Phil Parker (tigertoy) wrote,
Phil Parker

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.
Tags: book review, sf, tom godwin
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