Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

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Praxis
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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by Praxis » Sun Oct 20, 2013 11:12 pm

Beth Peters wrote: 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.
Indeed it would be. Since I have no idea about Godwin's personal ideology or character, and was talking about this story, it's you that is making assumptions about whether I am making assumptions[/recursion] , and not just about this story but about him generally.
Beth Peters wrote: 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.
Again, neither of us knows the author personally but it's probably safe to agree that he did not have a life agenda to exterminate children. Partly why I didn't say that, either.
Beth Peters wrote: 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?
It was certainly a clumsy attempt to create a moral dilemma (yeah, I agree, unsuccessful).
I've had a while to think about why I dislike this story since I first read it years ago and ......I dunno, I still wonder about why he tried to set up a dilemma in this particular way.

I mean, given the setting: limited resources, needing to make tight calculations, the relative importance of the overall flight compared to a single person, harshness-of-the-reality-of-spaceflight, etc. etc. I don't believe that the only way to illustrate this is a naive child stowaway (and no one noticing this, including apparently no one noticing the ship had too much mass), there being, apparently, no other objects on the entire ship that could be sacrificed, no option for the pilot for example to get thrown off and so save the girl (cos the pilot's job is so vital to the flight that you wouldn't train anyone else who would be able to take over if anything happened to the pilot. No, you'd only have one person with this vital and irreplacable skill and knowledge) and so 'having' to throw her off the ship.

I think it comes down to: the set-up doesn't justify the conclusion.
To me, having the story end the way it does just seems indulgent rather than as the only way the story could have gone (and the author makes a lot in the story about there being 'just no other way', blah blah but it all rings hollow given the holes in the plot and the poor explanation for why things 'just have to be this way').
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Praxis
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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by Praxis » Sun Oct 20, 2013 11:18 pm

Varda wrote: As written, I did find it a bit contrived.....
Definitely.
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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by Praxis » Sun Oct 20, 2013 11:37 pm

Beth Peters wrote: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.
Well, you never know. Showtime were showing this documentary about this guy who works in the Miami Metro police department (with his sister) and pretty much no-one suspected he was really a serial killer. And had the exact same breakfast, every single day apparently.

:shock:

But no, I doubt Godwin personally wanted to exterminate anyone.
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Varda
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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by Varda » Mon Oct 21, 2013 12:08 am

Praxis wrote: I think it comes down to: the set-up doesn't justify the conclusion.
To me, having the story end the way it does just seems indulgent rather than as the only way the story could have gone (and the author makes a lot in the story about there being 'just no other way', blah blah but it all rings hollow given the holes in the plot and the poor explanation for why things 'just have to be this way').
Given this, I think it's interesting that the author originally had a different ending in mind, and his publisher asked him to change it (didn't Norm say something like that in the outtro?). Maybe some of the flaws and contrivance were introduced in the rewrite. Now I'm wondering if the earlier drafts still exist out there, and what the original ending was, exactly...
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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by strawman » Mon Oct 21, 2013 12:50 am

Digging a little, I find: John Campbell’s original preface to this story: “The Frontier is a strange place – and a frontier is not always easy to recognize. It may lie on the other side of a simple door marked ‘No admittance’ – but it is always deadly dangerous.” His later writing continued to explore similar themes about the harsh indifference of nature to human survival.

Since Campbell was the editor who made him do the rewrites, (and since I'm the only one here who remembers 1954), I feel qualified to suggest that much of this construct is on Campbell, rather than Godwin.

People, these were the days in which people accepted magnified garden chameleons as dinosaurs. Yes, there were plot holes. But nothing that a 1954 audience would be aware of. They were prepared to find it plausible that a stegosaurus was the scientific name for a chameleon with a Japanese paper umbrella glued to its back.

Flash Gordon had actual smoke coming from his rocket in space.
It was wonderful when King Kong fought the T Rex (and the Empire State Building had bedrooms!)
Fahrenheit 451 was serially published the same year, in a new magazine edited by Hugh Hefner, inventor and exploiter of sexism.

Bottom line, Godwin constructed a deliberately impossible moral circumstance, what a few years ago would have been presented in public school curricula as "Values Clarification"; and Campbell decided that it would sell best if the doomed victim was an innocent young girl.

They were right, just as it had to be Faye Wray, not Robert Armstrong, in the great ape's grip in that incredibly racist, thoroughly entertaining movie.

These days, the story serves best, I think, as an ink blot. What you think it looks like is more telling than the author's motivations.
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Varda
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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by Varda » Mon Oct 21, 2013 1:04 am

:lol: :D Comment of the year, Strawman! Especially this bit:
strawman wrote:These days, the story serves best, I think, as an ink blot. What you think it looks like is more telling than the author's motivations.
I'm going to go drink some pumpkin beer to your health, and ponder what the ink blot says about each of us. :D
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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by Praxis » Mon Oct 21, 2013 1:15 am

"Godwin constructed a deliberately impossible moral circumstance"

That's maybe where people differ - I really don't see it as setting up an "impossible" choice, due to the other ways the problem could have been solved (and like you said there are flaws in the plot and set-up).
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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by Beth Peters » Mon Oct 21, 2013 2:29 am

Praxis wrote:- this "story" is more about vicariously indulging the wish to kill than about writing a good tale.
Praxis wrote:it's more important for the author that we to get to the money shot where a child is killed.
Praxis wrote: 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).
I mean, you and I are on the same page about how this story was unsuccessful in some ways. And perhaps I somehow took the above quotes you said wrongly to think you were making assumptions about the author? But I reaaaaally do think if Tom Godwin were here to see the various discussion in this thread he would say "Are you serious???" I don't think the guy was actively hating on women or vicariously indulging the wish to kill. I think he was trying to make it a tough choice. He just made it a tougher choice than he realized, half a century later.
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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by normsherman » Wed Mar 05, 2014 2:59 am

The polarization continues! Some good writing/thoughts/discussion on this story from Cory Doctorow, Jake Kerr http://nofsgiven.wordpress.com/2014/03/ ... equations/
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Algernon Sydney is Dead
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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by Algernon Sydney is Dead » Wed Mar 05, 2014 6:45 am

Yeah, saw that on your twitter. Good stuff.

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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by bounceswoosh » Fri Aug 01, 2014 7:13 pm

I've been thinking about this conversation. It occurred to me that this story would make the same point, but more effectively, if it were about illness or accident. Cancer. AIDS. A car crash. All of those can explore the harsh reality of, um, reality, without needing this story's contrived bits. It could be written about a stranger who just happens to have some vital organ or blood type as the sick person, but losing the organ would kill them. Same story. More believable. You could even set it on a spaceship if you wanted to.

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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by strawman » Fri Aug 01, 2014 11:55 pm

That's your Muse speaking, sammy66. Write the story and post it in the Forums so we can judge if you are correct.
If your story got half the response of Cold Equations, it would need to be featured on the Dribblecast. And from there, it's only a short leap to Zimbabwe's Got Talent. :)
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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by Algernon Sydney is Dead » Sat Aug 02, 2014 1:08 am

bounceswoosh wrote:... It occurred to me that this story would make the same point, but more effectively, if it were about illness or accident. Cancer. AIDS. A car crash. All of those can explore the harsh reality of, um, reality, without needing this story's contrived bits.
Maybe, and I'd love to see what you might write. But consider your examples and then reconsider why big and real questions pretty much have to be explored in Sci Fi.

The cold equations are real and our Masters (Now with de-facto "Death Panels") use them to let millions of people die each week!

Car crashes? Read stories about the "Deadliest roads" and the near universal refusal by governments to do much about them. Not to mention that government-caused traffic jams also kill and drain a significant part of our economy and provide the lion's share of vehicle pollution (all politically useful effects).

Cancer? Prostate cancer kills many more, but breast cancer gets much more attention and funds. (There are many more examples.)

AIDS? Leaving off the plentiful conspiracy theories consider: AIDS once was an almost automatic death sentence (it still is for many in Africa because they don't fit the social equation) but, with extremely rare exceptions, it targeted a very small minority. Furthermore, this minority was/is repugnant by every religious and all past societal standards (some theoretical, whacked-out tribe of less than 200 members, in some remote spot does not count).

True, religious and societal standards must not trump rational, ethical law (if we ever get any of those) but, legally and ethically, members of this group also proved more harmful than the general population.
This "Past discrimination" played a big part in saving this group from its own foibles.
Despite the hype, AIDS was not the best use of medical resources. Yet billions of dollars were diverted to AIDS research (letting many more people remain untreated and die of "lesser" conditions) and the research payed off! AIDS in "Important" people is now a treatable annoyance -- costing the taxpayers something like $100K, per patient, per year.

Less money could save many more people just by enforcing universal vaccinations, and providing free biannual exams. But political calculus trumps all.

Other cold calculations are more literal. Thousands die each winter, even in the USA, because they can't afford heating due to extreme and pervasive meddling - for political purposes - in every aspect of the energy sector.

The point is: Our masters make tradeoffs that kill thousands every day. They count on their policy impacts going mostly ignored. So, to explore this kind of thinking without all kinds semi-tangential triggers going off, you pretty much have to couch it as fiction.

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Re: Drabblecast 289 – The Cold Equations

Post by strawman » Sat Aug 02, 2014 2:27 am

Wow. Way to bring it home, Spock.
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"Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle."
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Spoiler:
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