An AussieCon4 panel including Deborah Biancotti, Richard Harland, Jason Nahrung and Catherynne Valente took a starting point that dark fantasy can push at boundaries and examine various taboos.
Deb is a Sydney-based writer, psychology graduate and a dark fantasist who likes “playing with” the taboo of death. She also notices the differences within cultures and how there are many alternatives to a Christian or “western” approach.
Cat has written over a dozen novels and won many awards for her challenging work. She cites Lolita as an example of a work that is so powerful because it is so beautifully written. The skill of Nabokov’s story can be seen as shocking because it implicates the reader. Writing about subjects a particular culture is afraid of can lead to some backlash. Cat mentioned that Americans and Italians, particularly, are not happy if Christian teachings are treated in stories as mythology rather than fact.
Richard’s prolific output includes Steampunk and he mentioned stories with a macabre emphasis, for example involving body parts and also torture, can now be accepted by librarians.
Of note was the thought that there are no longer any taboos in comedy or horror, and perhaps speculative fiction and fantasy have reached similar acceptance when dealing with many taboos.
Cat found, however, that what appeared to be autobiographical content distressed a small but nonetheless significant percentage of her audience. Polysexual themes are “accepted in spec fic” however, she said, and suggested that is why there are many poly people in that community.