A Magazine of Action & Adventure
Posted 10/20/2022

Re: "The Cold Equations" by Tom Godwin

re: "The Cold Equations" by Tom Godwin and the discussion following on the SFFAudio podcast. Episode #704 : The Cold Equations

I disagree that this is an important story. Is it effective? Sure. It kept me entertained, wondering what would happen. It guides the reader to a strong emotional place. It's not a place that's particularly fun to be, but if you have a heart at all, you feel sorry for the girl.

For a story to be important, it needs to do something more than illicit an emotion. Inspire the reader to change. Teach a valuable lesson. Ask a question that leads to a greater understanding of life or of human nature. And this just didn't do any of that for me.

Youths make stupid choices, sometimes ones that end in their own death. From overdosing to driving when they are way too tired to showing off on a tall structure. Everyone already understands that it's sad when a naive kid does something and then suffers a horrible consequence that they didn't understand beforehand. And that's all this story does. It puts someone you naturally want to survive in a situation where she has to die.

All the physics/engineering in the story might be right, and they might be wrong. It doesn't matter. They are not the point. The point of all those technological explanations is to provide constraints so you can ask: Is it right to follow the natural solution to the cold equations and execute this young woman, or should she and 8 other people die as a result of not executing her?

A natural powerful question that could come out of this setup is one of sacrifice. Is it right for one without blame to take the place of another who, even acting unknowingly, has done wrong? This story doesn't ask it. It is never considered nor mentioned by the pilot that maybe he should hit the airlock in her place. That response story "The Cold Calculations" at least makes an effort (which it then weasels out of) to ask that question.

That's my take. Well written? Yes. Enjoyable? Up until the end. Would I read again? No. Important? No.