Speculative Fiction Reviews
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She Called Me Baby, by Vylar Kaftan - Strange Horizons, 30 May 2005

She Called Me Baby, by Vylar Kaftan

Vylar Kaftan's She Called Me Baby is only the author's second published story, but it shows a remarkable tightness of writing and a complexity of storytelling that one expects from a far more experienced writer. "Baby", the narrator of the story, is a clone, made from her mother, both created and raised to continue her mother's modeling career after her mother has retired. As a teenager, however, she rebelled against her overbearing mother who, she thinks, saw her only as a possession and ran away. Now, as an adult, Baby puts herself through painful and extreme body modifications to make herself look less like her mother, and she makes her own career by satirising the projects that made her mother famous. But now her mother is dying, and Baby is going to face her for the first time in years.

This story is an intimate look at a defective mother-daughter relationship, and at how the objectification processes both of having a child and of fame can twist a family. The addition of the science fictional elements of cloning and extreme body modification serve to throw a brighter spotlight on this sad relationship.

Kaftan intersperces the story with extracts from Baby's autobiography, which Baby is promoting during the story. This device works extremely well in this context, showing the cause of Baby's bitterness that the story explores. The story reminded me most of Stephanie Burgis's Inside the Tower published in Strange Horizons earlier this year. Both stories deal with relationships scarred by years of bitterness and misunderstanding and how the death of the mother leads to a reassessment. What Burgis achieved with a reimagined fairy tale, Kaften achieves in the guise of science fiction.

She Called Me Baby is an accomplished, confident and successful story. I recommend it.

--Patrick Samphire, 6 June 2005

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