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Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Books

The Cold Equations

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The Cold Equations

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Author: Tom Godwin
Publisher: Lightspeed Magazine, 2011
Astounding Science Fiction (Analog), 1954
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Book Type: Novella
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Space Exploration
Space Opera
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Synopsis

This novelette originally appeared in Astounding Science Fiction, August 1954 and was reprinted in Lightspeed, July 2011. It appeared in a large number of anthologies over the years, including:

The story takes place entirely aboard an Emergency Dispatch Ship (EDS) headed for the frontier planet Woden with a load of desperately needed medical supplies. The pilot, Barton, discovers a stowaway: an eighteen-year-old girl. By law, all EDS stowaways are to be jettisoned because EDS vessels carry no more fuel than is absolutely necessary to land safely at their destination.

Read the full story for free at Lightspeed.

Reactions (from Wikipedia, it's best to read this after reading the story)

Critic Gary Westfahl has said that because the proposition depends upon systems that were built without enough margin for error, the story is good physics, but lousy engineering. He said that he himself was an engineer and he was so frustrated with the book, he said these words: "To hell with it, the book was not worth my time. Very poor Engineering."

Writer Cory Doctorow has made a similar argument, noting that the constraints under which the characters operate are decided by the writers, and not therefore the "inescapable laws of physics". He argues that the decision of the writer to give the vessel no margin of safety and a marginal fuel supply focuses reader attention on the "need" for tough decisions in time of crisis and away from the responsibility for proper planning to ensure safety in the first place. Doctorow sees this as an example of moral hazard.

Writer Don Sakers' short story "The Cold Solution" (Analog, July 1991), which debunks the premise, received the 1992 Analog Analytical Laboratory award as the readers' favorite Analog short story of 1991.

In 1999 Richard Harter wrote a detailed analysis of the story online, with special attention to the possible negligence of those who designed the situation such that dilemmas like this could occur, and how this paralleled similar concerns involving industrial safety legislation.


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