The SFFaudio Podcast #704 – The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin; read by John Stratton
This unabridged reading of the story (1 hours 2 minutes) is followed by a discussion of it.
Participants in the discussion include Jesse, Paul Weimer, and Evan Lampe.
Talked about on today’s show:
The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin, The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin, Jesse’s been wrong about it for years and years, an important story (but not very well written), correct the record, well written but long, very effective, everybody who dislikes The Cold Equations can fight Jesse, Weird Science, May-June, no. 13, 1952, A Weighty Decision by Wally Wood, different enough, the whip hand of John W. Campbell, ghoulish and silly and fun, existential quite smooth, The Cold Calculations by Aimee Ogden, dealing with a different idea, a criticism of the premises, John W. Campbell, once upon a time, had to die, fudging the numbers, the Trolley Problem, why couldn’t there be a third track, not really the point, face the moral calculus, designed to illicit a very specific thing, an idea about reality, long, not that clunky, quite beautiful in places, simple, interesting psychology, a cold story, fiddling with the opening, some dude, it’s a girl, an artifact, silly, if you get pancreatic cancer you’re dead, wish fulfillment, kissed and made better, the pain of life, a lot of people don’t want to be disabused, Santa Claus is real, god will save us, Campbell’s trainee, the numbers are fudged, Capitalist Realism, there is no alternative, Barton is an employee, a quasi-merchant marine, the worldbuilding, not making enough money, the brother’s remittances, shielded from the truth, replacing the kitten, a metaphor for the whole story, trying to shield her from pain, we shield each other from the pain of reality, we’re all going to die, science fiction can do something interesting, more silly, comicy, the medicine, it is a trolley problem, even if it was plagiarized, follow through on you’re fucking idea, don’t tap out, the stupid E.E. Doc Smith, you can’t invent your way out of the laws of fucking physics, daylight bombing raids, the engineering is bad, the reality is correct, thin margins, on the commute, a non-insignificant number, all the EDS shuttles without stowaways are not stories, Stowaway (2021), accidental stowaway, out the airlock, there is no on purpose, nobody is to blame, maybe the sign should have said “you will fucking die”, don’t walk away from that, a beancounter on earth, blame capitalism, the ship can land after all, flip some tables, Mark Fisher, revolution is the alternative, is that really true?, Tom Godwin is wholly responsible, Jack London’s To Build A Fire, Yukon stories, Star Trek V, Star Trek II is a Cold Equations, because katras, euthanasia, a remedy for modern Star Trek, The Wisdom Of The Trail, soft lazy fucks, the white man’s logic, an estimation vs. a calculation, a different moral overlay, a guy who didn’t obey a sign, do not go there, the dog has more wisdom than the man, instinct vs. plan, what it means to disobey a sign, a sign as a piece of wisdom, the fine is the cost of her life, the X Minus One adaptation, a dumb adult, young and therefore innocent, it isn’t “fair”, having the medicine enhances, the reason its a white girl in the story, we as 1950s astounding readers, the kitten is innocent, changing it to a dude, flipping the genders, an adult man vs. a girl Barton, to hit us in the feels to make us understand, if it’s Hitler in the basement, not as many will walk away, the Azov battalion will walk away, both Bushes, eternal?, a sin eater, a more meta-story, a thought experiment, The Good Place, Stalin or any other evil person, a challenge to us to do better, threw in orgies for Evan, drugs, that’s fine, imagine the place that you want, Hitler’s in the closet on the EDS ship, it’s cold in here,
[THE QUICK EQUATION by Jesse
I was not alone.
There was nothing to indicate the fact but the white hand of the tiny gauge on the board before me. The control room was empty cept for me; there was no sound other than the murmur of the drives—but the white hand had moved.
It had been on zero when the EDS launched; now, an hour later, it had crept up. There was something in the supply closet across the room, some kind of a body that radiated heat.
It could be but one kind of a body—a living, human body.
I let my eyes rest on the narrow white door of the closet. There, just inside, another man lived and breathed.
I unholstered my blaster and stood up, facing the door. Maybe it was just a girl, I thought, just some dumb girl who couldn’t read warning signs. That would be bad.
“Come out!” My command was harsh and abrupt above the murmur of the drives.
I thought I could hear a whisper of a furtive movement inside the closet, then nothing.
I visualized the stowaway cowering closer into one corner, suddenly worried by the possible consequences of his stowing away.
“I said out!”
I heard the stowaway move to obey, and I waited with my eyes alert on the door, my hand on the trigger of the blaster.
The door opened and the stowaway stepped through it, smiling. “In Ordnung—ich gebe auf. Was jetzt?”
It was Hitler.
I put him out the airlock.
There was a slight waver of the ship as the air gushed from the lock, a vibration to the wall as though something had bumped the outer door in passing; then there was nothing and the ship was dropping true and steady again.
I shoved the red lever back to close the door on the empty air lock and turned away, to walk to the pilot’s chair with the light steps of a man just doing his duty.
Putting my feet up on the console I thought about those guys on Woden – they sure will be happy to have that vaccine, I thought. I could hear their voices now. And won’t they be surprised to hear about what I did with the stowaway.
nice imagery, symbology, a puppet show adapation, a theatrical stage production, the movie and TV adaptations, The Twilight Zone adaptation, hits the points, about an hour vs. 20 minutes, this story is important and also its good, it’s not the physics, the engineering, made lean, disposable, an emergency, an escape pod, objections, a Socratic style dialogue, you’ve fucked it up, you’re gonna think about this, you’re gonna think about that, The Nothing Equation, James Patrick Kelly, responses, an uncomfortable place, a lot of people are unwilling to accept the answer, reject the framing, three dudes, essentially a fridging story, she’s definitely cold, Astounding readers, probably 1950s white men, arranged, sacrificing a young female character for man pain, yup, screwed up (by our current standards), no story can stand that test (being all things to all people at all times), fitting into that sort of tradition, Barton hurts, the brother hurts, Green Lantern’s girlfriend, series (add drama) vs. one and done, laughed out of the room or vilified, what if the one person is your mother, Gwendy’s Button Box by Richard Chizmar and Stephen King, a little girl, workers, an adult man, a 17 year old male, a six year old boy kid, it’s not supposed to be palatable, gender studies and science fiction, Paul is unqualified, we don’t want this story to exist, the reason for trying to undo the story, rejecting the premise to reject the conclusion, who is this for, people who claim to be astounding readers, engineers, it’d be good to have redundant systems, Apollo 13, a cold equation scenario, fuel vs. air, saving three dudes in space, kludging together, failures of imagination (not failures of empathy), empathy informs engineering, the challenger disaster, the o rings, the magic words, poor engineering, a gender response, an engineering response, Gary Westfahl, is he an authority, Cory Doctorow, why do we have these terrible trolleys, why are people tied to the trolley track, its too late to complain about the engineering, this engineering is terrible, margins are thin on the frontier, [had it been lampshaded by the narrator], an excuse, Cory Doctorow, capitalism sucks and then he pulls the lever, it doesn’t deliver the solution, frames, the fucked up nature of the premise, Elon Musk could save us, the technocrats will save us, the profound moral consequences of the world we’ve build up, we all live in Omelas, somehow you benefit from that, the rules of the game, a lot of people are cool with this, their goodness to their own children, quite beautiful, a beautifully written (and simple) story, A Few Good Men (1992), we’re the thin blue line, minimize the whipping at kids in basements, to make you look at the horrible thing you’re willing to live with, puppies, we got yoga, a completely different kind of attack on reality, N.K. Jemisin’s response, diversity and equality utopia, a liberal response, instead of walking away you stay and reform it, you denounce Raytheon, the twitter one by Olav Rokne, nominated, cougars are in, the solution’s in voting, the one about Worldcon, everybody’s choice, taking the piss on people, Facebook says its fine to call for the death of Russians, pointed at Chengdu, File 770 and other forums, their baby in their basement, centers of discussion, silly, that’s going to be nominated for a Hugo, best related work, Natalie Luhrs’ George R.R. Martin Can Fuck Off Into the Sun, Evan’s tweets should be the priority, for worse, I love science fiction: I’m going to read all the Hugo award winners, Luke Burrage reading the Hugos and the Nebulas, not the cream of the crop, its my turn, we love her, David Brin’s bad Hugo winning book, taking turns, conservatives, liberals, Hugo nominators can be very…, Seanan McGuire’s fan base rewards her work, ecosystems, regardless of the merits, an electorate nominating and voting, the Oscar winners, Zero Dark Thirty (2012), snowballing and logrolling, the ones who walk away from the Hugos (walked into the dealer’s room), The Moon Moth by Jack Vance, less and less strahk these days, leftover momentum, momentum, the big game in town, clashing ecosystems, the whole puppy drama, just trying to right the ship?, the nutty nuggets, Brad Torgeson, The Ones Who Don’t Walk Away by Sean Vivier, analog daily science fiction, plotting violence, if only to end the torture of innocence, it has to be a joke, see that mop over in the corner? it’s watching you, I am good person, vote for Democrats, we have top men working on this, violating some of the premises, when AOC was down in Texas and mourning over the fence, a choice satire (or reality), the mixed results, everything on Goodreads is 3.8, we can’t have a rating system, mechanisms other than just writing, ratings break your brain, the incentives screw up the rating systems, we end up arguing over tiny percentage points, PC Gamer, Gary Whitta, Rogue One, The Book Of Eli (2010), debates about points, whether you’re wearing the badge or not, anti-thinking, why writing great reviews is so important, an attack on liberal values, there is a civic element to it, fleeing the country is always an option in a story like that, Paul would like to live in New Zealand, a settler colonial state, more paradise, their kid has two buckets, Maori writers, Born Of Man And Woman by Richard Matheson, That Only A Mother by Judith Merrill, The Science Fiction Hall Of Fame, told from the creature’s point of view, a nudie pic, what a pretty person looks like, a super powerful story, July 1950, horror, monsters, cats, basement, first person POV, diary format, child protagonist, 1996 one had a sexual element, added a bargaining scene, an uncredited adaptation, wrist bracelet thing, she gives the bracelet to Barton, burns, more depth and pathos, the fire is connected to the bracelet, fire rubies, what some writer did, Ursula K. Le Guin talks about the cost, the point of writing is to cause the effect you want it to have, a question rather than a delivery, an idea story, The Cold Equations is a door shut, why does it work so well, she starts in a closet, the white hand, she goes back into a closet, shot off into outer space, the writing is poetic, the sentimentality is through the roof, I will come to you on the wind, an object going ahead, that’s her, very close to the emotions, officious, this horrible bureaucracy, horrible capitalism realism, becoming sex workers outside of Omelas, under capitalism we have to be separated, jobs demand you do this, your economy demands you do this, if you don’t really scrutinize your government, your security depends on us being murderers and torturers, no more complaints about The Cold Equations being a story with bad engineering, Jesse killed everybody, a conceit that you need in a visual story, infodump, it would make a great stage play, that simple set, K.J. Parker’s How To Rule And Empire And Get Away With It, The Prisoner Of Zenda, Double Star, the power of stories, a professional liar, Herman Melville, Sixteen Ways To Defend A Walled City, no magic, Academic Exercises, finding hope in modern stuff, somebody has to winnow, the judgement of time and history, the market demands things Jesse is not willing to accept from the market, George R.R. Martin, the judgement of history, Robert Silverberg on a Writers Of The Future podcast, a juried award, reading the stories blind, an honesty, John W. Campbell (and a lot of people don’t like him), positing with authors, helping write engaging stories, hinted at, the universe is the ultimate judge of everything, the judgement of history so far, when Campbell gets it wrong (Scientology, overpopulation, telepathy), why still talking about The Cold Equations, a great idea story, barely an orgy on the EDS, why wasnt there room for three hookers on this ship?, Mars has got women, a Ferengi Harry Mudd delivering to miners on Stowaway
THE PROFITABLE EQUATION by Jesse
“I was not alone. Aboard the EPS were me, Magda, Ruth, and Eve, three hu-man fee-males I was transporting to a wealthy human mining colony on a planet named Ophiuchus III.
While I was calculating my profits, minus what I would render up to Damon Brool and the Grand Nagus, I had noticed a little white hand on the tiny gauge on the board before me.
The control room was, like I said, empty – except for myself, Magda, Ruth, and Eve.
There was no sound other than the murmur of the drives, and the batting of their long eyelashes—but still that little white hand had moved.
It had been on zero when the EPS had launched from the D’Kora-class ship Krookta – where I’d purchased the shuttle and filled it with just enough fuel to reach Ophiuchus III; but, an hour later, with the Krookta warped away that white hand had crept up, like an Andorian pickpocket.
There had been something in the supply closet across the room, some kind of a body that had radiated heat.
It could be but one kind of a body, I knew – a living body.
I let my eyes rest on the narrow white door of the closet.
There, just inside, another humanoid lived and breathed.
I unspooled my whip, stood up and faced that white door.
‘Come out!’ My command was harsh and abrupt above the murmur of the drives and the sudden pearl clutching of Magda, Ruth, and Eve.
I thought I could hear a whisper of a furtive movement from inside the closet, then nothing.
Nothing. Exactly what my profits would come to if I didn’t get whoever was in there out that closet and off of my EPS!
‘Out, I say!’ I said again.
I heard the stowaway move to obey, and I waited with my eyes alert on the door, one hand on my belt purse, the other clutching the whip.
The door opened and the stowaway stepped through it, she was cowering.
‘I give up,’ she said.
It was a Bajoran female, immodestly dressed from head to foot in thoroughly concealing yet ragged clothing.
She was obviously an escaped slave, probably from Terrok Nor.
I listened to her cry and plead and tell her unprofitable narrative.
Cracking the whip I told her to tell faster. I’d heard much the like before, she wanted to see her brother, capitalism sucks, and so I cracked the whip again, waved it all away, and considered.
Then I asked her a serious question: She had a choice, I told her: life on a remote mining planet with four wealthy hu-man husbands or a quick and utterly unprofitable death in the cold void of space.
She chose wisely, cousin.
Indeed. Oh yes, indeed.
Magda and Ruth are giving me oo-mox as I speak.
I’ve set the EPS autopilot to land on Ophiuchus III.
There’s not enough fuel for this Emergency Profits Ship to land land five hu-man-oids safely so that’s why I am sending you this message, cousin.
I’m sending you the contract details – now.
In mere moments I will be stepping into airlock.
Eve will pull this red lever here and flush me out into space.
The hu-man males on Ophiuchus III were willing to pay an extraordinary price in gold pressed latinum – and for one more female, ooooh cousin.
This means even after your fee, what we kick up stairs to Sector Damon Brool, and even after the Grand Nagus gets his cut, this will be, or rather will have been, my most profitable enterprise ever.”
the Ferengi can make profits, a chapter for the sex book, Wallace Shawn, I sacrificed myself, the profits are unimaginable, Evan’s Grand Nagus Rom series, reforming Ferengi society, Ferengi liberals, Ferengi , because Leeta is in it, they would just ruin it, file off the serial numbers, The Orville, the side by side Discovery and The Orville, vegan Pizza vs. regular human pizza, vegan shoes, he knew they were poor because they had vegan leather, that Moon Knight show, he’s Egyptian, The Cats Of Ulthar, a long show for a short story, The Tempest, The Weird And The Eerie, Capitalist Realism, Starship Mutiny, The Last Of The Masters, dudes in robes, these people have been cut-off, Colony, cedar tree forests, utopia planet, what Le Guin was doing, Dick is more oblique or unconscious, Souvenir, Williamson’s World, larping different civilization, Dick well, Larry Niven love, they’re both females wearing clothes, Paul is self-loathing, not trolling, in German it’s silent, first names only, a Thai or Vietnamese name, referring to people occasionally, raw war footage, Black Amazon Of Mars, she’s got an axe, a tomb sweeping vacation, Allen Anderson, black tentacles, big axe, Eric John Stark, The Long Tomorrow, C.L. Moore, she smiled and let the wine cup fall, The Doings Of Vigorous Daunt, a billionaire that goes around the world punching people, like Russell Crowe, N.K. Jemison must be smart, a Warren supporter, anti-Bernie, she’s a shitlib, the afrofuturist aesthetic and ideas, unreadable, Out Of The Aeons by Hazel Heald and H.P. Lovecraft, The Man Of Stone, The Loved Dead by C.M. Eddy, I snuggled up the corpse and it turned a little rotty, Dan Carlin didn’t know what a quadroon or an octoroon was, clearly he doesn’t watch Archer.
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