I read this decades ago, and I've become a bit of a callous bastard since, but this story was still a kick in the pants. Every character is sympathetic, and every character does the right thing, within the confines of the silly story constraints.
The girl was a bit more whiny than I would have liked, but that's understandable, and she still meets her end with a high amount of grace. Nowadays, it's hard to believe there were really once kids like that (never mind adults). I can imagine swapping her out for any of my neighbors (or any face from current TV), with traji-comic results.
Some observations (before reading the thread):
- This is a fantastic example of a very rare breed of story. The "sad ending" tale that (1) did not get there by reader/audience bashing or by super-ridiculous lapses of logic, and (2) showed the victims dealing with their bad situation with intelligence and honor. One more example of why John Campbell was one of the greats.
- The irony is that all the men died anyway! The calculations were made with the girl's listed weight. Since when has any broad had the correct weight on her photo ID?
- About that. That extra 110 pounds (or more) would have been detected immediately, upon the launch of the EDS.
Trust me, if the safety margin is cut that close (and the story has believable-ish reasons why they would be), then they would be much more careful about the EDS' mass. Hell, if a 1960's rocket launch had an extra few pounds, our slide-rule-slinging engineers knew about it very quickly.
- After the first bastard got locked out of the air, warning signs and education would have been much clearer (or worse, lawyers would get involved). Marilyn would realistically, have had more and harsher realities explained to her, before she stowed away. "Extreme Danger" and "Lethal Force" signs, at a minimum.
- The idea that they have FTL drive and FTL radio, but still rely on snail-mail, was ridiculous even when this story was written. Radio fax machines have been operational since the 1920's and precursor systems were around for decades before that.
- Yes, it was my twabble, but Norm's pick was very thematically simpatico with death as the result of cold calculations.
strawman wrote:...then I realized that the EDS captain has done nothing more than converse with the girl, explain, console, check with the Cruiser, radio the brother, and feel bad. He is apparently there for no other purpose than executing stowaways.
No. He also changed the acceleration to salvage the mission. In fact this is a perfect example of how/why we have pilots on what would otherwise seem as automatable flights... To detect and adapt to changing conditions and/or emergencies -- something this pilot did admirably.
Furthermore, you did not see this pilot at either of the normally crucial periods for any flight: Launch and Re-entry to landing.
That said, realistically, the pilot and the cruiser would both have the responsibility and the mechanisms to detect a mission-threatening deviation of mass during, or immediately after, launch.
The pilot also must have fudged his pre-flight checklist...
"Emergency supplies secure... Check."
"Closet empty or cargo secure..." *opens door* "Boobs... Uh, check" *closes door*...
PS: I've seen fatigued pilots make this kind of mistake, but usually with a wasp's nest or missing oil cap.
Varda wrote:If it was wrong but unavoidable to kill a doe-eyed, kitten-clutching little girl, then it's wrong when it's a man too. Everyone's life is equally precious to them, even if our blowhard narrator ranks 'em differently.
The narrator was very clear that the men he'd dealt-with, or heard about, were depraved and/or deluded in some offensive way. The girl supposedly made an "innocent" mistake with no intentions to harm anyone. Plus, unlike those others, she was prepared to "Pay the fine" and pay her way. She was just tragically wrong about what the cost was.
Various wrote:surely there must be some expendable equipment/clothes laying around equaling 110 lbs...
Maybe it's the engineering crowd I run with, but I thought this would be obvious. (1) You don't put a lot of expendable stuff on this kind of craft. (2) Considering the G forces involved, the pilot probably needs his chair to stay conscious, or maybe even alive. (3) If they are shaving fuel to such insane margins (which I doubt they would ever do in real life -- except in less "routine" emergencies), then there is no way, they wouldn't have already cut mass to the bone, to save that precious fuel.
Say the pilot ditches all their clothes, his pencil and tablet, his blaster, and even any reserve oxygen. We're still talking 23 lbs, tops. Everybody dies.
What's next? Amputate 4 legs? We can forgive him for not thinking of that even if it was near the top of my list.
silverflute wrote:Why not have the warning sign say "No Trespassing UNDER PENALTY OF DEATH".
In reality they would
have this. I'm guessing that the author did not visit many of the right (similar) facilities.
andyd273 wrote:on the other hand, 110 pounds is not that much weight.
Ah, but that's just what it said
on her "Driver's License".
Also, if the destination is Earth-like, then that's AT LEAST another 600 to 700 lbs of fuel+oxidizer needed to decel her mass (with 10 times that, being more likely).
andyd273 wrote:My second thought is why didn't they have a way to kill people in the supply closet before the door opens.
If it was a hardened criminal instead of a young girl, I'd pretty much expect them to come out shooting, knowing that they would die otherwise.
Good point. The answers are: (1) Criminals really were much more "civilized" in the 1950's, on average. (That's my recollection and the Hollywood myth, and I'm sticking to it.), (2) The author was making it up, versus stealing from real-life analogues.
The author seems to take a sadistic pleasure in describing the agony of death in space. All the while, we're assured that the protag has a blaster in his pocket. He could give her a quick mercy shot before ejecting her body. But instead she's got to die choking on her own lungs. All because the protag is a rank coward. He wants to keep his hands as clean as possible. He's not dragging her out the door if he can get her to come gently, and no way is he putting a mercy shot in her head.
The fact that the protagonist's cowardice is never acknowledged (the author seems oblivious to it) and that the author seems to revel in the girl's fear and needlessly painful death really disgusts me.
Wow. It's really sad how rare the concept of Death with Honor and dignity seems to be these days. (As oxymoronic as that may sound.)
Sorry, Abbie, you couldn't be more wrong about the character and about the author.
There is a time-honored tradition (now rare) of meeting your end with your eyes open and your head up. The pilot, and author, wanted to give this girl that chance and she took it admirably. Although, I am sure that the pilot would have given a mercy shot if she asked for it; she had the grace and honor not to make such a callous request.
He respected her feelings (the whole story shows that), and her honor and dignity. She did the same right back for him. In the end, they both did their duty with the utmost integrity. They were both Goddam Heroes!
It's a shame you can't see that.
Contrast that to the true coward's way, which we see, almost weekly in police departments across the USA... The needle twitches. The pilot unloads a full clip into the closet, no doubt causing hundreds of thousands in collateral damage.
The pilot then waits a full 30 minutes to make sure whoever it is is dead, and while he calls for backup. The cruiser instructs him to jettison the body and abort the supply mission because the EDS is now a "crime scene". The pilot and cruiser both agree that the stowaway was a hardened criminal who "resisted arrest". Drugs, or a failed drug test, will probably be found.
Scores of people die; millions are impacted; trillion$ are wasted. But... "We had to make sure our men were safe."