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Book review: The Cold Equations - Phil's Rambling Rants — LiveJournal
November 21st, 2005
03:48 pm


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Book review: The Cold Equations
Today's book review is The Cold Equations and Other Stories, by Tom Godwin, edited by Eric Flint.

I picked this book up a while ago, because I'd never read a word by Godwin, despite the fact that the title story is considered one of the greatest stories in SF, and I thought I should correct that.

The first third or so of the book is a novel -- short by today's standards, but full length by the standards when it was written -- called The Survivors.  Space opera with a predictable plot, little character development, and only limited believability, it nonetheless had a fairly strong appeal that kept me reading.  How much of my attraction to the story comes from the cover picture that depicts animals from the story as more tiger-like than the actual text?  Or for that matter, the highly decorative if improbably dressed woman in the center of the picture?  Hopefully not much, but I have to confess, probably a little bit.

The other stories are all well written, but a bit of a mixed bag in other ways.  Several of them suffer from science that is certainly terribly weak by my standards and I believe was pretty bad even in the Fifties.  Some of them were not believable enough to really hold my interest, while others I found satisfying.  Oddly enough, I did not find "The Cold Equations" the most compelling, or even very good.  In part, it's probably because I've already heard the entire story in a filksong, and the filksong tells it better, because it leaves out enough detail that it's believable.  The actual story comes across to me as dreadfully contrived; while it's not actually impossible that a ship could have that little safety margin, the idea that such a ship could be used on a regular basis without running into trouble so often that some safety margin got built in breaks the springs in my suspension of disbelief, and even crediting the situation, it comes across as more a story of human bad planning than of a universe that doesn't care.  I thought "The Gulf Between" was a much better story, and I rather liked "No Species Alone" also.

Overall, pretty good, but not a high priority read except for the historical interest.  7 out of 10.

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Date:November 21st, 2005 10:56 pm (UTC)

The review

I retain my respect for you as a reviewer, even while my reaction to the stories you refer to was dramatically different. (I think the fact of my being exposed to old issues of *Astounding Science Fiction* from a friend's parents' collection in my early teens has given me a bit more of an antiquarian feel for the stuff than many people in my age group.) It's been made clear in the last 20 years or even longer that well designed space flights definitely do have more of a margin of error, but when I read "Cold" in 1962 or 63, this had not yet been made clear. Also, I have never heard the filksong. *The Survivors* was also put into a paperback edition as *Space Prison*; for all that it's a very thin book and now seems old-fashioned, I found it an absolute grabber, largely because of the intelligent animal life ("prowlers" and "mockers") and the way the relations between them and the humans on the planet Ragnarok developed. Though I have not read the whole compilation, I did note, while hefting the book in my hands at the store, that a very bad sequel to *The Survivors* (I believe the title was *The Space Barbarians*) was not included; I'm glad to note that some editors have the sense to realize that every so often there is a book so awful that the reader's fans don't *want* it to be remembered! Good to have the other stuff, though, and perhaps I'll buy the compilation at some point.

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Date:November 22nd, 2005 06:36 am (UTC)

Re: The review

I did enjoy The Survivors, despite the flaws I saw in it. I often enjoy books quite thoroughly even though they have what seem like they should be fatal flaws when I consider them afterwards, while other books can fall flat even when I can't point to specific things the author did wrong. If I really understood what makes me like a story, there's a good chance I'd be writing for a living. Or maybe not; the hangup that keeps me from seriously trying to write isn't being able to come up with a story I want to tell.
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