|This classic science fiction story is a favorite of English teachers
because, even after all of these years, it has the ability to get the
attention of and provoke discussion amongst otherwise apathetic students.
In the story, a space-pilot must face the difficult decision of whether to
eject a stowaway on his ship into space. On the one hand, the stowaway is
a sympathetically drawn innocent young girl. On the other hand, there is
not enough fuel for the ship to reach its destination with her on board and
many people will die if it does not. Although the character development of
the girl and the moral quandry are things that readers will often end up
discussing, one of the main points (as the title implies) is that the
universe is governed by "cold equations", unconcerned with our feelings or
morality, unable to be altered by our politics or our wishes. Well, why
should I try to explain it when you can read it for yourself. Here is the
passage from which the title is drawn:
|(quoted from The Cold Equations)|
The law of gravitation was a rigid equation and it made no distinction
between the fall of a leaf and the ponderous circling of a binary star
system. The nuclear conversion process powered the crusiers that carried
men to the stars; the same process in the form of a nova would destroy a
world with equal efficiency. The laws were, and the universe moved in
obedience to them. Along the frontier were arrayed all the forces of nature
and sometimes they destroyed those who were fighting their way outward from
Earth. The men of the frontier had long ago learned the bitter futility of
cursing the forces that would destroy them, for the forces were blind and
deaf; the futility of looking to the heavens for mercy, for the stars of
the galaxy swung in their long, long sweep of two hundred million years, as
inexorably controlled as they by the laws that knew neither hatred nor
The men of the frontier knew -- but how was a girl from Earth to fully
understand. H amount of fuel will not power an EDS with a mass of
m plus x
safely to its destination. To himself and her brother and parents she was
as sweet-faced girl in her teens; to the laws of nature she was x, the
unwanted factor in a cold equation.
The story was adapted for the screen at least twice. It was done, very
well in my opinion, as an episode of the 1980's version of the Twilight
Zone where -- if anything -- the references to mathematics were enhanced.
It was also made into a made for
TV movie that I've never seen, but according to the reviews I've read,
it sort of misses the point. Instead of being about the "cold equations"
that we cannot change, the underlying laws of physics, the TV movie makes
it about the cold hearted men who run our big industries.
At the moment, it seems to be available on-line (with typos) at
this link. Note that I have nothing to do with it being
there and would not be at all surprised if it is removed soon since I
suspect that there are copyright issues that are being ignored by posting
it. But, take a look at it there while you can!
Not much calculating going on, sure, but the place of math in the story is central. Just seemed to merit a bit higher "math content" rating than 1.85.
Arguably, the first modern SF story to take math seriously.
I use this story with my 8th grade language art students...It is a great piece to use for cross-curricular studies...my students get hooked and then have great discussions about the laws of nature vs the laws of man/society as well as actions /responsibilities. This is one of my favorite short stories to teach.
TIM J. MCKEE|
THIS IS IN REFERENCE TO THE STORY BY TOM GODWIN'S "THE COLD EQUASIONS". I'VE READ THE STORY AND HAVE SEEN THE TWILIGHT ZONE EPISODE.
IT IS THE SADDEST TV EPISODE I'VE EVER SEEN AND SHOULD BE REQUIRED VIEWING FOR ANYONE GOING INTO THE AEROSPACE INDUSTRY. THIS IS TELEVISION AND SCIENCE FICTION AT IT'S FINEST.