedback, let us know by filling out this survey.

Proposed Panel Lineup 2022

NOTE: Everything here is provisional and subject to adjustment. None of these titles or descriptions are finalized. One or more of these panels may not appear as part of the finalized program, depending upon participant interest.

Designing Worlds for Everyone

From airport scanners with only two body type defaults to facial recognition systems that can’t recognize BIPOC, unconscious—or conscious—design decisions from our world that treat people unequally seep into our fantasy worlds. Authors create fantastic worlds full of stairs wheelchair users can’t access or magic systems designed to erase disabilities. But there also exist magic writing systems that dyslexic users excel at and blind earthbenders who don’t have to overcome their disabilities in order to thrive. What are broad principles or specific ways of approaching world-building to include as many people in the fantasy as possible? 

Join Us in the Muck: On the Value of Dark Escapism

Past 4th Streets have gushed over books like The Goblin Emperor and other approaches favoring communities coming together and triumphing over oppression, but what is the value of fantasy that is super Not That? Many of us at 4th Street also enjoy reading both TGE and stories with bleak outlooks on the world, and somehow these aesthetic—or thematic—preferences coexist. Let’s talk about why fantasies that share stylistic markers of nihilism and bloodgore can still be validating and empowering rather than depressing slogs. What does dark escapism have to say about heroism and living that we want to take with us?

Would You Want to Live Forever?: Depictions of Immortality in Fantasy

In some stories, immortality is a curse, where a person is forced to continue on when everyone they love dies. Sometimes it’s a gift, with all the time in the world to develop the resources and interests a person cares about. In others it’s an ongoing choice made through concerted spiritual and physical effort. What does a story’s approach to immortality say about the story itself? Who do we immortalize, and why? How can we use and expand depictions of immortality in fantasy to create or deepen dimensions of our stories? 

Modern Sensibility and “Progressive” Narratives

Fantasy writers often write characters who don’t, or logically would not, share modern sensibilities, but they are writing for readers who do. While we want our narratives to progress toward a conclusion, “progress” in our world is not always linear, particularly when it comes to people and cultures. Failure modes of attempting to walk this line abound, including characterizing premodern cultures as “primitive” or making the protagonist the lone ethical exception to prevailing attitudes. Let’s unpack how we balance contextualizing other understandings of the world in different times and places without excusing or validating oppressive behaviors and ways of thinking. 

From a Different Point of View: Choosing Perspective

Some subgenres of fantasy have common market default points-of-view, but there are always exceptions and innovations, too. How do authors decide what POV—third or first, past or present, or something more experimental—to tell stories from? Let’s talk about unique applications of POV, how to weigh their merits, and how the narrative perspective can shape and influence a story. 

The Impact of New Serial Media on Prose Fantasy

Serial media has been around forever, but today’s emerging authors have grown up with different iterations, from manga to internet-based fanfiction, or even C/J/Kdramas to Netflix-style serialized rather than episodic TV seasons. What are the comparative strengths of serialized fiction? How can authors incorporate the structural tropes and pacing of these forms into prose, particularly non-serialized, fantasy? How do we account for differing reader expectations between formats and cultural narrative expectations when we don’t all pull from the same new serial media traditions? This panel will discuss interesting adaptations we’re starting to see of narrative structural elements from specifically new serial media, and what we might expect or want to play with in the future. 

Overthrow Systems, Not People: Accountability and Social Action in Fantasy

The great fantasy of overthrowing leaders and in so doing restoring peace is that all problems can stem from a single bad actor. In reality, our systems are deliberately constructed to defend against this, so no one is individually responsible for unethical conglomerates’ actions—they are borne out of policy, algorithms, and tradition as if by magic. But of course, it’s humans who construct those too. With the understanding that a single villain has the advantage of narrative simplicity, how can fantasy do better work at holding vaster fictional constructed institutions—governments, corporations, or even neighborhood community organizations—accountable, and challenging and changing them?

Conversations with Inanimate Objects: Personification in Fantasy

From talking swords to animated teapots to tribbles, humans will personify absolutely fucking anything. “Why are we like this” is a question probably outside the scope of any single panel, but let’s talk about how fantasy can use this technique to delight—or horrify—readers. In fantasy we have the power to actually bring our dead to a semblance of life and infuse inanimate objects with consciousness or take cursed artifacts on adventures and tuck them into bed. What are ways to be clever about personification, and what opportunity space have we missed?

The Flavor in the Details

Everyone loves being CaptainAmericaUnderstoodThatReference dot gif. On the other hand, it’s alienating to feel left out of the in-joke. How do we walk the line of background details that add extra flavor and resonance for some readers to appreciate without hanging critical story understanding on references not everyone will understand? How do we incorporate allusions to real-world events and memes without their feeling anachronistic? What makes these details worthwhile and not just cleverness at the expense of the story? 

What It Takes to Feed a City: Logistics of Agriculture in Fantasy

Despite the preponderance of farmboy chosen ones, actual farming to support the vast armies and civilizations of fantasy worlds tend to be in short supply. Let’s talk about the logistics of feeding entire worlds—from the space it takes, to how the food actually gets to the bulk of people before it spoils. Not every book needs to focus on agriculture when our heroes are off adventuring, but what are important or interesting aspects to consider that can complicate and enrich our stories? 

Ambiguous Narrative Stances

What kind of ambiguity serves a story, in endings and in narrative support? Raising complicated questions with no easy answers is all well and good; avoiding dealing with what they mean entirely is an abnegation of responsibility. We can’t control reader interpretations, and there can be power in letting readers fill in for themselves what goes, but when is failing to take an explicit stance a disservice to the reader, and how explicit is it important to be? Where is the line between an ambiguous ending that fails the reader by failing to take a stance, or that serves the reader in forcing them to think through implications to their logical conclusion and intentionally decide on their own reading? 

So You Want to Write a Multi-POV Epic Fantasy

The epic fantasy subgenre of tomes so massive they could deflect small arms fire is known not just for its world-building scope, but for its many point-of-view characters. The advantage of multiple POVs in fleshing out world cultures and events is clear, but how can authors manage that many POVs so they don’t overwhelm or lose the reader’s interest with constant switching? How do we balance how much time we spend with any character, and how do we bring so many threads to satisfying conclusions?