“Totaled” by Kary English

“Totaled” by Kary English is the first professional-level story on the Hugo ballot I’ve read so far. It’s well-written and well-edited (compared to the other finalists, at least), and English has been a quarterly winner in the Writers of the Future contest, so she seems like a writer who should be taken seriously.

You can read the story here.

Category: Short story
Published in: Galaxy’s Edge, a magazine edited by Mike Resnick
Slates: Rabid Puppies & Sad Puppies

English is the only woman endorsed by the Puppy slates in the fiction categories, now that Annie Bellet has withdrawn, in case anybody is interested in this sort of diversity calculations. Whether interesting or not, this is probably the time to remind everyone once again that people — there’s quite a lot of them, actually — who think Puppy slates are only pushing for work by white dudes are mistaken. The number of stories involving overt feminist themes is probably zero, though, and I haven’t come across a single interesting female character yet. There’s still much to be read, of course.

But enough with the backstory.

Just like “On a Spiritual Plain”, “Totaled” is another example of the disjunction between Sad Puppy manifestos and the actual stories on the slate. Brad Torgersen has been complaining about there being “too little optimism” and Larry Correia has been complaining about there being no Hugo winners that feature “capitalism as a positive thing”. In “Totaled”, a brain that has been severed from its totaled body gets suicidal in the end and the antagonist of the story is a shady megacorporation manager. My guess is that if someone else’s votes had got this on the Hugo ballot, the Puppies would denounce it as an SJW story.

There was a real plot and a real character in this story, even though neither was excellent, in my opinion. Especially all the characters were very stereotypical, which always bores me. The protagonist brain is a mother who obsesses about her children and doesn’t care about herself. Her researcher collague is a nice guy whose most defining characteristic is niceness — pretty much the same way as the shady megacorporation manager’s most defining characteristic is evilness. There’s also a female researcher who is getting romantically involved with the researcher guy. The signifigance of that relationship is never made very clear, even though its development is followed quite closely in the story.

To be fair, there were also parts that I liked, such as the sections where English tries to represent slowing down brain functions with subtle stream of consciousness writing. The dystopian backdrop is also mildly interesting, even though not very much is made out of it. The concept of totaling humans is a great idea for a story, but this story focused on something else.

So, is “Totaled” a Hugo caliber story? I’m not sure yet. It certainly isn’t the same kind of drivel that some other Puppy stories I have read are. On the other hand, I do think there were some short stories published last year that were better. I’ll have to think about where the no award bar is going to land in this category.

Score: 5/10

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7 thoughts on ““Totaled” by Kary English

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  2. CJ

    I agree with your assessment of “Totaled”, mostly. It’s the only remaining story that is even in contention. But…it’s going under No Award. I cannot in good conscience vote it above NA after Bellet and Kloos made the difficult and ethical decisions to withdraw. This is, however, the only story I’ll list after NA. All the others are just too embarrassingly bad to be on the final ballot.

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