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Author Topic: EP308: Kill Me  (Read 4219 times)
eytanz
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« on: September 01, 2011, 03:29:14 PM »

EP308: Kill Me

by Vylar Kaftan

Read by Mur Lafferty

---

I’m sitting cross-legged on a rock in west Texas, somewhere north of El Paso, bleeding into the dirt. The pose feels like a meditation. I’m fascinated with the knife mark on my left thigh, a shallow slash from hip to knee. It’s surrounded by bruise clusters that look like flowers of broken skin. In the silent desert, I hear only the soft clicking of the car cooling down. Then his urine splashes against the rock behind me, and I hear his zipper when he’s done. The night breeze is icy on my back, drying the blood into clots. He did me well, I admit, glancing up at the full desert moon. If my body survived–which it wouldn’t–I would be scarred, possibly disfigured. The welts on my back throb like electricity, and everything–the moon, the desert, the wind–is alive with me.

He walks in front of me. I look up at the man who brought me all the way from Denver. He looks like a black dog, matted and angry, and growls like one too. My eyes travel to the cluster of thick hair springing from his shirt neck. He folds his arms over his chest.

“The night’s almost over,” I remind him.

He scowls. “Get in the trunk.”

I hesitate–he paid me to do the shy-girl act, a popular one–and he grabs my arm. He hauls me over the rear bumper into the trunk of his ’33 Axis. He slaps me once across the face–not as hard as I expected–and crumples me into the tight compartment. He slams the trunk closed, catching my hair in the door. I try to pull free, but it’s no use. I don’t think he meant that part, but he doesn’t seem to notice the long trail of hair hanging out of the trunk. The car door opens and the ignition starts. I tug on my hair once more and then relax, concentrating on where I hurt, where my body throbs with pain.

As many times as I’ve done this, I still try to experience it all. Because it’s not every day you experience death. Only every three months.


Rated inappropriate for seventeen and younger due to language and violence.

Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #1 on: September 01, 2011, 03:31:07 PM »

I am the King Under the Mountain... and all I have to say is that I'm already looking forward to listening to this story. The preview makes it look delicious, and Vylar Kaftan rarely fails me. Hopefully I'll get to it today.
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #2 on: September 02, 2011, 03:17:31 PM »

I found this story incredibly disappointing. In fact, I hated it. I was tempted to turn it off, but I kept on listening because I have a lot of faith in Vylar Kaftan and hoped it would get better. I hated the way the story reduced masochism to a desire to die and sadism to a desire to kill - actually, both fantasies are quite rare. I hated that all the men in the story were jerks, and that the only positively depicted sadist - the narrator's former play partner - was a woman. The story infuriated me from about the one-quarter mark all the way to the finish.

I can't fault the craft of the story. Kaftan is a very good writer, and it shows in the prose. The story is very well-paced, the descriptions just bloody enough to thrill, and the character's predicament exquisitely explicated. If it weren't for the stuff I hated, I would have liked this story quite a lot.

But the story... I found the story itself to be intolerably small-minded.
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« Reply #3 on: September 02, 2011, 03:21:39 PM »

This one didn't work that well for me mainly because the central idea of contract between Antonio and Ada isn't convincing and neither is their whole encounter.

Firstly Antonio says he knows Ada doesn't do it for the money but Ada has already shown she's not getting a thrill from it anymore but needs the money to buy new bodies. Then idea that Antonio believes he owns Ada doesn't hold up. It's obvious she can either scam the contract and not be found out, she travels the world after all who would know if she indulged her peccadillo in some dive in Poland? Or of course she still has the choices of voiding the contract and choosing to die when her last clone expires or, as she actually chooses to do, she can void it and go back to work.

Maybe if as part of the contract the backup device was altered so that if it detected Ada was feeling pain and enjoying it it would stop working that might have made it more of a real dilemma for her.

On a separate strand I wonder what female readers made of the story and would they have felt differently about it if the author had been a man. There has been a debate for some time in relation to violence against women in crime books:- http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/oct/25/jessica-mann-crime-novels-anti-women
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Kconv
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« Reply #4 on: September 03, 2011, 11:43:16 PM »

This is somewhat a fox and scorpion style story.

Why did the scorpion sting the fox and drown, because its a scorpion.

She is a masochist with death fantasies... why does she still do it, she is a scorpion.

Humans are human and do things that are bad for them even if they know better because they are human.


Edit as a response to a previous poster, this is a case of absence makes the heart grow fonder, she stopped getting a thrill from it, till she had it taken away from her.

I believe Ada got the thrill back after not having done it for a year, she lost the thrill because it became a chore...

I play MMO's and after a while playing them, they become a terrible chore and I cant stand playing anymore, then I leave the game and come back a year, maybe more maybe less later and its fun again. Its not exactly the same, but I think you see where I might be going here.
« Last Edit: September 03, 2011, 11:48:46 PM by Kconv » Logged
childoftyranny
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« Reply #5 on: September 04, 2011, 05:58:55 AM »

I play MMO's and after a while playing them, they become a terrible chore and I cant stand playing anymore, then I leave the game and come back a year, maybe more maybe less later and its fun again. Its not exactly the same, but I think you see where I might be going here.

I'm sad to say the first thing I thought of when reading this apt-enough comparison was, "If you die in the game, you die for real." Which I personally still think was far more interestingly present in the book "Kill o Byte" by Piers Anthony.
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NomadicScribe
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« Reply #6 on: September 04, 2011, 10:25:44 AM »

I liked this story. The premise drew me in, and the plot held a fair amount of intrigue and suspense for me. The conflict at the end, however, was too tantalizing. I feel like she got off too easy. Moreover, there was never an explanation of what measures Antonio was going to take to prevent her from practicing masochism. Legal means? Technological? In any case, she gets out of it too easily, and that diminishes the impact of her decision to sign the papers. You want to REALLY own someone, make sure they can never get out of a binding legal entanglement.

Other than a too-simple ending, I have to say that I really enjoyed the themes of power and control. These are issues that people deal with in everyday life to one degree or another, whether it's relationships or car payments or deciding whether you want to support politicians that want to expand the government or politicians who want to expand corporations. But here it is expanded to life-or-death extremes. It was bold to go there.
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Scattercat
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« Reply #7 on: September 05, 2011, 05:50:30 AM »

The masochist cries out, "Beat me, beat me!"

"No," said the sadist.

---

I was amused at the story's ability to take that (very old) joke and weave a full narrative out of it.  However, I found the story itself unsatisfying.  From a purely mechanical perspective, the episode at the beginning is slightly disconnected from the main plot.  Yes, we see Ada's initial reaction to the thought of dying permanently, but it felt like a little bit too long just to establish that single fact about her.  When the mysterious gentleman caller turned out to be Johnny Random from her past, I was slightly disappointed that Chekhov's Gun had been ignored.  Not a major gripe; I like to see intricate mechanisms and watch how they fit together, and I was disappointed that there was no unifying thread involved.

The ending left me a little flat as well.  I am about as far from either a sadist or a masochist as one can get.  (I suspect I am what Ada would sneeringly refer to as "soft-hearted," in that I dislike seeing pain inflicted and abhor inflicting it myself.)  However, I have to guess that even the extremely kinky among us would agree that someone seriously considering suicide in the name of temporary semi-sexual satisfaction is someone who is damaged and needs therapy or assistance.  Enjoying the feeling of ceding control to someone else is one thing, but permanent self-harm is quite another.

When Ada has her realization of what Antonio truly did (and frankly I'm a little confused that she didn't see it right away), I thought for a moment that she'd finally understood her kink, that she'd grokked the idea of winning by losing, of gaining control by giving it away, and that she would proceed to flout Antonio by truly enjoying her life under his strictures.  Masochistically refusing to participate in masochism, as it were.  :-)  Instead, she merely breaks the contract and goes back to her old life, just as if he really were a partner who'd ignored her safeword.  I can't see that as a triumph, which is what the story seems to imply it was.  Antonio won; he told her he would own her and control her, and in the end she admits that he totally did beat her and leaves the game they were playing.  I do see the thread of her suicidal tendencies, how she wanted real death and thus was unsatisfied with the imitation, but now is able to embrace the imitation and actively lead her own life, but to me that feels like a relatively hollow victory.  Ada doesn't really change much by the end of the story; after all, she was afraid of dying "for real" in that opening scene, so it's not like she was actively suicidal then, either.  Her suicidal tendencies surfaced only under Antonio's somewhat cruel legacy.  (And who wouldn't start to exhibit signs of mental stress if forcibly kept from release?  It takes a special kind of person to be a monk.)
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« Reply #8 on: September 05, 2011, 07:47:01 AM »

Another good idea -- one that I've had myself, but Ms Kaftan got it published before I even started writing it, so good on her for that -- that didn't really work in execution. If this was just a story about a professional masochist, or someone who gets killed for a living, that's one thing. But then there was this whole BDSM subtext added that, to me, just felt... incorrect. I don't think Ada being into BDSM added a ton to the story, and in fact, as someone who has been a part of that community, it didn't seem right to me*. Maybe that's because of the framing that had to be done -- Ada, talking about the clubs all the time in her internal monologue, the little addition that Skye is a woman and Ada has slept with her... none of it seemed to fit the story, and I think we really could've had a good story without all of the kink background.

And then there was the ending, which seemed to keep... on... going... I realize the author was trying to get to a point where Ada went back to the company, but it took too long, and the whole thing with the Russian and the money was not only completely transparent but also slowed and weakened the story. I mean, why not have a perfectly "normal" mugging?

Overall, not a fan of the execution.

* Now, having said that... I have friends who have gotten more and more kinky until they've passed all MY lines...
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grokman
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« Reply #9 on: September 05, 2011, 08:36:51 PM »

Yawn.... another S&M story. I was interested in it until it was revealed that she was a masochist. It would've been a lot more intriguing if she were dying only for money.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #10 on: September 05, 2011, 10:28:53 PM »

I was really worried by the warning at the beginning, and am quite glad that it was included. It allowed me to prepare myself enough that I got through the story fine, but it's just not in me to enjoy this kind of story. Somehow it always seems that this author's stories would sit more comfortably in Pseudopod or the Drabblecast, though I understand why it ran here.

It seemed like Ada herself couldn't figure out what her true motivations were: did she want the job for the money or for the thrill? She seemed to change back and forth throughout the narrative, in a back and forth kind of way rather than a character arc kind of way.
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« Reply #11 on: September 06, 2011, 09:20:57 AM »

The premise of this was really interesting, with the government regulations that no second copy of a person's mind can ever exist, with the job of the death-workers who get paid to be killed and the messed-up encouragement of the killers--hey look, you can practice amateur killing until you get it just perfect and then you can go pro.

I thought the part up until her old acquaintance showing up was really good, interesting character, great worlbuilding.  Then it really dragged for the rest of the time.  He even explains to her exactly what his ulterior plan is, and she's not paying attention by that time, counting her money.  The contract was kind of ridiculous in that it had no way to be enforced.  Here, take all the money, and THEN you can't hurt yourself forever.  Riiiight.  Because she couldn't hurt herself on the side, or take an unofficial job, or just spend all the money and then take the job, or any number of other perfectly viable options.  It just seemed like he considered it his grand master plan despite it being completely unenforced agreement.  And then in the end she suddenly "realizes" his plan, the one that's just like his explanation he made before he died to which she was not paying attention.  So that wasn't much of a grand revelation.


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« Reply #12 on: September 06, 2011, 10:24:56 AM »

Because she couldn't hurt herself on the side, or take an unofficial job, or just spend all the money and then take the job, or any number of other perfectly viable options.  It just seemed like he considered it his grand master plan despite it being completely unenforced agreement.  And then in the end she suddenly "realizes" his plan, the one that's just like his explanation he made before he died to which she was not paying attention.  So that wasn't much of a grand revelation.

I think there were two things at work here:

1. She's a sub, so by submitting to Antonio, even though he's dead, her mental wiring won't let her disobey outright.

2. To guarantee there's only one copy of each person's mind, maybe there's a procedure the doctors have to go through, and if her new memories from the preservation device involve her harming herself or consenting to be harmed she will lose the money that way. But that would've slowed down a slow section even more.
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #13 on: September 06, 2011, 10:44:50 AM »

1. She's a sub, so by submitting to Antonio, even though he's dead, her mental wiring won't let her disobey outright.

Sorry, but no. I've known subs, and there's nothing special about them. They aren't magical obedient slave people. They do whatever the hell they want, just like everyone else. Even those subs who like to think that they are magical obedient slave people are only so because they choose to be so, day after day.

2. To guarantee there's only one copy of each person's mind, maybe there's a procedure the doctors have to go through, and if her new memories from the preservation device involve her harming herself or consenting to be harmed she will lose the money that way. But that would've slowed down a slow section even more.

I agree that this is a major enough plot hole that it should have been closed, even if it meant adding another passage or shortening another part of the story.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #14 on: September 06, 2011, 11:22:52 AM »

2. To guarantee there's only one copy of each person's mind, maybe there's a procedure the doctors have to go through, and if her new memories from the preservation device involve her harming herself or consenting to be harmed she will lose the money that way. But that would've slowed down a slow section even more.

If there had been any evidence of this in story, it all would've been a much stronger dilemma for her.  But I saw absolutely no indication of this.  It sounded to me like, as long as she could pay she would be restored in return for the money.  I saw nothing that even hinted that those doing the procedure would be willing or even able to do such a checking procedure. 
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #15 on: September 06, 2011, 05:28:39 PM »

The masochist cries out, "Beat me, beat me!"

"No," said the sadist.

Heh. Yeah, that pretty much encapsulates it, doesn't it?

I was predisposed to not like this. I have problems with authors celebrating outre sexuality greatly (and even though there was specifically no coitus, I'd still call this a sexuality story because in the minds of most people BDSM is a "sex thing"), not because I think it's immoral or indecent, but because it so often seems like the author is bragging about how cool they are that they'll push the envelope. This is my barrier to entry for the Kushiel books.

And for a moment, I thought that was NOT where this was going, in the middle. But then it was.

There are also several logical - well, perhaps social - problems. The narrator can tell herself that she's helping people act out their aggressions in a safe way, and while I can't conceive why anyone would willingly make themselves into an object, let alone an object for someone's anger, she would only be helping someone with money, leaving me to ponder the fate of the poor sadistic sociopaths of this society.

But the story seems to want it both ways. On the one hand, the guy nearly really kills her "reads" as poor, though we later learn this costs, while on the other hand, her benefactor is ridiculously wealthy (bringing in all those tired cliches of the "sophisticated wealthy gentleman" from de Sade and "The Story of O").

All to make the point that she's not afraid of death, and so that makes her scary. Hell, I would have gone with assassin or merc, but I suppose that would be completely counter to characters base persona.

Yeah, I get the "what if" - "what if you didn't have to restrain yourself in this situation?", but I have trouble seeing the benefits of that. Perhaps listening to it on a sunny day in a park full of life made it hard to embrace death.
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« Reply #16 on: September 07, 2011, 10:39:04 AM »

1. She's a sub, so by submitting to Antonio, even though he's dead, her mental wiring won't let her disobey outright.

Sorry, but no. I've known subs, and there's nothing special about them. They aren't magical obedient slave people. They do whatever the hell they want, just like everyone else. Even those subs who like to think that they are magical obedient slave people are only so because they choose to be so, day after day.

Yes, true. I wasn't saying "this is how all subs are", but "this is my opinion as to why Ada does what she does".
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« Reply #17 on: September 08, 2011, 09:20:18 AM »

There was was amusing little detail (something which probably tells something about sex norms US culture):
You may kill me in any way you want; you may torture me in any way you can possible think off. Do you want to have sex with me? Ow, that would be gross!!
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birdless
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« Reply #18 on: September 08, 2011, 10:01:32 AM »

The very concept that this would ever be legal and especially that it would ever be considered a "healthy" way for psychopaths to vent their anger so completely took me out of the story I never got back into it. Well, in full disclosure, I probably never would have gotten into the story anyway: As with Scattercat, I'm as far removed from the S&M culture as I can get, so the S&M nature of it kept me from getting very involved in it. And like Devoted135, the warning helped me prepare for what was to come (though I was expecting worse), but it's not in me, either, to enjoy this kind of story. So this was obviously a dud for me.

But I do celebrate that all kinds are represented here and that we all seem to get along remarkably well, especially for a largely anonymous forum. That's why I love these boards!
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NomadicScribe
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« Reply #19 on: September 08, 2011, 11:39:36 AM »

The very concept that this would ever be legal and especially that it would ever be considered a "healthy" way for psychopaths to vent their anger so completely took me out of the story I never got back into it.

This aspect is actually what drew me in. I was intrigued by the concept of a society so morally depraved it allowed people to schedule the occasional murder, thanks to the existence of apparent resurrection technology.

Of course, on that subject, looking back, I'd have to say that was my number one real problem with the story. The fact that there was no continuity of consciousness for this character, but only an endless stream of new bodies, with her memories transferred from one to the next. I strongly object to the concept that implanting your memories into a clone is the "same thing" as continuing to stay alive.
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