4th Street 2021 Virtual Panels

Our 2021 panels will remain available at least until the end of July. Transcripts for all panels will be posted ASAP. Enjoy!

The Choreography of Awe: Evoking Wonder in Prose Battle Scenes


Aimee Kuzenski
Fonda Lee
Henry Lien
Valerie Valdes
Django Wexler (Moderator)

Kung fu martial arts sequences in movies are awesome. Describing an action scene blow-by-blow generally isn’t. When it comes to evoking a sense of wonder in audiences, movies have a great advantage in visual spectacle, but prose has an edge with, for instance, interiority, and also no special effects budget limit. How can we leverage prose’s strengths to create spectacular fight scenes that inspire the same exhilaration for readers as watching them?

Kinging Is Hard, But Not Kinging Is Harder: Valorizing Collective Action


Aliette de Bodard
Intisar Khanani
Benjamin C. Kinney
Scott Lynch (Moderator)
Sherwood Smith

Individual people can accomplish a lot, but it takes a village to create systemic change. Even prophesied kings aren’t doing all the work of running a kingdom on their own, but a single hero and their victories are easier to understand and champion than incremental change spread out across a community.

Let’s discuss ways fantasy can move away from the easy inertia of waiting and wanting kings to save us in single decisive battles. How can fantasy effectively depict communities and communal action as heroic? Specifically, how do we structure our stories so they don’t reinforce the narrative that only one special person can have the power to do anything that matters, and challenge what our framework for heroism looks like?

Choosing What Matters: Concepts of Heroism in The Curse of Chalion



Stella Evans
Max Gladstone (Moderator)
Marissa Lingen
Paul Weimer
Patricia C Wrede

In The Curse of Chalion by Minneapolis-based writer Lois McMaster Bujold, the gods set many unknowing people on the path to save the world, but only Cazaril stays the course and arrives able to do what’s needed. It isn’t extraordinary ability required of him, but extraordinary commitment to compassion: his training takes the shape of moments of unfailingly, continually choosing compassion as those acts build in scale of difficulty and significance.

For the 20th anniversary of The Curse of Chalion’s publication, let’s discuss how Bujold pulls this off. How does she make this journey of disparate moments that are not “action-packed” so compelling, and why does this model of heroism in fantasy matter?

Fashion as Weapon and Armor: Layers of Narrative Action


John Chu
Arkady Martine (Moderator)
C. L. Polk
Cat Rambo
Fran Wilde

When it comes to fashion, many fantasy stories do a lot with aesthetics and worldbuilding: the flavor added by a magical cloak, the different costs of costumes. Let’s go beyond fashion as background detail and discuss how it can work as action. Consider the symbols and referents any art employs to convey meaning to those who know how to read it, and how a particular choice of garment can function as plot movement, character development, and thematic motif, sometimes all at once.

In our patriarchal world, fashion is stereotyped as feminine and denigrated, but while associations of fashion in a fantasy world may differ, readers come to a story with their own frameworks. How do we manipulate that understanding to take advantage of all the narrative levels fashion can operate on? From costume design in Star Wars to magical girl transformation sequences in anime, how can we deploy fashion to greater effect in fantasy stories?

Personalizing the Apocalypse: Meaningful Stakes on Grand Scales



Elizabeth Bear
Robyn Bennis
A. T. Greenblatt
Reuben Poling (Moderator)
Jasmine Silvera
John Wiswell

One major roadblock that movements to address disasters of epic proportions encounter is individuals’ inability to conceptualize them on a meaningful scale: not so vast they throw up their hands and decide there’s nothing to be done, and in a scope where they can understand potential effects not as far-off problems for other people, but that require concerted action now.

How can fantasy address apocalypses not just on a world-ending scale, but with localized stakes? How do we make distant stakes–whether that distance is a matter of unfamiliar landscapes, vast timescale, or a scope so all encompassing it’s difficult to grasp–feel both personal and actionable?