Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by tbaker2500 » Thu Oct 17, 2013 10:42 pm

Norm, are you growing ears in the lab again?
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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by normsherman » Thu Oct 17, 2013 11:46 pm

tbaker2500 wrote:Norm, are you growing ears in the lab again?
It's a cost-efficient way to feed the mouths.
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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by Varda » Fri Oct 18, 2013 8:21 pm

I had a great talk with a friend about this story a few weeks after it ran. We were trying to tease apart the whole conundrum of great historical literature that has uncritically presented objectionable elements such as racism, sexism, etc. So on the one hand, it's a bit over the top to write off all the great works of the past which were written well within the norm for their day and time. And on the other hand, you've got people alive right now who aren't dead and buried like the author who will still feel the sting of such elements in the story.

My friend was trying to explain to me why he was going to boycott the Ender's Game movie on the basis of Orson Scott Card's anti-gay rants, and I was having a tough time understanding this, mostly because I love Ender's Game - it was one of the books that got me into SF as a kid. So I brought up "Cold Equations" by contrast, which actually has sexist elements. He pointed out that Tom Godwin's dead, and therefore we're free to read, discuss, and criticize his work without any further harm or benefit to the man himself, while Card's still alive, and therefore stands to gain from any attention people give him and his views.

While obviously not everyone's going to agree about Card (I'm still gonna see the dang movie!), I thought it was a good distinction to make, and therefore I'm glad you're running this historical stuff from time to time, Norm.

Even if Strawman then has to watch me work out my angst in the Drabble section for weeks afterward. :P
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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by strawman » Fri Oct 18, 2013 9:11 pm

Varda wrote: Even if Strawman then has to watch me work out my angst in the Drabble section for weeks afterward. :P
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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by Algernon Sydney is Dead » Fri Oct 18, 2013 11:32 pm

Varda wrote:He pointed out that Tom Godwin's dead, and therefore we're free to read, discuss, and criticize his work without any further harm or benefit to the man himself, while Card's still alive, and therefore stands to gain from any attention people give him and his views.
(1) That's wrong. It's actually the worst kind of craven attack. Besmirching a man's reputation after he can't defend himself. This is often perpetrated by cowards and frauds looking to capitalize on whatever scandal they can manufacture.
The Romans had it right, attacking a man's legacy was a capital crime (unless you were powerful in the senate).

(2) It's lawyer bait. The author may be dead, but his work is now owned by the fine beasts of Disney/Turner/Murdoch corp. These are the folks who put preteens in jail because they can trick a judge into thinking she cut into some "artist's" cocaine money.

(3) It's stupid. If we rejected something because of some mostly unrelated flaw of the producer, we would have to snub almost every bit of art out there. Jon Stewart, Bono, Madonna, etc. are all despicable creatures, but they've still been part of a good song, movie, or joke, every once in a while. Work can stand on its own.

If your friend was honest, he should: forgo electricity; reject almost all of modern medicine; refuse to use gas, oil, or anything with plastic; and get the hell out of this country.
These were all things that were created, discovered, and/or produced, almost exclusively by men with views that today's wussies would find objectionable.

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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by strawman » Fri Oct 18, 2013 11:53 pm

Oh, joy! I get to play the good cop! :D
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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by Varda » Sat Oct 19, 2013 12:40 am

Ohhhhkay. Let's back up a minute here.

For my friend and I, this was a conversation revolving around the question of, "Can we, with a clear conscience, find a way to appreciate things that have appalling elements to them, or produced by people we find appalling for some reason?"

The answer was, "Yes, we can enjoy things with objectionable elements (specifically, portrayals that discriminate against people groups) in them that are historical because the person who held those views is dead, and therefore there's no one left to hold accountable." This does not, of course, apply to things like medicine. Medicine can't, in and of itself, be sexist. Literature can be sexist. But we can still enjoy historical sexist literature because the person responsible is dead, and therefore a conversation can't be had.

I don't see this as cowardly in the least. I'm surprised you're so quick to jump to the defense of a guy who, even in death, holds plenty of power and influence. He's been produced on the frikkin' Drabblecast, for crying out loud! What danger is he in? But the cold, hard fact of being a writer is that you're ultimately accountable for what you write. When you send something out into the world, the readers get to read it and react however they wish. The author can step in after the fact and offer clarification if s/he wishes, but if you failed to communicate what you intended to, then that's on the author and not the reader. So no one is responsible for our reactions to "The Cold Equations" except Tom Godwin himself. I'm sure if he were alive, he'd man up and take the shitstorm like any good professional author should.

Re: Orson Scott Card. The distinction here is that since Card's alive, a conversation can happen. If my friend found Card's personal views objectionable (or if Card had written something offensive in his books), then it's a free country. We're all free to boycott him and his (awesome-looking) movie. If you think an author is using money from his sales to enforce views you don't like, then unlike with Tom Godwin, there's definitely some "harm" being done by buying the author's books.

You do make a good point that it's not a perfect 1:1, though, since "Cold Equations" actually contains sexist elements, while "Ender's Game" doesn't (at least not that I'm aware of). We are comparing an objection to a work to an objection to a person. It might be better to sub in "50 Shades of Gray" or something for "Ender's Game" to get a better analogy.

Regardless, the point for me is how to appreciate stuff when, due to historical reasons, I can't help but feel attacked as a person when I try to enjoy it. That's the issue with sexism in lit. It's really hard to just kick back and enjoy a story if an author requires me to go along with sexist assumptions in order for his story to make sense. The brilliant thing about my friend's explanation is it gives me a way around that visceral reaction, a way to frame the problem that doesn't dismiss it, but allows me to appreciate the good that's there too. Does that make sense?
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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by Algernon Sydney is Dead » Sat Oct 19, 2013 12:41 am

Bad cop's the sweeter gig. You screw up, but you get time off, with pay, and later quietly reinstated and promoted.

Meanwhile, the taxpayers (never you) pay millions of dollars to cover your mistakes.

Kinda like what, no doubt, happened to the boatswain's mate, in this story, who failed to correctly obtain or monitor the shuttle's mass.

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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by Algernon Sydney is Dead » Sat Oct 19, 2013 1:04 am

Varda wrote:Medicine can't, in and of itself, be sexist.
Actually, if your medicine isn't sexist, you're in for a short, nasty life (and/or a death during childbirth).
Admittedly there is a lot of overlap, but men and women are different, and their health concerns and treatments have profound differences that must be accounted for.

Anyway, I think we are mostly on the same page. Maybe you see more sexism then actually exists, just like I see wannabe Khmer Rouge on every corner. ;)

True, related story:
At one job, a coworker and I were comparing tickets. Turns out we'd both had 5 in the last three years. But while I got mine because the cops were money-grubbing a-holes, he got his because he was "driving while black" -- even though we both were forced to admit that the highwaymen were polite and didn't do anything improper (except for unjustly relieving us of some time and money).

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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by tbaker2500 » Sat Oct 19, 2013 2:10 am

I'm going to jump in here and moderate a little but. ASID, I recognize that you are an expert in internet arguing and pointing out false arguments. However, I think it would be better if your statements stayed a little closer to writing, so that we don't misunderstand your points as attacks.
Algernon Sydney is Dead wrote:Anyway, I think we are mostly on the same page. Maybe you see more sexism then actually exists, just like I see wannabe Khmer Rouge on every corner. ;)
I'm calling BS on this. You are in no better position to make a determination about how much sexism "exists" than anybody else. I know you are trying to be conciliatory, but it borders on a personal attack.

Please just dial this back a few notches. Thanks! :D
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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by tbaker2500 » Sat Oct 19, 2013 2:20 am

Varda wrote:For my friend and I, this was a conversation revolving around the question of, "Can we, with a clear conscience, find a way to appreciate things that have appalling elements to them, or produced by people we find appalling for some reason?"
This is directly in line with moral relativism. Which in itself is a subset of "Is there absolute good or bad"? There obviously is no scientifically testable answer to this.

I personally frame things in the time and culture in which they were produced. I tend to hold the time period and culture responsible for the evils I see. (Bell bottoms???) And since people change throughout their lives (hopefully), I'm not sure alive or dead is the demarkation for me.

For Card, he's got a lot going against him. Not a fellow I'd have as a friend. but he writes a good book! So here's the line I draw for this specific case: Does he promote the ideals I dislike in the work he is selling? If not, then he is just making an product for me to buy, I buy it on the merit of the product. But if he is using that product as a means of distribution of the ideals I dislike, then I don't buy them.

Just me.
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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by Varda » Sat Oct 19, 2013 2:38 am

Algernon Sydney is Dead wrote: Anyway, I think we are mostly on the same page. Maybe you see more sexism then actually exists, just like I see wannabe Khmer Rouge on every corner. ;)
Yeah, I mostly concur with Tom, but I'd add that there is nothing I'd love more than for you to be right about that. I'm naturally a rather optimistic think-the-best-of-people person. You've met me in the midst of the long, painful process of coming to grips with a world that's not what I hoped it was. I'm honestly afraid that it's even worse out there than I know, and that there's still worse to come, but whatcha gonna do?

I used to assume I was overreacting when my Spidey-sense told me something was off. The problem with encouraging people to be more passive toward this stuff is that they often do become more passive, and then lose the ability to react when they really, really need to. I am sick to death of thinking and talking about my damn stalker, but since you all know the story, it's worth point out that he followed me around in his car for an entire year before I did something about it. This is a direct consequence of people telling me I was being too sensitive and overreacting. Eventually it becomes a tape you repeat in your own head, talking yourself out of taking action when passiveness could lead to very, very serious consequences.

So I'd ask you to please be mindful of that when you give such critiques. You could be right (and I hope you are), but you might not be, and ultimately I've got to err on the side of my own well-being.
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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by tbaker2500 » Sat Oct 19, 2013 3:02 am

...And that should just about cool off any more talk about sexism. If this spurs anybody on to argue the point, I would advise against it, or I'll bring out the John Scalzi Hammer.
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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by Algernon Sydney is Dead » Sat Oct 19, 2013 3:57 am

tbaker2500 wrote:I'm going to jump in here and moderate a little but. ASID, I recognize that you are an expert in internet arguing and pointing out false arguments. However, I think it would be better if your statements stayed a little closer to writing, so that we don't misunderstand your points as attacks.
...

Please just dial this back a few notches. Thanks! :D
Sorry. Every once and a while, something slips through my guard and presses one of my buttons. It's hard to sit on my hands when someone I respect appears to be wrong, but I certainly don't mean to attack Varda (as opposed to some principles espoused). I have a rather high opinion of what I've seen of her.

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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by Varda » Sat Oct 19, 2013 10:45 am

S'cool, s'cool. As long as ya don't throw me out of the airlock! ;)
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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by strawman » Sat Oct 19, 2013 11:31 am

tbaker2500 wrote: (Bell bottoms???)
I call BS on this.
Also, while there may be no way to scientifically prove the existence of absolute good/evil (connect-the-dots being unscientific), it is scientifically provable that it's unwise to feed the alligators.
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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by Praxis » Sun Oct 20, 2013 7:27 pm

strawman wrote: it is scientifically provable that it's unwise to feed the alligators.


Not from the alligators' point of view.
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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by Praxis » Sun Oct 20, 2013 8:16 pm

Well to maybe move the the thread in a bleaker direction - and partly since Norm posted that he expected this to be a controversial story, so.... blame him - this "story" is more about vicariously indulging the wish to kill than about writing a good tale. That's why there is such a poor effort made to address any of the ...I can't call them 'plot holes' as that implies there actually is a plot. Imo it's more important for the author that we to get to the money shot where a child is killed.

Sorry, I was forgetting, blamelessly killed.

Because she had to be. Whatever.

I think that's why I have always had such a visceral dislike of this story - not because of its poor quality but because of what I think it implies about the author's motivations (to be charitable I'll say unconscious motivations).
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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by Beth Peters » Sun Oct 20, 2013 9:47 pm

Praxis wrote: this "story" is more about vicariously indulging the wish to kill than about writing a good tale. That's why there is such a poor effort made to address any of the ...I can't call them 'plot holes' as that implies there actually is a plot. Imo it's more important for the author that we to get to the money shot where a child is killed.
).
Haha, that's a little unfair I think. In fact, any time someone makes an assumption about an author's personal ideology or character based on a story they wrote I see it as unfortunate and reactive. You seem pretty convinced that Tom Godwin's life agenda, personally, was just to exterminate children. Sure, the writing career got him by in the mean time and allowed him an opportunity to vent his inner angst at laws and social mores preventing him from accomplishing his ultimate mission: the annihilation of every last one of those little young bastards. That's sily.

Isn't it more likely that he was going for (unsuccessfully I agree, to some extent) a moral conundrum that would be a challenging for the reader at the time? Making it a kid specifically to pushed out the airlock, making it a GIRL kid, isn't it a little more reasonable to think that he was just trying to make the decision tougher and also putting things in a bureaucratic framework that shows how cold and awful and stupid bureaucracy can be? Or should we assume the author wrote this story just to push his personal agenda of stolid sexism in the 50's and also the wanton extermination of children.

I feel like we're so used to things like news and the media slipping us an "agenda" that when we synthesize our fiction sometimes we assume the same must be true.
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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by Varda » Sun Oct 20, 2013 10:31 pm

I agree with Beth - I didn't see it as a snuff story, although I do agree the story had some flaws in it that made it not-so-successful at what it set out to do. But I think it's perfectly fine for an author to set out with an idea in mind, and try to craft a story around it to illustrate it. In this case, the idea's that sometimes forces in the universe interfere with human motivations. You want to behave kindly and nobly toward someone, but the circumstances themselves leave you unable to find a perfect solution, and therefore everyone involved has to accept what fate or chance has dished out.

I'm not sure to what degree this idea corresponds with reality, but I certainly don't fault Godwin for trying to craft a story with this idea in mind. As written, I did find it a bit contrived, but I'm certainly not above enjoying a contrived story when the mood strikes me (such as pretty much every single thing that happens on the "Walking Dead" TV show).
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