written by David Steffen
“Totaled” by Kary English was first published in Galaxy’s Edge magazine, edited by Mike Resnick. Galaxy’s Edge posted the story for free after the announcement of the Hugo ballot so you can read it for yourself if you like.
The story is told from the point of view of a disembodied brain extracted from a woman’s body after her body is “totaled” in a car accident. Before the accident she had been a member of the research team that made this possible. A rider on her insurance dictated that if she died or got totaled her tissues would be donated to her research lab–including her brain. At first she can only sense from the outside nerve by feeling vibrations in the vascular tissue, but as the experiment advances she is connected to more peripherals, including sensory apparatus, and she can find ways to communicate outward as well because they are scanning her brain. She tries to communicate with her research partner Randy, who doesn’t know that the brain he’s using was his partner’s.
I enjoyed this story. The character is thrown directly into a difficult situation where she literally has only her brains as an asset and has to figure how to get through this situation with nothing on her side. To me it felt kind of like a golden age science fiction story where it’s all about a scientist pitted against a brain problem, but with the un-golden-age characteristic that the protagonist is an intelligent woman scientist, so that’s a bonus.
There were high stakes and a difficult problem to solve, but although the stakes have plenty to keep the tension up, I didn’t feel emotionally connected to it the way that I really want to connect to a story. I don’t know exactly why that was–perhaps the focus on the intellectual problem over other factors, or I just wasn’t feeling the personal stakes for personal reasons, I’m not entirely sure. So, in the end I enjoyed the story but it didn’t blow me away the way I really want from an award story.