Designing Worlds for Everyone
4:00 PM Friday
Stella Evans (M), Avani Gadani, A.T. Greenblatt, Benjamin C. Kinney, Michael Merriam.
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
7:00 PM Friday
Scott Lynch, Aimee Kuzenski, Arkady Martine, Aja McCullough, Reuben Poling (M).
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
9:30 AM Saturday
Catherine Lundoff, Jenn Lyons (M), Paul Weimer, Patricia C. Wrede, Caroline M. Yoachim.
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
11:00 AM Saturday
Elizabeth Bear, Catherine Lundoff, Scott Lynch (M), Fade Manley, C.L. Polk.
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
2:00 PM Saturday
Kate Dane, Marissa Lingen, Arkady Martine (M), Abra Staffin-Wiebe, Tyler Tork.
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.
What It Takes to Feed a City: Logistics of Agriculture in Fantasy
3:30 PM Saturday
John Appel (M), Elizabeth Bear, Michael Merriam, C.L. Polk, Victor Raymond.
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?
Overthrow Systems, Not People: Accountability and Social Action in Fantasy
5:00 PM Saturday
Stella Evans, Jennifer Mace, C.L. Polk (M), Reuben Poling, Victor Raymond.
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
8:00 PM Saturday
Anthony W Eichenlaub, Benjamin C Kinney, Aimee Kuzenski, Fade Manley, Ginger Weil (M).
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
10:00 AM Sunday
John Appel, Jennifer Mace, Jon Singer, Caroline Stevermer, Paul Weimer (M).
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?
Ambiguous Narrative Stances
11:30 AM Sunday
A.T. Greenblatt, Marissa Lingen, Jenn Lyons, Aja McCullough (M), Abra Staffin-Wiebe.
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?
…But That’s a Different Panel
2:30 PM Sunday
As is traditional, at the end of every Fourth Street we use a highly scientific process of note-taking, tea-leaf divination, and programming team desperation to create the framework of a suitably astonishing panel out of the scraps and cast-off ideas from our previous discussions. These data points are fed into our on-site supercomputer, which may in fact be a trained squirrel in a box.* The result: One last dose of highly educational frivolity to tide us all over until we meet again.
*Fourth Street Fantasy cannot legally verify the existence or non-existence of the box or the squirrel or either or both in sequence or in parallel.**
**Hold our beer and watch this, Schrödinger!