K. A. Doore, author of The Unconquered City, has an important SFF announcement—ASSASSINS ARE SEXY!!!! Check out her explanation on why they are so compelling below.
Assassins in fantasy – as either the villain or hero – are endlessly alluring.
There’s something about that effortless proficiency that’s appealing beyond just the blood and gore. It’s called competence porn for a reason, after all. And these fictional assassins have to be competent, otherwise they would never even make it out of fictional assassin school.
It wasn’t in books that I first discovered the appeal of assassins, but in games. In the late 90s, Half-Life introduced gamers to the particular terror of crawling through lightless ventilation shafts, the joy of a well-balanced crowbar, and the world-altering dangers of theoretical physics. Playing as physicist Gordon Freeman, you have to survive the confused and belligerent aliens that are teleporting into your secret underground lab through the holes your most recent experiment accidentally ripped in spacetime. Of course, to make inter-dimensional invasion by aliens even worse, the government decides to suppress the whole incident – which includes you.
That’s where the Black Ops assassins come in. You’ve just escaped a kidnapping and subsequent attempted murder-by-trash-compactor by the soldiers who were supposed to be saving you and the other scientists, you’ve lost all your weapons, you’re disoriented, and you’ve just stumbled into a storage area. It’s completely empty. You think you can recoup, maybe find something better than a crowbar (spoiler: there’s nothing better than a crowbar), and get your bearings.
Then you start taking damage.
You try to hide but you don’t know what you’re hiding from. You realize the tiniest bzzt of a sound was actually shots fired. At you. But there’s no one here. Then you catch movement out of the corner of your eye. You turn but it’s already gone and you’ve been shot again. It’s terrifying and disorienting and there’s nowhere to hide when you don’t know what you’re hiding from.
Of course, this is a video game, so you eventually find the lithe black-clad figures trying to kill you and escape, but in a game that had heretofore featured obvious and often bumbling monsters, your existence more of a threat to them than theirs is to you, the introduction of the Black Ops assassins takes the game to another level. Someone desperately – personally – wants you dead. That’s scary in a whole new way, one you can’t just run away from because they will follow you and they always, always, find you.
And – you have to admit – it’s more than a bit thrilling, too.
Perhaps something about being hunted by black leather-clad ladies scratched my not-yet-out queer brain, too. But that’s a different essay.
For closeted me playing the game in that moment, having assassins after you means you are important enough to kill, and that’s a fantasy in itself.
So even as I ducked and covered, dodged and ran, and tried desperately to make it out of the encounter alive, part of me didn’t want it to be over. Somebody wanted me dead. That was a desire I could understand. One I had the ability to thwart. Running from assassins was just as much of a power fantasy as playing an assassin. The character’s life – my life – had value.
And maybe, ultimately, that is the singular allure of assassins – as heroes or villains – over other fantasy professions: that a single person can be important, that a single life has value – and a price.
Order The Unconquered City