As ever, input and feedback is appreciated. We also generally try to sculpt our panel topics to fit our attendees, so some additional topics may creep into this list as our membership firms up.
As ever, the only guaranteed panel topic is...
Another Panel: Have you ever had a moderator close down a tangent that seemed as interesting as the panel at hand with "That's another panel"? Well, Another Panel (a Fourth Street tradition!) is where we follow up on those tangents and side conversations.
And here we have 14 possible panel topics. ("Fantasy" is often used inclusively in these descriptions - when it makes sense, assume that the genres being discussed include science fiction.)
POV Fixes Everything: Steve Brust has consistently advanced the claim that 'POV fixes everything'. The readers of recent sprawling fantasy series might take issue with this. What sorts of problems can the careful and intelligent use of POV resolve? What sorts of challenges does choosing a specific POV (or an ever-expanding set of POVs) to use for your story create?
Teens, Work, & Fantasy: In the periods most secondary worlds are based on, teens and pre-teens were often part of the workforce, even the military. How are these issues addressed (or glossed over) in fantasy? How do our modern (and genre) sensibilities impact how children and teenagers are depicted in fantasy?
Challenges and Joys of Syncretist Fantasy: Lots of modern fantasies contain elements from many cultures' myths interacting with each other. What are some of the challenges (both narrative and in terms of being culturally sensitive) associated with this kind of worldbuilding, and what are the rewards for doing the work well?
Intertextuality and Originality: No book exists independent of the literary conversation, no matter how much its author may want it to. Elizabethan faeries are inevitably going to compared to each other, just like dark lords, destined heroes, and vampire-werewolf-mortal love triangles will. Given that very little authors can do will seem novel to experienced readers, how should they approach topics that many readers have been conditioned to read in a certain light? How can works that aim to deconstruct cliches avoid being read as "just X from Y's perspective"?
Families, Festivals, and Fireworks: A different angle on the "Three Fs" panel we've had every year since 4th Street's return. What cool things do our panelists know about families, festivals, and fireworks that would be good to see in books or are just neat to talk about? How did (for example) international trade affect these three Fs historically?
Taxonomies, Magic, and the Numinous: Geeks love taxonomies. Whether they're enumerating noble houses (Dragaeran or Westerosi), the Ajahs of the Aes Sedai, or schools of magic, secondary worlds are rife with invented hierarchies. In cases such as Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy, this can lead to world-building and/or magic that seems more mechanical than numinous. What lies at the root of this love of taxonomies, and how can we scratch that itch without making magic wands feel just like six-shooters?
Blood, Love, and Rhetoric: A character in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead claimed that:
"I can do you blood and love without the rhetoric, and I can do you blood and rhetoric without the love, and I can do you all three concurrent or consecutive, but I can’t do you love and rhetoric without the blood. Blood is compulsory — they’re all blood, you see."Is blood (that is to say, direct, dramatic conflict) actually necessary for stories to 'work'? What about Love and Rhetoric? Are narrative templates that rely on blood just more familiar, or is there a deeper reason why domestic narratives in fantasy are hard to pull off?
Conflict, Threat, and Angst: Writers talk a lot about the mean things they do to their characters. Do frustrated desires, trauma incidents, and looming threats make for drama because they motivate characters to act, or is there more to it? At what point does cranking up the tension and angst cease to drive the narrative forward and become counterproductive?
Collaborations & Shared Worlds: How different are the motivations behind collaborating with another writer, working in a shared world, or writing tie-in work or fan-fiction? Does the stigma that's often attached to tie-in work and fanfic have anything to do with the drive to create it? What can the rhetoric surrounding originality, work-for-hire, and other related issues tell us about how the collaborative process is understood by non-participants?
Accessibility, Intertextuality, and Genre Conventions: Making fantasy accessible to new readers without undermining the things that make it appeal to longtime readers can be challenging. What are some techniques for ensuring that new readers won't feel like they've been thrown in the deep end without swimming lessons? To what extent can such techniques be reconciled with the intertextual references and deconstruction of genre tropes that experienced genre readers often desire?
Story Templates and the Folk Process: It seems like every story, ballad, or epic that's endured for a significant amount of time has been recast and retold again and again. Is the folk process a necessary component of these stories' survival? Is it cultural omnipresence that brings us back to the likes of Robin Hood, Cinderella, and Tam Lin (or, in other cultures, the Monkey King, Coyote, or Baba Yaga) again and again, or do the characters or narrative templates found in these stories share some common resonance?
Politics, Complexity, and Fantasy: Fantasy sometimes seems to have a love/hate relationship with politics: It often wants to deal with grand political issues (revolutions, alliances, continent-spanning conflicts) without addressing the complexities of actual historical politics. What challenges do authors face when trying to depict political scenarios? Are there modes of governance or types of conflict that are particularly challenging to work into fiction? Do long-running series, like C.J. Cherryh's Atevi books, allow for more robust depictions of politics and diplomacy?
Science, Technology, and Fantasy: Many fantasies seem to take place in a never-never land where military technologies don't evolve and magical and scientific experimentation has ground to a halt. This is particularly striking when you consider how rife with drama the history of the renaissance and industrial eras are. What are some of the motivations behind this tendency towards technological stasis in fantasy? What sorts of narrative opportunities open up when you let your world have gunpowder, electricity, or blimps, and let technology mix with magic?
Get Your Reality Out of My Fantasy: Some authors insist on dragging readers through the grim, harsh realities of their world in ways that can be tiresome, or even abhorrent. Is there an argument to be made for "letting fantasy be fantasy", without dragging the real world into it? Even if we can't avoid considering certain aspects of reality, do we want or need more exuberance in the genre? What would stories that are more "pure fantasy" and play to the genre's core strengths look like?
We've also had suggestions proposing experimental panel formats, like using one of our panel slots to run a series of brief humorous panels (possibly randomly selected), or having a panel where the moderator is the only one up front and the panelists include everyone in the audience. While we're unlikely to commit more than one panel's time (Fourth Street generally consists of 10 fixed panels + "Another Panel") to this kind of format experiment, we welcome your input and suggestions.
Okay, it's your turn now. Let us know what you think!