Blogging the Hugos: Totaled

Kary English
Category: Best Short Story

This starts out sounding like it’s going to be an anti-Obamacare parable: protagonist Maggie is “totaled” after a car accident in the sense that her insurance has declared her not worth saving, and sold her off for parts. The story doesn’t dwell on death-panel anxiety, though. Maggie’s brain is put in a jar, still conscious due to the high-tech fluid it’s immersed in, and sent to a research lab where she attempts to communicate with the scientist studying her. The story is really about her efforts to escape the prison of her own disembodied mind.

And it’s actually not bad! Definitely the best of the (otherwise dismal) short stories category. This is a legitimately terrifying scenario, much more so than the giant monster of the previous story, and that makes it more interesting. It’s also a more plausible scientists-solving-problems story than the last one we got (“The Triple Sun”). Maggie’s efforts to make contact with the outside world—basically, by intentionally activating specific brain regions in an fMRI scan—have some basis in real science.

I do wish there had been a little more in the way of clever workarounds and jury-rigging (as happens in real science labs) and less convenient technologies that happen to be ready at the right time. And Maggie’s collaborators didn’t seem to be very thoughtful in leaving her without any stimulus overnight—seriously, put on an audiobook or something so she doesn’t get bored. But minor flaws aside, I enjoyed reading this one.