“Totaled”, Kary English (Galaxy’s Edge Magazine, 07-2014)
This story is the best of those I’ve read in the short story category so far. It made me cry at the end, touched on two interesting points, and was written literately. There’s been a lot of debate about what makes something “Hugo-worthy” and where/if to place something on the ballot if it’s good but not great, bad but not worst, etc. I find it vaguely sad to be reviewing short stories that should have been nominated for being “Hugo-worthy” and being impressed simply by it being written in a well put together English.
Interesting point one, the idea that people can be “totaled” like cars where their overall value is judged based on how much they are likely to earn in a small amount of foreseeable future. This is an odd concept to me. I understand where it is coming from but it just seems unlikely to happen. Not enough context nor emotion is given around the idea to make sense even within the story. Also no mention is given of the potential “totaled” value of a child which would have been interesting and relevant as there were two children in the car wreck. Nor who has legal guardianship. These are plot holes to me because I feel like the main character would care, or is scripted to seem to be the type to care. Back to the concept of “totaled” though it felt like a plot point that could have been examined instead of just a statement.
Interesting point two, brain computer interface. This is something that currently exists though not in the model written in the book. Current brain computer interfaces (BCI projects) involve a wire cap that is fitted to someone’s head and looks for yes spikes in brain activity based on seeing a desired letter/word. As each brain is unique there is a mapping process where a participant is told to look for a letter, letters are cycled through and spikes recorded. Over time a positive spike is recognizable and communication can begin. It is intended for people with locked in syndrome who cannot even blink yes/no or use eyes tracking for “pointing” to letters with your gaze. This is not the most precise description, there are plenty of articles on BCI, but it’s how I understand it having worked (in a different scope) with researchers working on the project. The key is the mapping. Everyone’s brain maps really uniquely. So the author flips from believable science to science nearly on par with The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. Now I’m good with B-Movie quality everything, even potentially a Hugo worthy story being B-Movie-esque but that did not come off as the author’s intent and if it was her intent it wasn’t communicated well.
So it’s a good story with some interesting points. I would not direct anyone away from it but I can’t think of anyone I would direct to it. Maybe a few of the researchers on the BCI project except I don’t think they’d find it that interesting. Yes, I cried at the end but it was written well and I also cry at the end of some romance novels that were not even well written. I cry at death and classical music.
This gets back to what is Hugo worthy? I’m glad I read this little story. It’ll be interesting to see what the author does in the future. Is this the one she should win a Hugo for? Not in my opinion. Could she win a Hugo? Yes, I think someday she could.
I try to imagine if this is the Rebekah Award for Best of the Year. I know I can’t read everything written in a year but whatever I give this award to really has to convince me it was the best thing that could have been written in the last year. Something I, personally, would choose to call last year’s best. One of the beautiful things about the Hugo awards is as the award is given the echoes of all the hands that held these works are all handing that award over together. It’s a mighty group Yes derived from all sorts of people. And I’d rather have it be a Yes not of my choosing than a “fine, whatever” where I’m just going along.