Fourth Street Fantasy is a smallish single track convention, which basically means that there is only one panel going on at a time, and everybody gets the same overall experience. This leads to the real point of Fourth Street – which is the conversation. It spills from the panels (which involve lots of audience participation) to the con suite to any nearby eatery where con goers are gathered. It’s all about the conversation.
It’s not exactly “The Little Con that Could”, because a core group has been part of this con’s history and friendship and there is a local SFF scene – and I don’t have much to base this on because I’ve been to two cons: Fourth Street 2008 and Fourth Street 2009. But the con works, and I suspect very much that it works in ways that some larger cons might not. Fourth Street tags itself as the “best fantasy convention on the block”, and though I haven’t been to any others, I have a difficult time arguing with that statement.
Words become code. Having only been to two conventions, I don’t know if each con has its own language or if there is a fan-language, but what I think happens is that each particular convention evolves its own language. It tends to happen early on. “She was sad”, in its original context, was an example of bad writing. Throughout the convention, repetition gave it meaning. Gave it humor. Gave it a place in the language, in the conversation. The same with “I liked his earlier work”. Steven Brust initially used it as an example of how to get out of admitting you haven’t read an author whom you would be embarrassed to admit to haven’t read. It crops up again and again, not entirely in the original context, but it is a shared word. A code, if you will.
Part of how this works, I believe, is that Fourth Street is such a small con with a single track of programming. Unless one skips a panel (and few do), everybody is speaking the same language and learns the same signals and code words. Sure, those who know each other perhaps have a richer shared language, but the collective group of the convention gets the same jokes because of the shared code.
It’s really cool.
For me, the con experience is centered around panel. I want to hear what the smart and interesting writer type people have to talk about. Going to Fourth Street makes me want to read more. I’ve read Palimpsest, and I appreciate it but it didn’t fully work for me, but after one panel with Catherynne Valente and I want to read The Orphan’s Tales. And then I want to read Melusine, from Sarah Monette. And everything Steven Brust has ever written (or will ever write). And. And. Well, there’s a point here. And it’s that getting to listen to great conversation between the writers tends to excite me to go seek out their work. I picked up Brust’s Jhereg after last year’s Fourth Street. Still haven’t read it, but it’s the thought that counts.
Those who are outstanding on panel and should be sought out in the future for as many panels as possible: Cat Valente, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Sarah Monette, Sharyn November, and Steven Brust.
If I had my way Brust would find himself on every panel. It’ll never happen.
It’s the sort of place where even unsociable people (like me!) can see the same faces each day, meet people, get to know them, and share a meal. And talk about stuff. Because again, it’s the conversation.
Part of the conversation that started at a panel on the popularity of YA was questioning what the next big thing would be. Right now it is vampires. But what happens next. Abra Staffin Wiebe figured out that the next vampires will be robots, not zombies. Zombies have the whole brain-leak problem and werewolves just haven’t caught on in the same way. But Robots. Robots are next. Note the character of Cameron on Sarah Connor Chronicles. This is one example of the sort of conversation that can spin off over dinner after a good panel. This is also a single conversation I happened to be a part of. There are all sorts of conversations happening at Fourth Street.
Two great panels on Day 2, which in my limited experience tends to be the strong day because it is the only full day of panel, were the “Family and Fantasy” and “Food, Fashion, and Fornication” panels. For very different reasons. Family and Fantasy actually talked about a variety of ways family was portrayed (or not) in fantasy literature. FFF did get at different ways the use of food, fashion, and fornication implies certain things about the world. But, I was here last year and last year was a much more in depth discussion with one serious historical fornication expert that really changed the nature of the conversation. It’s interesting to see the same topic attacked in different ways depending on who was there.
This year’s Fourth Street has a most excellent souvenir for members. A pen. Oh, but not just a pen, a pen that is shaped sort of like a Hugo award. Oh, but not just a pen that is shaped sort of like a Hugo award, a pen that is also a flash drive. The flash drive contains a buncha pre-loaded content – the program for this year’s con, some useful info, memories of previous conventions, a slideshow, and “The Alternate History 2009 Fourth Street”. This last folder is about what we might have experienced had situations been different and Cory Doctorow and Jonathan Coulton been able to attend. We get two Coulton mp3s (“Skullcrusher Mountain” and “The Future Soon”) and Cory’s story “The Things that Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away”. It has great content and is a nice bonus.
That’s a taste of Fourth Street. Describing a the flavor of a meal can only go so far, no matter how many words are used. The only way to really know how a meal tastes is to try it for yourself. So it is with Fourth Street Fantasy.