Fourth Street Fantasy Convention Programming

Herewith the 1995 programming schedule. As with all convention schedules, this one is preliminary.


 7:00	7:10	Opening ceremonies 

The usual.

7:15	7:30	In memoriam: Roger Zelazny

1937-1995. Farewell

7:30	8:45	Why Do We Read Fiction?

We used to sit around the fire and give this old weirdo some leftover mammoth chops to tell us stories about why the big storm knocked the next village down. But it was cold, so we'd have been around the fire anyway, and how many mammoth chops can a skinny old stick like that eat? Now we're warm, we've got plenty of McMammitches to go, so why are we still forking over $24.95 for the old weirdo's hardcover edition? Could it be that (ominous music up) the direct experience of "reality" is inadequate to explain reality, make it useful? Could it be that under the sugar-coating ("I just read for Entertainment"), fiction contains useful trace elements that keep our consciousness from becoming soggy and hard to light?

And if so, how does this change as the reader changes -- does the semi-mythic children's-book-adults-can-enjoy answer, in fact, to different kinds of interpretive need? Discuss. Define. Divide. Decide. Decry. Defend. Depose. Divine.

[Damon Knight, Donald G. Keller, Patrick Nielsen Hayden (moderator), Patricia C. Wrede]

9:00	10:15	There's Gotta Be a Pony In Here Somewhere

For the rest of Friday evening, an entirely different sort of Big Question. Who, me? I was just looking at those comic books to see if they were as bad as I remember them being. And what's the most embarrassing, least admissible kind of fantasy you enjoy -- and what is there about it that you really like?

[Pamela Dean, Elise Matthesen (moderator), Teresa Nielsen Hayden]

10:30		ad libitum


11:00	12:15	A Life of Their Own: The Tenacity of Pulp

Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Tarzan, Count Dracula, Robin Hood, Conan, Mr. Spock, and Batman may be preposterously unrealistic characters, but they nevertheless take up permanent residence in our imaginations, where they spawn endless variations of themselves. What makes them, and characters like them, so durably interesting? And what makes them different from the most memorable characters of non-pulp fiction, such as Anna Karenina and Huck Finn?

[Lenny Bailes, Steven Brust, Joel Rosenberg, Will Shetterly (moderator)]

12:30	1:45	Magic&Tech. I: Who You Callin'

A great deal of fantasy is set in something called a "pre-technological" age, by which the author seems to mean anything before the steam engine. But complex machinery has been around for a lot longer than that. Mills, water power, clocks.... One pat answer is that "they have magic, so they don't develop technology", yet one rarely sees magic doing the everyday jobs that technology filled.

How might a society without machines, but a high standard of living, look and operate? Or is the absence of machines the whole point?

[Emma Bull, David Dyer-Bennet, Teresa Nielsen Hayden (moderator), Kate Wilhelm, Ben Yalow]

2:00	3:00	Lunch

3:00	4:15	Magic&Tech. II: Any sufficiently advanced

In contemporary fantasy, "magic" is often portrayed as a kind of engineering discipline, rule-based and repeatable in its effects. Perhaps not coincidentally, many of these stories are by writers mainly known for science fiction. (The locals only thought of the Connecticut Yankee's engineering as magic -- he didn't suddenly become better at sorcery than Merlin.)

Does this bear any relation to magic as its historical practitioners understood it to operate, or is it purely a fictional device, putting Competent Engineers into a fantasy world for the sake of a good laugh at superstition? What other effects can this device serve?

[Raphael Carter, John M. Ford (moderator), Damon Knight , Joel Rosenberg]

4:30	5:45	Varieties of Political Experience: There's
a Dwarf with a Grievance Outside, Sir

Democracy, it is useful to remember, is over two thousand years old. So why are so many of the political systems of Fantasyland absolute monarchies on the Western European model?

And why is it that when workers have any organization at all, it's usually some kind of closed-shop craft guild, whose dramatic purpose is normally to preserve ignorance and inefficiency? (Peasants, of course, stand about idly mumbling until provoked to form a mob and overrun something.)

On both counts, how has it been done differently, either from historical sources or operational imaginations?

[Eleanor Arnason, Steven Brust, Victor Raymond (moderator), Martha Soukup]

6:00	7:15	Elfland is a Foreign Country, They do
Things Differently There

Or, You're a Dragon, You Wouldn't Understand.

One of the purposes of fantasy (and arguably of stories in general) is to make strange and alien things comprehensible. But reducing great and numinous concepts like Love, Death, and the appeal of Frosted Pop-Tarts to small and explicable terms not only robs them of the power they had to interest us in the first place, it usually ends up in cheap platitudes: "It is impossible to love Frosted Pop-Tarts without also loving Death a little". On the other hand, saying that something is indescribable or beyond words is not exactly awesome to the reader, and all too often "alien logic" or "nonhuman culture" are used to excuse desperate plot-rigging and utter arbitrariness.

How do you show awe and mystery while still showing something? When is transcendence a necessary end, and when is it a cover for not writing an ending? And is there really a place beyond human reason that is reachable at the touch of a finger, but still won't melt at toaster temperatures?

[Victor Raymond, Elise Matthesen, Delia Sherman (moderator), Patricia C. Wrede]

7:30		ad libitum


11:00	12:15	What Does "Easy to Read" Mean?

Everyone's in favor of "clarity", but no one seems to agree about what it means. Is anyone willing to defend quantitative measures, like syllable count and average sentence length, as measures? How about straightforward moral judgements like, "He drew a knife on me, so I shot him"?

Perhaps more important, what are the conscious uses of "easy" and "difficult" language? (Assuming that by "difficult" we mean writing that is allusive, oblique, and/or ambiguous on purpose, not just so clumsily vague you can't tell what it's supposed to mean.) And what, if anything, may writers reasonably assume about the readers' backgrounds?

[Greg Ketter, Damon Knight (moderator), Caroline Stevermer, Kate Wilhelm]

12:30	1:45	Building the Similitude of Worlds: How
Much Detail Is Enough?

Is it possible that Gene Wolfe and Lord Dunsany, C. S. Forester and Patrick O'Brian, Cecelia Holland and Dorothy Dunnett, all use an appropriate level of detail? (Hint: most readers seem to think so.) Trick is, they don't use anything like the same amount. We may not be looking at a matter of simple quantity.

How does one know what level is correct? Can it be determined in advance? ("For a lightweight adventure story add 1 tablespoon. For complex tales of futuristic intrigue, add 4 tablespoons and one extra cup shortening.") Some writers, without doubt, would consider the question odd, assuming that the tale itself will determine its detail level -- okay, but what mechanism is involved?

And regardless of wordcount, much of the atmosphere of a story is a kind of optical illusion, where the author draws lines and shadows and the reader's mind stretches fabric between. If you describe a horse, how do you make the reader see the intended horse, instead of a zebra or a pickup truck -- and how much does it matter if she sees the pickup truck anyway?

[Emma Bull (moderator), Pamela Dean, John M. Ford]

2:00	2:15	Rant: Why Does Fantasy Make Such Lousy

A Fifteen-Minute Rant On A Loaded Question, By Mr. John M. Ford and Mr. Steven Brust.

2:30	3:45	Magic Realism, Only Not the Ones You're
Thinking Of

Toni Morrison, John Crowley, Patricia Geary, Angela Carter, Mark Helprin, Francine Prose; possibly Alice Hoffman, Gloria Naylor, Francesca Lia Block; and Asst'd Others (whom you may very well not have read yet; but do not be alarmed): writers of really swell fantasy that's firmly rooted in observable reality, a bit literary, and feels less obliged to explain exactly how things work. What is going on here? And what else is going on here?

[Raphael Carter, Pamela Dean, Jenna Felice, Delia Sherman (moderator), Kate Wilhelm]

4:00	5:15	The Different Panel

A Fourth Street tradition: the panel we'll discover, sometime during the convention, that we simply must have. Digressions are often ended by saying "...but that's a different panel". Here it is.

5:30	5:35	Closing Ceremonies

The usual; hope to see you next year.

David Dyer-Bennet <>
Last modified: Mon Jul 17 16:02:37 1995