Pixel Scroll 3/31/16 The One They Pixel, The One You’ll Scroll By

(1) IT’S BIG. At Entertainment Weekly, “Jeff VanderMeer explains what it’s like to edit The Big Book of Science Fiction”.

During one part of our research, we even had to contact the Czech ambassador to the Philippines for intel on particular authors; in another life this man had been the editor of a Czech science-fiction magazine that, before the Wall came down, paid Western writers in items like books of surreal erotic photography. He had become an expert, due to his travels, on fiction in many countries. From him we received a flurry of photocopies and advice that will likely inform future projects. It’s a small world, but also a big, complex one, too.

(2) ENOUGH PI? NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory answers the question “How Many Decimals of Pi Do We Really Need?”

We posed this question to the director and chief engineer for NASA’s Dawn mission, Marc Rayman. Here’s what he said:

Thank you for your question! This isn’t the first time I’ve heard a question like this. In fact, it was posed many years ago by a sixth-grade science and space enthusiast who was later fortunate enough to earn a doctorate in physics and become involved in space exploration. His name was Marc Rayman.

To start, let me answer your question directly. For JPL’s highest accuracy calculations, which are for interplanetary navigation, we use 3.141592653589793. Let’s look at this a little more closely to understand why we don’t use more decimal places. I think we can even see that there are no physically realistic calculations scientists ever perform for which it is necessary to include nearly as many decimal points as you present. Consider these examples:

  1. The most distant spacecraft from Earth is Voyager 1. It is about 12.5 billion miles away. Let’s say we have a circle with a radius of exactly that size (or 25 billion miles in diameter) and we want to calculate the circumference, which is pi times the radius times 2. Using pi rounded to the 15th decimal, as I gave above, that comes out to a little more than 78 billion miles. We don’t need to be concerned here with exactly what the value is (you can multiply it out if you like) but rather what the error in the value is by not using more digits of pi. In other words, by cutting pi off at the 15th decimal point, we would calculate a circumference for that circle that is very slightly off. It turns out that our calculated circumference of the 25 billion mile diameter circle would be wrong by 1.5 inches. Think about that. We have a circle more than 78 billion miles around, and our calculation of that distance would be off by perhaps less than the length of your little finger….

(3) WHICH GHOST WROTE THE MOST? “Houdini manuscript ‘Cancer of Superstition’ divides opinion over Lovecraft, Eddy ghostwriting”. The Chicago Tribune has the story.

…Potter & Potter lists Lovecraft as the ghostwriter, in part citing “An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia” by S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, a 2001 anthology of Lovecraft’s work. The book says, however, Houdini approached Lovecraft and Lovecraft’s fellow Providence, R.I., author C.M. Eddy Jr. “jointly to ghostwrite a full-scale book on superstition.”

But how much of “The Cancer of Superstition” was the work of Lovecraft vs. Eddy is up for debate.

Douglas A. Anderson, co-founder of Wormwoodiana, a blog dedicated to researching and discussing the work of Lovecraft and his peers, said one needs to look at “The Dark Brotherhood and Other Pieces,” a 1966 Lovecraft anthology edited by August Derleth that published a detailed outline and the project’s first chapter. Derleth, who had exchanged letters with Eddy prior to the book’s publication, listed Lovecraft as the author of the outline but Eddy as the author of the chapter….

(4) CASSIDY IN GALLERY SHOW. Kyle Cassidy’s photos from Toni Carr’s Geek Knits book will be part of an art show opening April 1 at the Stanek Gallery in Philadelphia. The book, subtitled Over 30 Projects for Fantasy Fanatics, Science Fiction Fiends, and Knitting Nerds, has been mentioned here in the Scroll before. Cassidy is known in sf for his photographs of fans taken at the Montreal Worldcon in 2009.


thread of art exhibit

(5) LOSE THE RECUSE. Kevin Standlee says Cheryl Morgan ”Talked Me Into It”.

I am quite obviously eligible for the Best Fan Writer Hugo Award for the stuff I write on this LJ plus a whole lot of writing elsewhere, possibly most notably on Mike Glyer’s File 770 news site. But as people were talking me up for a Hugo Award nomination, I was uneasy, given that I’m Chairman of the WSFS Mark Protection Committee and possibly the most visible member of the Hugo Awards Marketing Committee. While I’m not required to recuse myself from consideration, I thought it possible that it would be unseemly and that I’d be considered using undue influence. But Cheryl Morgan wrote yesterday about this subject, and I found her argument persuasive. So if you should in fact think that my writing is award-worthy, don’t think that you’re throwing your vote away to mention me.

(6) INFLUENCE VS PERFORMANCE. Or as Cheryl Morgan said it in “Kevin and the Hugos”

My view on this is that it is one thing to have a high position and get nominated for something else (in my case being on the staff of Clarkesworld). It is quite another to have a high position and get nominated for doing that job. In my case, if my WSFS job was getting me votes for my Clarkesworld work, that could be construed as unfair. (I think it is silly to suggest that it was, and the Business Meeting agreed, but that’s not relevant here.) In Kevin’s case the job and the work are the same thing. So yes, having the job makes him noticed, but he’s being nominated for doing the job. That seems entirely reasonable to me.

(7) YOUTUBE STARS. Here’s a trailer for Electra Woman & Dyna Girl, which will be “available on all major digital platforms” on June 7.

(8) COME CORRECT. Adam-Troy Castro says “No, You Have Not Been Nominated For a Hugo This Year”.

Attention to a certain self-published author: no, you have not been nominated for a Hugo this year. Now, I don’t know whether you’ve made an honest mistake, have fallen prey to wishful thinking, or are actively lying, but in any event, you are wrong; just because some folks have filled out the name of your magnum opus on the online Hugo nomination form, doesn’t mean you are “nominated;” certainly not before the nomination period closes, this Thursday.

(9) IT’S GREAT TO BE A GENIUS OF COURSE. Kate Paulk holds forth on “The Problem of Being Too Good” at Mad Genius Club.

One of the things I learned was that in pretty much any creative endeavor the really good ones don’t look like they’re making any effort. They’re so good they make it look easy. They make it feel easy, and they appear to effortlessly produce the effect they’re aiming for, be it a gem of a musical performance or a story that’s a perfect or near perfect example of its art – and it’s so apparently effortless and clear that those of lesser understanding can too easily fail to see the work the author or musician or artist has carefully concealed behind the appearance of easy. That is why seeing the writer sweat is annoying.

Of course, this leads to those of lesser understanding (many of whom think they’re the bees knees and – to paraphrase Douglas Adams – the every other assorted insectile erogenous zone in existence) thinking that a book (or performance or whatever) that looks effortless actually is effortless and therefore is easy. Simply put, they mistake sweat and visible exertion for skill.

What this reminds me of is my favorite Robert Moore Williams quote. Williams was a self-admitted hack sf writer. He was leery of losing sales by being too literary. He said, “You have to stink ’em up just right.”

(10) WHERE THE ROCKS ARE. An amazing map of prehistoric stone structures in the United Kingdom can be found at http://m.megalithic.co.uk/asb_mapsquare.php.

This map of Britain and Ireland, is divided into 100 kilometre squares. Locations of prehistoric stone circles and stone rows are indicated by the red dots. Click on a grid square to see that map sheet in greater detail. Many of the pages have images and links to information elsewhere on the web, making this a master index of Britain and Ireland’s Prehistoric sites.

(11) MEOW WOW.  “George R.R. Martin Spent $3.5 Million to Make This Sci-Fi Art Utopia a Reality” – at Vice.

Perhaps the only thing more disorienting than visiting the art collective Meow Wolf’s permanent art installation, the House of Eternal Return, is getting a Skype tour of the place, which is what I recently received. Labyrinthine and almost hallucinatory, the sprawling former bowling alley has been transformed to a freak-out art mecca, funded by $3.5 million from Game of Thrones creator George R. R. Martin and another $2.5 million from Kickstarter and other fundraising.

The 20,000-square-foot art space, the size of Gagosian’s Chelsea gallery, opened on Friday with a cavalcade of 5,500 visitors in the first three days, including Martin himself and Neil Gaiman. Described by 33-year-old CEO Vince Kadlubek as the “inside [of] a sci-fi novel,” the House of Eternal Return is many things: a psychedelic art space, a bar, an educational center, a ceramics studio, and an elaborate music venue (with a half school-bus upper deck), featuring a slew of dream-like elements such as black-light carpeting, a laser harp, pneumatic doors, and a 20-foot climbable lookout tower.

(12) COLE’S HEART. I was very impressed with Myke Cole’s contribution to “The Big Idea” feature at Whatever – but I didn’t want to pick an excerpt that would dilute the reading experience, so here is a comparatively bland quote…

When I did my Big Idea post for Gemini Cell, I straight up owned the PTSD allegory. Schweitzer’s undead status kept him permanently apart from the living. He was among them, but not of them, anymore. The resultant isolation was pretty much the same thing many returning veterans feel.


  • March 31, 1969 — Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Slaughterhouse Five, published.

(14) SUPER BOOKS. Random House Books for Young Readers announced the acquisition of four DC Comics YA novels, with bestselling young adult authors: Wonder Woman will be written by Leigh Bardugo, Batman will be written by Marie Lu, Superman will be written by Matt de la Peña, and Catwoman will be written by Sarah J. Maas.

Wonder Woman will release first at the end of August 2017.

(15) CURSES VERSUS. “Superman And The Damage Done” at Birth.Movies.Death.

There have been other Supermans since, and while none have, in my opinion, reached the heights of Christopher Reeve, all have imparted a similar sense of decency, humbleness and grace. From Brandon Routh to various animated incarnations, children growing up over the past 40 years have found new Supermans they could look to as inspirational models of how heroes act.

But what do the children of today have? Warner Bros, custodian of the Superman legacy, has handed the keys of the character over to Zack Snyder, a filmmaker who has shown he feels nothing but contempt for the character. In doing so they have opened the character to an ugly new interpretation, one that devalues the simple heroism of Superman and turns the decent, graceful character into a mean, nasty force of brutish strength.

Where Superman was originally intended as a hopeful view of strength wielded with responsibility, Snyder presents him as a view of strength as constant destructive force; where Christopher Reeve’s Superman would often float and flit away, Snyder’s version explodes like a rocket at all times, creating sonic booms above city centers in fits of pique, such as after his scene of moping on Lois Lane’s Washington DC hotel balcony. He is a constant weapon of destruction, often smashing concrete when he comes to earth. There are no soft landings for this Superman.

(16) CROWD PLEASER. “SciFi Author Alan Dean Foster Draws Largest Science Speaker Series Crowd in Prescott Campus History” reports the Embry-Riddle Newsroom.

Hundreds of students, staff and faculty filled the AC-1 lecture hall to capacity to hear internationally acclaimed science fiction author Alan Dean Foster talk about “Science in Science Fiction” as part of the College of Arts and Science Speaker Series last Friday.

Foster has written over 100 novels but is best known for authoring the novel versions of many science fiction films including “Star Wars”, the first three Alien films, “The Chronicles of Riddick”, “Star Trek”, “Terminator: Salvation”, and two Transformers films.

Foster believes science is the foundation of science fiction. If the work is not grounded in science then it’s not science fiction, it is fantasy or science fantasy.

“Science fiction sets you on other worlds where you have to create entire environments. Maybe it’s a world with seven different layers or an entirely frozen world. You have to look at a problem and say what’s the best solution here, even if it’s not been created yet,” said Foster. “That solution should still be reasonable. As an author of science fiction, and especially with novel adaptations from movies, I try to fix the science as best as I can. Sometimes they let me and sometimes they don’t.”

(17) BREAKING GAME SHOW NEWS. The March 31 episode of Jeopardy! had a Hugo Award-Winning Novels category – but I haven’t found out what the titles were yet.

(18) SAD NUMBERS. Brandon Kempner spends the last voting day “Estimating the 2016 Hugo Nominations, Part 4” at Chaos Horizon.

What we do know, though, is that last nomination season the Sad Puppies were able to drive between 100-200 votes to the Hugos in most categories, and the their numbers likely grew in the finally voting stage. I estimated 450. All those voters are eligible to nominate again; if you figured the Sad Puppies doubled from the nomination stage in 2015 to now, they’d be able to bring 200-400 votes to the table. Then again, their votes might be diffused over the longer list; some Sad Puppies might abandon the list completely; some Sad Puppies might become Rabid Puppies, and so forth into confusion.

When you do predictive modelling, almost nothing good comes from showing how the sausage is made. Most modelling hides behind the mathematics (statistical mathematics forces you to make all sorts of assumptions as well, they’re just buried in the formulas, such as “I assume the responses are distributed along a normal curve”) or black box the whole thing since people only care about the results. Black boxing is probably the smart move as it prevents criticism. Chaos Horizon doesn’t work that way.

So, I need some sort of decay curve of the 10 Sad Puppy recommendations to run through my model. What I decided to go with is treating the Sad Puppy list as a poll showing the relative popularity of the novels. That worked pretty well in predicting the Nebulas. Here’s that chart, listing how many votes each Sad Puppy received, as well as the relative % compared to the top vote getter.

(19) FROM TEARS TO CHEERS. Dave Hogg is basically a happy voter tonight.

(20) NOT AN APRIL FOOL? From the Official Gmail Blog: “Introducing Gmail Mic Drop”.

Friends and family have been testing Gmail Mic Drop for months, and the response so far has been awesome:

  • “Sending email is so much easier when you don’t have to worry about people responding!”
  • “Mic Drop is a huge improvement over Mute! I can finally let everyone know I’m just not interested.”
  • “My team solves problems so much faster with Mic Drop. In fact, we stopped talking to each other entirely!”

Gmail Mic Drop is launching first on the web, but mobile updates are on the way. So stay tuned, and stay saucy.

Will R. asks me, “Will you be introducing a similar feature? It would make the flounce a whole lot easier.”

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, A Wee Green Man, Daniel Dern, Martin Morse Wooster, Michael Swanwick, Will R., Rich Lynch, and Reed Andrus for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day StephenfromOttawa.]

224 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 3/31/16 The One They Pixel, The One You’ll Scroll By

  1. Lee on April 1, 2016 at 8:13 pm said:

    Re “nominated for a Hugo”: I can’t help but think that some of what’s going on here is a conflation of word senses. After all, haven’t we all been talking about making our Hugo nominations for the last month or more? So in that sense, he’s not wrong to say that he’s been nominated for a Hugo — his friend nominated him.

    And when we used to complain officially at people who made this mistake, we got yelled at for being mean, and that the “plain meaning” of “nominated” included “one nomination.” This is why the Hugo Awards Marketing Committee recommended and the Business Meeting voted to abandon the term “nominee” and adopt “finalist,” which is much harder to misrepresent. (And I think the WSFS Mark Protection Committee could take actions against people claiming to be finalists who were not, in a way that they could not against a one-vote wonder.)

    The problem comes in with the conceptual leap from there to drawing parallels with the Oscar nominations, or the Hugo final ballot. If the difference has been explained to him in a way that he understood and he’s still saying it, then I’m not going to defend him.

    Both of them have had it explained to them. By me. Neither seems willing to remove their technically-correct-but-misleading claims. I posted items on TheHugoAwards.org, the Hugo Awards Facebook page, and the @TheHugoAwards Twitter feed pointing out that a “nominee” isn’t a finalist. That’s about all I can do at this point.

  2. One big problem with “one person nominated my work for a Hugo so I’m a Hugo nominee” is that unless the person making the statement made the nomination themself, they don’t actually know for sure. The person who said it could have been yanking their chain as a joke. I mean, sure, it’s nice if someone says, “Hey, I nominated your work for a Hugo” but the statement has no verifiable truth value.

    Heck, people have said that they were planning to nominate my book for a Hugo, but I’d never claim to be even a broad-definition “Hugo nominee” on the basis because I don’t know that they actually did so.

  3. I don’t tend to read the dark stuff, either, and appreciate trigger warnings. Quite a few recommended things here came with them, so thanks to people who added those warnings.

    Reading finalists is a bit harder, because there I do want to read all of the stories if I can, even the dark ones. But if I can’t, then I can’t.

  4. @ Greg Hullender

    How did you feel about The Cold Equations, by Tom Godwin?

    I agree with the position that it’s manipulative tragedy-porn, with an implausible tech set-up specifically designed to make the tragedy appear inevitable because other options have been hand-waved under the carpet.

    I once wrote an entire series of stories where the emergent theme was the rejection of artificially limited options that failed to offer a communally acceptable win-all-around solution.

    I don’t care for fiction that tries to teach us to be fatalistic. Rage, rage against the dying of the light, and all that.

    But I’m in a bit of a fey mood tonight and who knows what I’ll think in the morning.

  5. Aaron: I now know of two people who are not me who nominated me for Fan Writer, so I guess I’m “Hugo-nominated” now.

    Also moi. You are “Thrice-Hugo-Nominated”.

    I expect to see a large banner on your website proclaiming thus.

  6. @HRJ: No, you are not. I have had it up to here with grimdark in fiction, comics, and movies. Not everything needs to make the reader suicidal. There are quality happy endings, or at least equivocal ones. It’s all very teenage “Oooh, I am DARK and edgy and mature!” No, you’re not. Please resume drawing on your jeans, getting dumb tattoos, and listening to emo music or whatever its equivalent is now.

    And “The Cold Equations” fails when you think about it — I remember my high school class listing all the things on the ship he could have jettisoned that would have equaled the weight of a teenage girl.

    Jackalopes! Has Ursula seen that? It’s very good, perfect tone.

    Methinks that the “authors” know darn well they aren’t making the shortlist, but figure there are enough in the audience who don’t know the distinction, so can sell some more crap to unsuspecting people. I’m still hoping ELO catches up with that one guy. Honestly, at this point, if I knew ELO’s lawyers, I’d drop a dime.

  7. @lurkertype,
    I tried but no one’s answering. Well, I just let it ring a little longer, longer, longer and sat tight, through shadows of the night. Seems like I might have to let it ring forever.

    [I’ll see myself out]

  8. @Greg — Aw, thanks! If I decide to do another round of edits on this one (always a possibility), I’ll definitely keep that in mind.

    And I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you about your pitch!

  9. I kind of like the dark stuff myself. Like a touch of horror to my books, and by that I mean that it is enough with a touch. I tend to move towards stuff others feel is squicky or creates trigger warnings

    Having said that, I kind of agree with lurkertype. It is with edgy as it is with campy or the enjoyable bad, that when people try to achieve it on purpose, it’s usually annoying or boring.

  10. Chip, I have what may be an odd SF reading history. From one perspective, I was into SF/Fantasy from early on, specifically superhero comics. And Tom Swift Jr. books, which were then coming out. And watching Time Tunnel. But my parents weren’t sf readers, or really readers in general, and I didn’t get one of the great librarians folk like Spider Robinson and Neil Gaiman attribute a combination of giving good reading advice and letting me live and run wild with regards to reading material in the stacks. So I missed a lot of the classic kid sf/fantasy.

    8th grade, I somehow ended up with a Heinlein novel and was in a situation where I could visit a, small, library regularly. But there was no bookstore in town, and it was 40 miles to the nearest one. So I was pretty much limited to the sf contents of that library, again sans any SF guide.

    Obviously, things changed once I hit college and started hanging out at one of the first SF/Fantasy/Comics bookstores (Foundation Bookstore in Chapel Hill) and have since been in fandom and more urban areas, but there were real gaps that I didn’t even know enough to realize were there up through age 17.

  11. I have Hugo nominated, making me a Hugo Nominator, so I guess I can put that on my non-existent blog?

  12. I read Cold Equations and I was absolutely wrecked. I cried all over myself. I wrote a poem. I won’t inflict it on you here.

    I was about thirteen at the time. I gave it to my mom to read and asked what she thought. She said “they were way too quick to accept that the girl had to die. There were probably all kinds of things in the cockpit they could have thrown out instead of a human being. They didn’t try hard enough to be believable.”

    That made me look at the story in a whole different way.

    Someone else wrote a more recent critique (I don’t remember where I saw it anymore) in which they pointed out that a society or bureaucracy that knows that stowaways sometimes happen (to the point where they have a sign to keep out and give the pilot a gun to help him kill stowaways) but don’t actually take even minor steps to prevent them before it comes to the death point (like put a lock on the door, or a have pre-flight checklist that includes “open closet and look inside,”) has something pretty seriously wrong with it in the empathy department.

    I mean seriously, even if you think the girl deserves to die for disobeying a sign, does the pilot deserve to live the rest of his life with the knowledge that he killed her? That’s the kind of thing that causes psychological damage.

    It’s a *memorable* story–I still remember it, forty years later. But it has some issues.

  13. @Cat I seem to remember the late 80’s version of the Twilight Zone had an adaptation of “The Cold Equations”, and the two characters DID try to strip the ship as much as they could in order to avoid throwing her out the airlock. The episode refused to give them an out, though, the weight removed was not enough, and in the end she voluntarily goes into the airlock to die.

  14. Say, I’ve nominated for the Hugos this year and voted on them in previous years; does that mean I’m on the Hugo Board?

    (I’d prefer a Hugo Couch; sounds more comfortable.)
    (I’ll see myself out.)

  15. @Cassy B,

    If I were to find the ongoing discussion about this particular award to have become rather tedious, would that make me one of the Hugo Bored?


  16. (I’d prefer a Hugo Couch; sounds more comfortable.)

    When you are the one talking, does that mean you have the Hugo Conch?

  17. Thanks for the suggestions, everyone. More reading!

    Mostly I’m thinking about ways I can enter into a dialogue with the Heinleinesque concept of a space academy – call back to but also subvert those tropes from the 40s and 50s. Helps that in a previous life, I did some professional work with the US military academies, notably West Point and Annapolis, so I’m not entirely ignorant of the real-world models.

  18. Magewolf said:

    I enjoyed the show but I have some problems with it as well.

    V ybirq gur punenpgref naq gur jnl fnivat Xnlb sebz gur nohfr jnf unaqyrq ohg Fngbeh npgvbaf va gur cnfg unq zr chyyvat zl unve bhg. Ur znqr ab erny nggrzcg gb svther bhg jub gur xvyyre jnf. Ur fcrag fb zhpu gvzr gelvat gb xrrc gur xvqf sebz orvat xvyyrq ng fbzr cnegvpyr gvzr naq cynpr nyzbfg nf vs ur jnf gelvat gb xrrc gurz sebz qlvat va n pne nppvqrag be fbzrguvat vafgrnq bs snyyvat cerl gb n uhzna cerqngbe jub jnf pncnoyr bs punatvat uvf cynaf. Naq rira vs ur fhpprrq va cebgrpgvat uvf sevraqf jvgubhg svaqvat gur xvyyre ur jnf whfg yrggvat uvz zbir ba naq xvyy ntnva.

    I agree to a certain extent, but I think Satoru gets better at it. Ng gur raq bs gur svefg ovt gevc onpx, ur guvaxf ur’f svkrq rirelguvat bapr Xnlb unf yvirq gb frr ure oveguqnl, naq gura bs pbhefr ur yrneaf gung ur unfa’g. Ba gur frpbaq gevc onpx, bapr ur’f erqhprq gur qnatre gb Xnlb, Uvebzv, naq Nln, ur’f ybbxvat nebhaq gb frr jub zvtug or gnetrgrq vafgrnq.

  19. @Heather Rose Jones Heck, people have said that they were planning to nominate my book for a Hugo, but I’d never claim to be even a broad-definition “Hugo nominee” on the basis because I don’t know that they actually did so.

    It’s like all your family and friends who promise to buy your book when it comes out. Maybe 10% do so. ETA: I see this claim used as proof Amazon is cheating authors out of sales. I might be a bad person because I laugh every time I see the claim.

    I tried to nominate you for a Hugo this year. I’m not sure if your book was one that “stuck” or got deleted in the final mess the database made of my nominations. I’m hoping when I show them what happened they will be able & willing to change my ballot to what it was when I hit save and it deleted and/or overwrote items with dupes.

  20. I’m suddenly imagining a space academy book as a variation of the British public school book with plenty of space banter and hijinks. Well most of Stalky & Co. ended up serving with the British military in India, so it’s not much of a stretch.

  21. Greg: Well, without details I can’t respond to your opinion about “disbelief-busting events”, and I may have found the infodumps interesting rather than intrusive. But I absolutely do not understand your contention that the author keeps getting in the way of the story, because for me it was just the opposite — the author got OUT of the way and let the story flow. I still remember that my first reaction on finishing the book was to think, “Wow, that man can WRITE!” And the other two books in the trilogy were the same. While I haven’t liked everything I’ve picked up by Sawyer, if I don’t like something it’s because he’s picked a topic that doesn’t interest me, not because of the writing style.

    Also, “The Cold Equations” has had a major visit from the Suck Fairy, and is now completely unbelievable. The key plot element — the idea that somehow a teenage girl could get thru all the security surrounding a space launch and stow away on board the ship, and that there would also be no pre-flight checks that would find her if she did — just doesn’t work any more.

    David G.: No, this was definitely a Clarke story, although I can’t dredge up the title. Something about an ion-spraying gun that was going to be used in astronomic studies, and the first test shot turned out to have been shaped by a stencil into the Coca-Cola logo. The employee who did it was summarily fired, but that was of no concern to him because he’d been well-compensated for the stunt. The worst outcome was for the head of the project, who “as a matter of principle, can no longer drink anything but coffee — and he hates the stuff.”

    I probably have almost all the details wrong, because it’s been a decade or more since I read the story. But it was definitely Clarke, in his “dry humor” mode.

  22. The Clarke story was called “Watch This Space”. Clarke never came out and said the drink in question was Coca-Cola, but he left a couple of clues. Heinlein didn’t use the actual name either – if I remember correctly, the soft drinks in “The Man Who Sold the Moon” were called Moka-Koka and 6+.

  23. I’ve always found the idiomatic sense of ‘nominated’ puzzling; grammatically, it’s clear that if someone nominates you you are nominated (just as if someone loves you you are loved, if someone bites you you are bitten); but in many contexts it doesn’t mean that. Does it come from the political context, where anyone can be a nominee for office, but what matters is being the nominee of one’s party, which is harder to attain?

    I was once nominated for a teaching award. I got a badge saying I was a nominee. I never managed to find out what this meant. I think it meant more than ‘someone nominated me’ – they wouldn’t issue badges to everyone of whom that was true – but I’m not sure.

  24. The late Richard Harter took apart “The Cold Equations” pretty thoroughly ~40 years ago — sufficiently thoroughly that when I taught SF (once), I assigned the story and then took it apart as a warning to the students to look at the assumptions of a story. Harter noted (in addition to the points made above) that sending out a ship with zero margin was ridiculous (cf Armstrong/Aldrin almost running out of fuel before they set the LEM down) and that the company running the ship was legally liable under the well-established doctrine of attractive nuisance.

  25. Eh, I think people are being a little unfair to “The Cold Equations” in some ways.

    Are parts of it wildly implausible or inaccurate? Sure. The same could be said of a lot of quite well-regarded science fiction, and not just sci-fi “of that era”, I’m talking right now. Take the film “The Martian”, which is current being lauded as a work of accurate hard sci-fi. It isn’t. I could list you a dozen things wrong with it, extremely implausible or outright impossible. I wouldn’t have to try hard.

    It’s an interesting comparison, actually, because I consider the ultimate moral of “The Cold Equations” MUCH, MUCH, MUCH more realistic in its approach than the ultimate moral of “The Martian”. Let’s look at the final speech of The Martian:

    “At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you … everything’s going to go south and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem … and you solve the next one … and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home. All right, questions?”

    No. Bullshit. This is space we’re talking about, or in that particular case the surface of Mars. Either way, it is cold and airless and empty and unforgiving. There is NOTHING there that will support your life. If you are lucky, you get to survive one isolated disaster, the way the Apollo 13 crew did. Most times, if there’s a disaster in space? You’re dead. More than one screw-up? You’re dead. You don’t get to solve one problem, and then the next. The problems had better be solved, and solved completely, before you ever leave the ground, or you’re *way* more likely than not dead.

    So if we set aside the wild implausibilities of both stories — they both have them, but I’m honestly usually more concerned with things other than plausibility — “The Cold Equations” has a theme I like a lot more. You screw up in space? You’re dead. And bear in mind it was written in reaction to a common science fiction trope far more implausible than anything that occurs in “The Cold Equations” itself: that stowing away on a spaceship is just like stowing away on a sea ship and leads to happy space adventures. Nah. More likely, if you somehow manage it, it’s a dumb thing that leaves you dead.

    Now, the argument that “The Cold Equations” is written in a way that’s sexist — that it pits the rational Male against the emotional Female and the emotional Female is wrong and therefore must die — that I’ll agree with. And I could find a lot of other faults in how the characters are drawn and how the story is told (many of them unfortunately typical for a story of its era.) But that it’s unrealistic? Eh. I probably read maybe one sci-fi story a year that isn’t, and if realism is the measure, “The Cold Equations” holds up reasonably well in what it’s ultimately saying, even if it doesn’t do a great job in how it says it.

  26. @Kyra,

    For me, the issue with The Cold Equations is that, if something is so dangerous, and the margins are so thin, yet it is something you do routinely (like sending an EDS from a Cruiser), then you either beef up the margins so that there is more room for adjustment; or, if that isn’t an option, you check for anything that might bring you closer to, into or across the margins. But in the story, the stowaway “just sort of walked in when no one was looking” – all while the margins remain paper-thin.

    The combination of things being so dangerous and the margins so small, and indeed with stowaways being specifically considered to the extent that there was a regulation for what to do with them if discovered; plus the lax security to prevent stowaways, and the lack of verification of the EDS vessel’s mass before launching it; and all this in the context of a precision, military operation – that just seems … contrived to make the point.

    If it had been an operation run on a shoestring, cutting corners, then the situation on the EDS would actually have seemed more believable – but then the point would have had to be a different one.

  27. Oh, I agree. It just didn’t strike me as more wildly implausible than a lot of other stuff I read.

  28. Kyra: I think ‘The Cold Equations’ is written in a way that actually demands accuracy in a way most stories don’t. Normally, it’s quite fair to say ‘Is this really possible? Well, let’s say it is’. But here, the story turns on the idea that this result was inevitable, and this is so not because of people’s ideology, but because of unalterable scientific facts. That’s automatically going to make people think about whether it’s as inevitable as the story claims. A story about how a girl (or a boy) stows away on a spaceship, and dies, because risk is inescapable, would be a different sort of thing.

  29. The ultimate moral of The Cold Equations is that it’s not just acceptable, but morally admirable, to kill an innocent who made a foolish but predictable mistake because you couldn’t be bothered to do your job in an ordinarily prudential way. It rests at every step on simply not bothering to take even the simplest steps to prevent what their regs clearly show is something they anticipated as not just likely but near-certain to happen at some point.

    That’s morally reprehensible as well as inexcusably stupid.

    And we’re asked to believe that this is just the inevitable results of “the cold equations,” unalterable scientific facts. No, it’s not.

    In The Martian, yes, some of the science is wrong–a point Weir freely admits. The Martian winds, just for starters, couldn’t have caused all that chaos at the beginning. If Watley had been stranded on Mars, it would have had to be by some other mechanism.

    But it’s not about “space is dangerous and humans are stupid, and I need to make you understand how little you matter.” Watley’s position, “if you solve enough problems you get to go home,” remains true even though, yes, the chances of a single stranded astronaut on Mars surviving and getting home are not worth calculating. That”s a result of him not being able to solve all the critical problems, not of the premise being wrong.

    And Apollo 13 didn’t have just one thing go wrong, and yes, they had to solve every single problem in order to get home, and yes, their proabiblity of doing so was very, very low–and yet somehow they got home. It might have been more realistic of them to throw in the towel when they realized what had happened, let all their air out, and go quickly rather than slowly, but I don’t think there’s anyone that would say that they should have done that and it set a bad example for the younger generation that they didn’t.

  30. @Kyra,
    I had a different read to “The Martian”. Anyone who made it that far into the programme is fully aware that space/Mars is inhospitable to humans; if a serious accident happens, it’s likely fatal. To me, those are exhortations to the those who manage to survive a serious accident. It was very much “Where there’s life there’s hope” and “You just keep going, as best you can”.

  31. Wasn’t the ship carrying urgently needed life-saving medical supplies? The crew of the Apollo 13 might actually have made that “let the air out” decision if they had been told, “we can get you home, but only by killing millions of people.” The moral calculus of “The Cold Equations” is not the moral calculus being claimed; I feel like a narrative is being imposed on the story that the story did not intend.

    This isn’t a story I adore or anything, by the way. I just think people are being unfair to it.

    (Incidentally, interesting tidbit from Wikipedia: “The story was shaped by Astounding editor John W. Campbell, who sent ‘Cold Equations’ back to Godwin three times before he got the version he wanted, because ‘Godwin kept coming up with ingenious ways to save the girl!'”)

    > “… yes, the chances of a single stranded astronaut on Mars surviving and getting home are not worth calculating.”

    Which wrecked the story for me because it made the ending entirely implausible, even within the context of the implausible and contrived plot used to artificially set it up.

    Which is, to be fair, exactly the complaint some are making about “The Cold Equations”. And since this is isn’t a hill I really want to die on, I’ll just leave it at that.

  32. The problem, Kyra, is that to have the situation they had in The Cold Equations took a long line of decisions and choices that make it clear the people making those decisions placed very little value on human life. I’d be willing to give them the zero margin on fuel, etc., however improbable, if the girl had had to put some real effort into evading sensible security precautions intended to actually keep her off.

    Instead, we have a society that is presented as well-run as societies go, civilized, and safe within reason–and then we have not just the tight msrgins, but the fatal consequences thereof being known and planned for, with zero real effort to prevent stowaways who will have to be killed.

    And then it’s supposed to hit us all in the feels.

    You have to set up a problem for your characters to deal with. The Martian does that, with the problem arising despite NASA institutionally and the astronauts on Mars making real efforts at prudent precautions.

    I think The Cold Equations doesn’t get half the kicking around it deserves.

    But just my opinion.

  33. > “… despite NASA institutionally and the astronauts on Mars making real efforts at prudent precautions.”

    See, I’d disagree with this point — for one example, completely leaving aside the fact that those dangerous Martian winds couldn’t exist, it apparently was a known problem that a big one could topple the ship over, dooming the crew if it happened too quickly while they were out of the ship, and they took NONE of the obvious precautions to prevent it? Basic things like bracing or supporting lines? NASA couldn’t give them the advanced technology used to hold up a tent?

    (I could also talk about the lack of a backup communication system in the hab; in addition to being a basic precautionary redundancy it doesn’t even make sense not to have one if you’re obviously planning on future missions and leaving the hab there while taking the ship away, you’d want to leave one in place. And, and, and …)

    But in fact, that being said, talking out my dislike of The Martian makes me understand a lot better your dislike of The Cold Equations. I think, in some ways, I was looking at the story I suspect Godwin *meant* to write, one in which every reasonably precaution had been taken. But that isn’t the story he *did* write. Just as, in my opinion, the film the Martian was *supposed* to be was one where a sensible mission had been reasonably planned, but (from my point of view) that wasn’t what was on screen. Both stories want us to take their scientific plausibility as integral to the concept, and if I’m unforgiving of one I probably shouldn’t be forgiving of the other.

    (And I know my opinion of The Martian is a minority one. But, um, at least my hatred of it brought me around to a different point of view on The Cold Equations?)

  34. It’s all moot at this point. When “The Cold Equations” came into it, it was inevitable that the conversation would be Godwinned.

  35. @Lis Carey:

    The ultimate moral of The Cold Equations is that it’s not just acceptable, but morally admirable, to kill an innocent who made a foolish but predictable mistake because you couldn’t be bothered to do your job in an ordinarily prudential way. It rests at every step on simply not bothering to take even the simplest steps to prevent what their regs clearly show is something they anticipated as not just likely but near-certain to happen at some point.

    That’s morally reprehensible as well as inexcusably stupid.

    There’s also an interesting question of worldbuilding in TCE. One of the ways Godwin primes his intuition pump is to have the ship be on a mission of mercy. But the system around dealing with the stowaways problem is all about justifying the withholding of mercy. So one has to wonder if this civilization would even undertake to get the antidote to the colony, or would it come up with ways to convince itself the disease was the colony’s own fault and just stay home?

  36. Hey, it was a good discussion, and if we can’t have strong opinions about stories, what is File 770 for?

    (Somebody cover OGH’s eyes so he doesn’t read that bit.)

    It’s been a long time since I last read it–does the colony produce something that’s of high value to Earth and/major corporations?

  37. Lee on April 2, 2016 at 9:14 am said:

    David G.: No, this was definitely a Clarke story, although I can’t dredge up the title. Something about an ion-spraying gun that was going to be used in astronomic studies, and the first test shot turned out to have been shaped by a stencil into the Coca-Cola logo. The employee who did it was summarily fired, but that was of no concern to him because he’d been well-compensated for the stunt. The worst outcome was for the head of the project, who “as a matter of principle, can no longer drink anything but coffee — and he hates the stuff.”

    I probably have almost all the details wrong, because it’s been a decade or more since I read the story. But it was definitely Clarke, in his “dry humor” mode.

    Sounds very much like “Watch This Space”, in Clarke’s “Venture to the Moon” sequence of linked short stories – appears in the collection The Other Side of the Sky. (And in the complete “Collected Short Stories”, naturally.)

  38. @Kyra,

    I think there’s a difference.

    In The Martian, there’s a team of volunteers who are going into a known dangerous situation, where some decisions may have been made on a more risky side of things but where those risks are considered part of the job, and indeed that job has included lots of training to avoid, mitigate and manage those risks. There’s both awareness of the risks; measures to avoid the risk; training and at least to some extent, opportunities to mitigate the risk and possibly even deal with the consequences.

    In The Cold Equations, the risk is presented as essentially a certainty – yet for all the danger there’s no attempt at avoidance, since all it too was people looking in the wrong direction to allow a stowaway, even though stowaways were a sufficiently likely thing that they had a specific policy for how to deal with them when they occur. Not even education in order to at least make potential transgressors aware of the risk – just a generic “keep out” sign:

    In a way, she could not be blamed for her ignorance of the law; she was of Earth and had not realized that the laws of the space frontier must, of necessity, be as hard and relentless as the environment that gave them birth. Yet, to protect such as her from the results of their own ignorance of the frontier, there had been a sign over the door that led to the section of the Stardustthat housed the EDSs, a sign that was plain for all to see and heed: UNAUTHORIZED PERSONNEL KEEP OUT!

    To me, that reeks more of an institutional lack of a desire to prevent things that could be easily be prevented – and thus, is less of an indictment of the coldness of the equations and more of the people who declined to even attempt to do anything to prevent this entirely foreseeable, and indeed, entirely foreseen sequence of events.

  39. Kip: 888888888888888888888888888888888
    (handful of peanuts being thrown at the punster)

    “The Cold Equations” runs smack up against a problem I’ve seen many other stories hamstring themselves on, and it has nothing to do with reality and everything to do with tropes.

    There are two fairly strong tropes about the treatment of women in fiction, and they are mutually exclusive. One is what I call the “Chivalry” trope — the assumption that women and children don’t get used to make bad story points because, well, they’re women and children, and that’s Just Not Done. The other is the Fridge trope — the idea that a woman’s only purpose in the story is to serve as a motivation for the Straight White Male Hero, and therefore she can be killed off or otherwise mistreated at will because she’s not really a person. (Note: that second one also applies to non-white and gay characters.)

    It’s very difficult for a story to subvert one of these tropes without falling foul of the other one. In this instance, if Campbell’s quote is correct, Godwin was going for the Chivalry trope and Campbell was determined to have the Fridge trope.

  40. Campbell really conflicted with his usual preference for competent gun-toting engineer/scientists. There wasn’t a guy with a weapon and a walkie-talkie standing at the door to the spaceship to keep stowaways out? The pilot didn’t run down a checklist that included “Make sure nothing extra’s aboard”? Teenage girls can freely wander around high-security military bases? He really wanted that fridging so manpain could happen.

  41. @lurkertype:

    He really wanted that fridging so manpain could happen.

    I actually think it’s worse than that. The story is really about justifying the disposal of the weak and careless as required by Nature’s Law. The manpain is there to put a little shine on that: “If I feel bad about murdering the inconvenient, I still have a soul. I am not blameworthy for being a cog in this grotesque machine.”

  42. I liked The Martian very much, but it had this what I call “american part” that made bang my head against my desk. Where everyone selected for being able to follow rules and regulations suddenly decides to break all of them with no repercussions at all. Where breaking rules and regulations are always a good thing. Where everyone was competing on how to best risk their lives in the most lunatic way.

    The first two thirds of the book were great. The third part, well, I had to close my eyes and ignore all the stupidity. Still good, but only because I’ve this kind of idiocy in countless american movies, so I can ignore it. This is message fiction in the most obvious way as I see it.

    Haven’t read The Cold Equaitions myself, but if it has skipped this kind of tropes, I’m happy.

  43. And people wonder why I’m not running out to read old copies of the SFF magazine edited by Campbell.

    Just following orders
    Because nature uh huh

    Male engineers rock and can solve any problem except how to avoid having to do bad stuff in the first place through good social engineering/procedures and/or manufacturing uh huh

  44. @Kyra: My recollection is that the piece of flying equipment that hit Watney was the backup communications system, or at least a vital piece thereof.

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