The Cold Equations

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Reading Mindfully: Tom Godwin's "The Cold Equations" - [email protected]

Wolfgang Jeschke , Robert Silverberg. Alfred Hitchcock's Fear. Alfred Hitchcock's Your Share of Fear. Analog: Readers' Choice. The Analog Anthology 2. The Great SF Stories 16 But consider the recent plane crash in Colombia that tragically killed most of the Brazilian Chapecoense Real football team. The plane ran out of fuel because the company that owned the plane skimped on fuel to save money, with horrific consequences.

Realistic or not, in the universe of the story the girl must be jettisoned from the shuttle into deep space for the mission to succeed.

Not exactly a Hollywood ending. My story editor, Dave Carley , felt that Marilyn learns the consequences of her ill-fated decision to stow away too quickly. She spends the rest of the story waiting to die, while the pilot reflects on the cold, harsh reality of the universe. There is no hope and therefore no real tension.

I found the story utterly gripping. This was long before cold-blooded authors like George R. Martin began killing off our favourite novel and television characters with impunity. I kept waiting for her to be saved, and was utterly gobsmacked when she was finally jettisoned from the space shuttle. Reading the story as a teen-ager, I had never encountered such a brutal ending before. It left quite an impact.

But Dave felt strongly that we needed more tension, more suspense, so for my version of the story I concocted a storyline where there was some slim hope that another ship the Stardust would catch up with the emergency shuttle and rescue Marilyn.

the cold equations

I made other changes as well. In the original story, Marilyn was older, in her late teens. I reduced her age to thirteen to make it more believable that she would do something so ill-considered as to sneak onto an emergency shuttle without understanding the consequences. This also injected a little more pathos into the story. Because it was radio, I needed her to speak at the beginning of the story to help illuminate to the listener what was going on. So I had Marilyn sneak into the shuttle while talking to her cat, Chloe which happened to be the name of one of my cats at the time. For one thing, the original story was quite wordy.

I cut an awful lot out of it. Campbell sent the story back to Godwin three times before Godwin finally got it right—that is, before Godwin stopped coming up with ingenious means of saving the girl. Anyway, Campbell recognized the true power of the story: the idea that the universe is impartial. Reading it back in high school, I glimpsed, perhaps for the first time in my life, a sense of the implacability of the universe. You play by its rules or you die.

The stowaway is done in by cold, hard facts. For others to live, she had to die.

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Several drafts into my version of the story, I was happy with everything except the ending. Something was missing. I work hard at them because I consider them extremely important.

Reading Mindfully: Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations”

Getting the ending wrong can ruin an entire story. Getting it right can elevate all that came before. I discussed it with my wife. He needed to cry. It was an epiphany for me. It allowed me to cut a bunch of extraneous boring dialogue and get on with the emotion of the scene. I felt differently. Making the pilot cry felt like what would actually happen.

So my pilot cried, and it felt right and true to me. Once the script was complete, we held auditions for the cast. Ultimately we cast Matthew MacFadzean not to be confused with British actor Matthew Macfadyen in the role of the shuttle pilot, and Vivian Endicott-Douglas as the young stowaway Marilyn. Andrew Gillies played Commander Delhart of the Stardust. Sergio Dizio played the Clerk and Jennifer Dean one of the surveyors. Matt Willcott did all the live sound effects.