Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

A Few Comments on “Totaled” by Kary English

This one is not bad. As I read it, I kept thinking… this is sorta like “Flowers for Algernon”. Then it turned into “Flowers for Algernon”!

Reading it, I just kept wanting something real, though. Like the burning jealousy of the guy that lost his girl to James T. Kirk– and you get this close up of his “I’ll Kill You!” face. You know, the short story equivalent of that. Some passion… or some kind of deceptively innocuous throw away moment that really nails down the relational dynamic. I don’t know, whaddya think? You think a princess and a guy like me…. NO!

All I ask of you as a writer is that you give me a moment of undiluted humanity at some point. This story could have had that, but it totally missed it. I mean really… there’s just about nothing more fun than a girl throwing herself at a clueless oaf of a guy that simply does not get it. When the light bulb goes off… it can be positively delicious. There’s a beat there… and then a palpable shift in the push-pull dynamic. I just love that sort of interplay. Maybe the girl would then suddenly play hot and cold with him just to relish the thrill of being chased. And maybe the guy would read it completely wrong and get unaccountably sullen when he doesn’t have what he thinks he had even though he really has what he thought he didn’t know he wanted. He just doesn’t really understand what’s happening! Eh, that’s good drama, that’s all. Especially when the girl is game and the guy doesn’t really know how to play. I could even see the girl getting angry at the early stages of this– and the brain in the vat being the one that has to explain just how dumb the guy is.

The inability to truly grasp the fullness of human experience is my biggest problem with a lot of straight ahead science fiction. This is not a bad story by any stretch; I just want to feel more when I read something like this. And if the brain in the vat had a thing for this guy that she/it is now losing him to some competition that, you know, has an actual body and stuff… well I’d like to see that come out in some kind of prank or snub. You know, the I’ll Kill You! moment. (“You took my nerd from me you bitch!”) Maybe I’m an inhuman brute or something, but carting a disembodied genius to some lame awards ceremony just doesn’t do that for me. I mean… who really cares about certificates for perfect attendance and trophies for participation? Then again, maybe I’m the one with the inability to grasp the fullness of human experience….

Again, this one’s not really bad. There’s some good stuff here. And it’s certainly not message fiction. I just think there are a couple works it’s going up against that are orders of magnitude better.

4 responses to “A Few Comments on “Totaled” by Kary English

  1. Cirsova April 21, 2015 at 1:52 pm

    My take on this one was that it opened a few doors that would’ve been really neat to look down but never went through any of them; for instance, the existential horror of being a brain in a jar and seeing your kids getting a good reader certificate and wondering what would happen if your kid saw you as a brain in a jar could’ve been a thing, but it wasn’t. Kind of like if in Transcendence, the movie ended with Johnny Depp being uploaded to the AI mainframe and everyone was just like “Cool, it worked” and turned out the lights. The whole thing with the skeezy project director was wasted and the research project they were using brain-in-a-jar to finish didn’t really have any gravity. Brain-in-a-jar stories need to have more of an “Oh, god have we done?! What are we doing? Dare we tread in the footsteps of God or have we become the Devil?” vibe going on than this. Research partner guy seems remarkably okay with what they’re doing once he gets past the whole initial “my project lead is a brain in jar” shock.

    Dare I also suggest that, as a brain-in-a-jar story, it was not navel-gazey enough?

    BTW, have you found “A Single Samurai” anywhere? That’s the only one of the short stories I haven’t managed to find.

    • jeffro April 21, 2015 at 1:59 pm

      (I haven’t found Samurai either.)

      You’re right. Mr. Project Lead delivers the “I need you at your desk at 8AM every day speech” and they don’t even have the cajones to give her the Warehouse 23 treatment.

      The new Robocop movie was hollow satire turned up to 11 (a la Starship Troopers) with occasional first person shooter sequences… but even they understood that you need to bask in the utter horror of a disembodied trachea for a while. (Ewwwwww!)

      • Cirsova April 21, 2015 at 2:02 pm

        Y’know, the most memorable scene to me from all of the Robocop movies was in Robocop 2 where they were watching film of all of the failed Mk2 debuts.

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