"Kill Me" by Vylar Kaftan, and "Snake's Wife" by Ann Leckie

In the wake of recent discussions, I thought this newly published story by Vylar Kaftan might be an interesting read. I’m not all the way to the end yet, so I can’t say what conclusions I’d draw from the text, but I’m interested in yours.

Here’s an excerpt:

The car makes a sharp left. I can tell we’re on a road again because the ride is smoother. My head cracks against the spare tire, and I black out briefly. I twist my neck a little, and arch my back so it isn’t pressed against the floor. My back is wet with injuries, and the trunk smells of tires and blood. He drives for only five minutes before the sirens start.

Patiently, I wait for the questions I know will be asked.

A deep voice, muffled by the trunk walls: “Sir, may I see your license?” A long pause, then, “What’s in your trunk?”

“A professional masochist,” he responds. I’m impressed with his calmness and confidence. Most of my clients would have lied. I suppose he expected the cop to search him anyway.

A short pause, then the trunk flies open. I blink at the red and blue lights in my eyes. There’s a dark, burly figure in front of me. “Ma’am?” he asks.

Before he can go on, I recite, “Professional masochist, license 148-XZ, expiration date 7-8-38, name Ada Maureen Protierre, backed up by HMX Micro Industries, category 13B.” I must be a sight, bloody in a stranger’s trunk, rattling off my legal information.

And while we’re at it, the same issue of Helix Magazine features a story by Ann Leckie which explores the creation and experience of gender, sexuality, and love, in a setting based on ancient Persia. An excerpt from hers:

“My friend,” said Atehatsqe, and put a hand on his shoulder, briefly.

“I know your reason for doing this, but…”

“Doing what?”

“This marriage.” The way Varoshtej said marriage made it clear that he was no more in favor of it than I was.

“Do you have any arguments I haven’t heard before?” It was clear that both of them thought I couldn’t understand Theretan. I hung my head under the folds of silk and listened.

“That is not the daughter of Ysas. You’ve castrated him and put him in a dress but that hasn’t changed what he is. Do you think he’ll submit to the insult?”

“Women do.”

“It’s different with women. Yrej is a man, with a man’s pride.” He was arguing my side, but I felt a sickening shame. “By all means provide for him,” Varoshtej continued. “Gratify your lust if you like, he’s good looking enough. But don’t put this eunuch beside you on the throne.”

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4 Responses to "Kill Me" by Vylar Kaftan, and "Snake's Wife" by Ann Leckie

  1. 1
    Madeline says:

    Will somebody please read and comment upon the Vylar Kaftan story? I read it, and I’m dying to discuss it somewhere.

  2. 2
    Dianne says:

    I read it too, but don’t quite know what to say about it yet…

    My first impression was that the basic set up would not work. That is, if there were a professional masochist service that people (men only?) could use to get out their aggressive impulses and kill someone “safely” the clients would eventually find that unsatisfying and go on to permanently killing non-consenting victims. Especially if the victims’ last words tended to be things like “make sure you return the device to the company when you’re done”. I would imagine that that sort of remark would kind of spoil the fantasy.

    I also notice that the company mentioned has an almost slavery ring going…the women (and men?) who are the masochists are doomed to die in 3 months unless they get a replacement body…which almost no one can afford without working for the company. Quite appart from the addiction aspect (the masochists get addicted to the adrenaline rush of getting killed and don’t want to quit because then that would be unsatisfied). I was sort of annoyed that these aspects never got explicitly explored. Or maybe I’m just obsessed with companies as evil.

    Your thoughts?

  3. 3
    Mandolin says:

    I know Vy, so first off, I’m biased, although I’m also about to give a bad review. :-P

    This story started out as what appeared to be a classic thought experiment (“What if masochists didn’t need to fear permanent physical harm from activity in scene?”). It moved away from that question to interrogate claims of masochism as not only a sexuality, but a way of vivifying life. I thought the story was interesting in the first, and fell flat in the latter, not because the second question shouldn’t be asked in a story (and perhaps given this answer), but because the writing became (IMO) strained and forced in order to create the desired answer.

    I thought the story was extremely strong until we hit the point where she went to Antonio’s mansion and he started speaking what seemed to me to have been the subtext of the story. When a character starts cackling things like “You and I are two halves” and “you and I are pure!” — he shouldn’t be *right*.

    I think the story could have done with a touch more ambiguity. If Vylar’s intent was to convince me of what appears to be the story’s thesis — that masochism is about feeling the vibrancy of life — I’m not sure that putting the words in a maniac’s mouth, and then having them play out so uncomplicatedly in the story, was the best way to do that. I’m told (first in dialogue, and then in exposition) that the character feels unalive because of her lack of pain, and I see that her actions address that need, but I don’t ever really see her feeling it. Consequently, I don’t really believe it. It feels inserted and authorial. I am not convinced it is a possibly real response, at least not in the text as I’m given it. It gave me the sense that Vy had stacked the deck on this one, that she was going to tell me her point instead of showing it.

    Vy & I were both on a panel at the most recent Wiscon about writing political fiction, which we both do and are both proud of doing. In general, I quite adore Vylar’s political fiction, but this one fell flat for me, because I felt it didn’t leave enough space for me as a reader.

  4. 4
    Madeline says:

    Mandolin, I agree what you said about the story. I thought the second part of the story was a bit contrived. The premise, however, was so powerful that I was expecting a lot more.

    I had some problems with the details. Ada says that she is a “professional masochist.” She is more like a “professional murder victim.” I’m no expert, but I didn’t think that death was necessarily part of S&M fantasy. Surely there are people who fantasize about killing/being killed for sexual pleasure, but I didn’t think it was typical. I would think there would be a far larger number of clients who would want to injure and abuse a professional masochist as part of their fantasy, but not kill her. However, the nature of Ada’s cloned body/memory device seemed to require that she die at the end of each session.