Hello, 4th Streeters--
After several commendable years as head of programming for our little shindig, Alec Austin decided to hang up his spurs in 2014, and the task of building a program has been in my lap since then.
I've been collecting, refining, sifting, and mutating panel possibilities for a few months now, using the suggestions from last year's white board as a starting point. I also wrote out grids of the 2013 and 2014 panels and their participants, to make sure we weren't repeating ourselves too soon and to try and come up with stuff that might build off of previous discussions.
I've been aided, counseled, and double-checked at various points by Marissa Lingen, Fade Manley, Steve Brust, Alec Austin, and Ctein, and am grateful for all the help.
Our con this year will follow the same programming format as usual, a single track of 10 panels followed by "But That's Another Panel..." on Sunday, the contents and participants of which are chosen more or less in the same way a Pope is.
Please note: These titles are not necessarily final, the descriptions are definitely not final, and these panels are not listed in the order in which they will be taking place.
A couple of these panel descriptions have additional explanatory notes from me.
Without further ado-- here's what I think are the ten strongest contenders in the big pack of possibilities:
• The Phantasmagorical Cross-Cultural Sexual Cogitation Panel
Treatments of sex in fantasy with comparative notes from the real world. What we’ve done right, what we’ve ignored, and most importantly, what we might never have seen before.
• Crossing the Genre Streams
The challenges, structural concerns, and tricks of crossing two or more established genres in one book. How the beats fall differently, how to manage different sets of expectations, etc.
• How Do You Play the Cards You Ain’t Been Dealt?
We’ve often talked about the concept that each author gets some cards from the skill-set deck ("dialog,” “voice,” “plot,” “cooking scenes,” etc.) but sadly nobody gets them all. So how do you work with (or around) the cards you're missing?
• Surviving Yourself: Self-Care for Creative Types
Sometimes it seems like the drive for artistic satisfaction is a race to sprain joints, bend spines, wreck eyes, and seal ourselves off from the rest of the human race. So we’ll discuss, in as non-strident and non-prescriptive a fashion as possible, assorted tricks and life hacks that can be used to ease the physical, mental, and social strain of just being our usual selves.
• The Romance of the Breakdown
What’s up with our perpetual fascination with breaking society and dramatizing the apocalypse as well as the post-apocalypse... how do our cultural myths and societal images intersect with this phenomenon and fuel it (the manor house cozy catastrophe of British fiction, the American narrative of rugged survivalists gunning their way across the ungoverned wastes, etc.)? We've seen that national powers can remain in control and national identities remain concrete even when bombs are literally falling from the sky. So why do we seem so convinced that if our society hits the rocks we'll never get it off again?
• Hoisting the Lightning Rod Twice
Once in every generation, the reboot shall fall among them. The X-Files is scheduled to return some 20+ years after it began, Mad Max rides again, Tad Williams is taking readers back to Osten Ard after a quarter-century, and not that long ago John Scalzi wrote what was essentially a literary cover version of H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy. It seems an apt time to talk about what happens when once-formative pop culture returns to the very landscape that it helped to change. What keeps this sort of endeavor truly alive and elevates it above wading in the nostalgia pool? (Hopefully also featuring some discussion about ongoing resonance between Shadow Unit and its real-world ancestor). *SL Note: Don’t worry, we’re not turning into Convergence… I think we have to discuss certain televisual items as touchstones for the discussion of literature, but guiding us toward the latter will be an important part of structuring this panel.
• Does the Arc of Fantasy Bend Toward Justice?
Recent years have given us a spate of fairly high-profile SF/F novels deeply concerned with ethics and the balance of power between the state and the individual. The Goblin Emperor, Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and The Just City are a few obvious examples. Is the deconstruction of empire here to stay, or is it just another passing current in the river of our dreams? How did we get here from a seemingly interminable preoccupation with concepts such as right-of-arms and divine right? Are we evolving or merely reacting?
• Misdirection, Dirty Tricks, and False Fumbles
The use of shock, upset, disorientation, and fake-out, all in the service of eventually delivering some manner of the goods the reader more or less expects. The conundrum of keeping things fresh and seemingly risky while staying thematically and atmospherically tied to existing work. How to secure and maintain reader tolerance for deviation from expectations… how long does a writer have before a deliberate twist is mistaken for a meta-fictional mistake, and vice versa?
• Lento, Allegro, Chapter Break: Understanding Plot and Pacing Through Music
Talking about the structures of our stories using the elements of musical composition, and vice versa. How and when is this sort of artistic cross-mapping beneficial as opposed to merely interestingly coincidental? *SL Note: Given how many musicians we have in the audience, I thought a panel explicitly bridging the disciplines of making words and making sounds would be a cool experiment.
• The Consequences of Communication
SF/F has offered many visions of new and improved communications over the years, but hasn’t always fully explored the second-order effects and the social consequences of these developments. Let’s dig deep and explore the realistic side-effects and possible societal changes of what we can see headed our way, extrapolating from the very real changes that have washed over us like waves in our own lifetimes. “Future radio will go farther and sound better” ain’t enough… let’s talk about what these developments do to us.
I have been in touch with a great many people so far, and will be in contact with a great many more today and tomorrow. For some of you, I have an ideal place visualized, but that vision in my head must absolutely bend to your own availability and interest. So please feel free to contact me immediately (email@example.com, or here, or on Twitter) if one or more of these panel descriptions strikes you as something you'd like to sit on.
Don't hesitate to do so, either, if you have powerful objections to anything you see here and/or a last-minute idea that you just can't keep under your hat. Anything can still happen at this point.
Cheers and thanks,