Ed Schweppe (edschweppe) wrote,
Ed Schweppe

Hugo Nominees - "Totaled"

Title: "Totaled"
Author: Kary English
Published in: Galaxy's Edge July 2014
Slates: Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies
Trigger warning: assisted suicide

Synopsis: Maggie, a neuroscience researcher and divorced mother of two, is in an auto accident and gets "totaled" (injured so badly that the cost of her care would be more than she's worth financially). She wakes up as a brain in a jar in her old lab, because her obnoxious boss wants her research completed - which, ironically, is all about integrating electronics with neural pathways - and figures that Randy, her lab partner, would find her brain useful. She manages to communicate with her partner by concentrating on happy or disgusting memories (which show up on a fMRI as excitation in different parts of the brain). Together, they succeed in giving Maggie hearing and vision, and put on a demonstration for the obnoxious boss and the rest of the company. However, all that work burns Maggie's brain out prematurely, and her mental capacity deteriorates rapidly. When Randy asks her if he should pull her plug, she answers yes.

My reaction: The first of the Puppy entries to actually feature good writing! There's a definite Flowers for Algernon feel to the tale. Maggie is an engaging character, the byplay between Randy and Jeanine makes for an interesting contrast, and English does a very nice job near the end showing Maggie's mental deterioration. I'm going to look forward to see what other stories English comes up with in the future.

However, this story is good, but not quite great. Flowers for Algernon covered this concept better, and I think that the fullness of Charlie's growth arc was critical to that success; here, all we see is deterioration.The bit about the "Treaders" (presumably today's Tea Partiers) is superfluous, and the obnoxious boss is too cardboardy. I was surprised that neither Maggie nor Randy tried to figure out a better way for Maggie to communicate with. I'm also unsure how realistic it is that Maggie never tries to contact her children (even to say goodbye).

This is the first Puppy-nominated story to even tempt me to place it above No Award. However, it is a slate nominee, and there's enough not-great about it to keep it from overcoming the stigma of the slate nomination; below No Award it goes.

Originally posted at http://edschweppe.dreamwidth.org/193426.html - comment wherever you please.
Tags: hugos

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