Pixel Scroll 4/18/20 You Can’t File All Of The Pixels All Of The Time

(1) EASTERCON 2021. Next year’s UK Eastercon site has been selected reports the Friends of Eastercon blog.

ConFusion 2021 won an online bidding session for the 2021 Eastercon, to be held at the Birmingham NEC again, with 95% of the vote. Permission to record the session was refused.

(2) AID FOR ARTISTS. Publishers Lunch linked to the newly announced  “Maurice Sendak Emergency Relief Fund”.

The Maurice Sendak Foundation has granted $100,000 to the New York Foundation for the Arts for an emergency relief grant program “to support children’s picture book artists and writers impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.” They will provide grants of up to $2,500 a person, and hope to raise at least another $150,000 in the initial phase.

(3) AND RESCUE FOR RETAILERS. The New York Times tells how “Comic Creators Unite to Benefit Stores”.

A large group of comic book creators are banding together to help support comic book retailers whose business have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Using the Twitter hashtag #Creators4Comics, more than 120 creators will be auctioning comic books, artwork and one-of-a-kind experiences. The auctions will run from Wednesday through Monday and will benefit the Book Industry Charitable Foundation, which is accepting applications from comic book shops and bookstores for emergency relief.

The effort was organized by the comic book writers Sam Humphries and Brian Michael Bendis, along with Kami Garcia, Gwenda Bond and Phil Jimenez. Humphries will be auctioning “How to Break Into Comics by Making Your Own Comics,” which are video-chat sessions with aspiring writers. “It mirrors my own comic book secret origin story,” he said in an email. More information can be found at the Creators 4 Comics website….

(4) CONZEALAND VIRTUAL ATTENDING MEMBERSHIPS. The 2020 Worldcon website has been updated with information about attending memberships for its Virtual Convention.

An Attending Membership is for people who will engage in the live, interactive Virtual Convention. There are a number of different types of Attending Memberships. Attending Memberships are all inclusive. You do not have to pay anything more for access to any of our online activity.

You will receive all our publications. This also comes with the right to nominate and vote in the Hugo Awards in 2020. You can also vote in Site Selection for the 2022 Worldcon.

  • Young Adult Attending is based on being born in 2000.
  • Unwaged Attending is a NZ resident of any age who does not have a consistent wage. This includes students, retirees, beneficiaries etc. Please contact us if you have questions about this.
    • We will trust that if you become waged by the convention, that you will upgrade to a Full Attending.

(5) RE-VOYAGER. “Garrett Wang And Robert Duncan McNeill Are Launching A ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ Rewatch Podcast” reports TrekMovie.com. The podcast’s twitter account is @TheDeltaFlyers.

This morning, Star Trek: Voyager star Robert Duncan McNeill (Tom Paris) announced that he has teamed up with co-star Garrett Wang (Harry Kim) on a new podcast called The Delta Flyers. The new pod promises inside stories as the pair plan to rewatch every episode of Voyager, with the first episode arriving in early May. 

(6) EISNER AWARDS. Newsarama reassures that “2020 Eisner Awards Going Forward Despite SDCC Cancellation”.

“I’m happy to report that the judging has been handled mostly virtually to date,” SDCC’s Chief Communications and Strategy Officer David Glanzer told Newsarama. “Things are in flux as you can imagine but our hope is to be able to have a list of Eisner winners for 2020.”

Longtime awards administrator Jackie Estrada is working with this year’s judges Martha Cornog, Jamie Coville, Michael Dooley, Alex Grecian, Simon Jimenez, and Laura O’Meara.

(7) OUT OF PRINT. In “This Is The Book That Outsold Dracula In 1897″, CrimeReads’  Olivia Rutigliano shows why an old bestseller is likely to remain in obscurity despite that singular achievement.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula has remained in print since it was first published in April 1897. A bestseller in its day, it has gone on to spawn countless derivatives and become one of the most indelible pop-cultural touchstones in recent history. Obviously. But, upon its first release, it was seriously outsold by another novel, a supernatural tale of possession and revenge called The Beetle, which fell out of print after 1960. And let me tell you, it’s something else.

Written by Richard Marsh, the author of extremely successful commercial short fiction during this era, The Beetle is actually rather like Dracula in form and plot. In addition to its being an epistolary novel, it is similarly about a seductive, inhuman, shape-shifting monster who arrives in England from the East, entrances a citizen into becoming its slave, and wages an attack on London society. And civilization’s only hope against this invader is a motley group of middle-class individuals (including one forward-thinking young woman and one expert on the supernatural), who must figure out what the creature actually is and ascertain why it has arrived to England, before finally destroying it….

(8) A FRIGID FORMULATION. Dann is “Re-Visiting Those Damned Cold Equations” at Liberty at all Costs.

… There is a forthcoming anthology of rebuttals to The Cold Equations.  I expect many essayists to add elements that are not present in the original story to reach their own preferred conclusions.  Rather than address the story as written, they will probably add in a factor that is not otherwise evident as a lever to be used against the main purpose of the story.

Rather than discussing the merits and criticism of the story, I’m first going to travel to Texas, rhetorically.

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick implied that he was willing to die to ensure the survival of his children and grandchildren.  He went on to suggest that lots of grandparents would make the same choice.  The context of his comments was the “choice” between maintaining our self-quarantine that is significantly damaging our economy or resuming normal social habits at the demonstrable risk of killing off a substantial number of our elderly.

…We are not currently at the point where we need to be deciding who lives and who dies.  We are most certainly not at the point where we need to risk the lives of senior citizens by prematurely restarting the economy.

That being said, we do have to make choices; sometimes hard choices….

…The fact is that we all have to make choices based on what we hope is the best of information.  We are all learning now about the importance of certain types of medical and personal protective equipment.  We are learning that we had manufacturing and import capacity to cover the usual needs of society, but not enough to cover our needs during a pandemic.  We are learning that we had stockpiles sufficient to cover a few significant regional calamities, but such stockpiles were entirely insufficient for a larger catastrophe.

…Will the critics of The Cold Equations pause in their rush to suggest alternative conclusions to acknowledge the practical limitations, however ham-handedly presented, that were in play?

(9) WHAT BOX? In a review of Bishakh Som’s new collection, NPR’s Etelka Lehoczky reports that “‘Apsara Engine’ Doesn’t Break The Graphic Novel Rules — It Ignores Them”.

There’s something a bit uncanny about Apsara Engine, the new comics collection by Bishakh Som. The world of comics is all about genre — superhero, sci-fi, fantasy, horror — and most of the time it’s pretty easy to match any book to its proper slot. Even highbrow graphic novels tend to categorize themselves through the style of art they employ and the types of stories they tell. Not this book, though. Its images and concepts seem to come from a place all their own. Som’s imagination is science-fictiony, without being particularly technological, mythic without being particularly traditional, and humanistic without cherishing any particular assumptions about where we, as a species, are headed.

You might classify these comics as “literary,” but Som’s approach to storytelling is as uncanny as her style and themes. Even the book’s structure keeps the reader off-balance. Som intersperses tales of future civilizations and half-human hybrid beasts with vignettes of run-of-the-mill contemporary life, so the reader never knows if something odd is about to happen.

You might classify these comics as “literary,” but Som’s approach to storytelling is as uncanny as her style and themes.

…Som’s artistic style breaks boundaries, too. She’ll employ traditional comic-book techniques for page layouts and character designs, then toss them aside with the turn of a page. A character who’s drawn iconically, with just a few efficient lines defining her features, will become lushly realistic at a pivotal moment. A story drawn in the usual square panels will suddenly burst forth into a series of flowing, uncontained two-page spreads.

Such moments of explosive transition provide the book’s heartbeat. It’s a mesmerizing arrythmia. The deceptiveness of what we think of as “ordinary life” is a running motif, one Som explores through unexpected juxtapositions. In “Come Back to Me,” a pretty young woman engages in an utterly mundane inner monologue while walking on the beach. Her reminiscences about the time she cheated on her boyfriend, which appear above and below the drawings, continue to unspool implacably even as she’s pulled into the ocean by a mermaid….

(10) BINNS OBIT. Merv Binns’ obituary, written by Leigh Edmonds, has appeared in The Age: “A luminary of Australian science fiction”. An excerpt:

In 1970, Binns established Space Age Books, with the help of his friends Lee Harding and Paul Stevens. It soon established a reputation as the best source of science fiction, fantasy and counter-culture literature in Melbourne, and probably Australia.

Space Age became the hub of a growing science fiction community and Binns became associated with leading authors, editors and publishers, as well the growing number of fans, in Australia and internationally.

As a result, Binns and Space Age were integral to the hosting of World Science Fiction Conventions in Melbourne in 1975 and 1985. 


  • April 18, 1938 — Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1, a comic book published by National Allied Publications even though the cover said June. The character was created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster. This was actually an anthology, and contained eleven features with the Superman feature being the first thirteen inside pages. Five years ago, a pristine copy  of this comic sold for a record $3,207,852 on an eBay auction. It was one of two hundred thousand that were printed. 


[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born April 18, 1884 Frank R. Paul. An employee of editor Hugo Gernsback, he largely defined the look of both cover art and interior illustrations in the pulps of the Twenties from Amazing Stories at first and later for Planet StoriesSuperworld Comics and Science Fiction. He also illustrated the cover of Gernsback’s own novel, Ralph 124C 41+: A Romance of the Year 2660. You can see his cover for Amazing Stories, August 1927 issue , illustrating The War of the Worlds here. (Died 1963.)  
  • Born April 18, 1922 Nigel Kneale. Writer of novels and scripts merging horror and SF, he’s  best remembered  for the creation of the character Professor Bernard Quatermass. Though he was a prolific British producer and writer, he had only one Hollywood movie script, Halloween III: Season of the Witch. (Died 2006.)
  • Born April 18, 1945 Karen Wynn Fonstad. She designed several atlases of fictional worlds including The Atlas of Middle-earthThe Atlas of Pern and The Atlas of the Dragonlance World. (Died 2005.)
  • Born April 18, 1946 Janet Kagan. “The Nutcracker Coup” was nominated for both the Hugo Award for Best Novelette and the Nebula Award for Best Novelette, winning the Hugo at ConFrancisco. She has but two novels, one being Uhura’s Song, a Trek novel, and quite a bit of short fiction which is out in The Complete Kagan from Baen Books and is available from the usual digital suspects. (Died 2008.)
  • Born April 18, 1952 Martin Hoare. I’m not going to attempt to restate what Mike stares much better in his obituary here. (Died 2019.) 
  • Born April 18, 1965 Stephen Player, 55. He’s deep into Pratchett’s Discworld and the fandom that sprung up around it. He illustrated the first two Discworld Maps, and quite a number of the books including the25th Anniversary Edition of The Light Fantastic and The Illustrated Wee Free Men. Oh but that’s just a mere wee taste of he’s done as he did the production design for the Sky One production of Hogfather and The Colour of Magic. He did box art and card illustrations for Guards! Guards! A Discworld Boardgame. Finally he contributed to some Discworld Calendars, games books, money for the Discworld convention. I want that money. 
  • Born April 18, 1969 Keith R. A. DeCandido, 51. I found him with working in these genre media franchises: such as Supernatural, Andromeda, FarscapeFireflyAliensStar Trek In its various permutations, Buffy the Vampire SlayerDoctor WhoSpider-ManX-MenHerculesThorSleepy Hollow,and Stargate SG-1. Has he ever written a novel that was a media tie-in? 
  • Born April 18, 1971 David Tennant, 49. Eleventh Doctor and my favorite of the modern Doctors along with Thirteen whom I’m also very fond of. There are some episodes such as the “The Unicorn and The Wasp” that I’ve watched repeatedly.  He’s also done other spectacular genre work such as the downright creepy Kilgrave in Jessica Jones, and and Barty Crouch, Jr. in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. He’s also in the Beeb’s remake of the The Quatermass Experiment as Dr. Gordon Briscoe.
  • Born April 18, 1973 Cora Buhlert, 47. With Jessica Rydill, she edits the Speculative Fiction Showcase, a most excellent site. She has a generous handful of short fiction professionally published, and she’s also a finalist for the Best Fan Writer Hugo this year. 


  • Bizarro tells us what monsters sing.

(14) TOUGHER THAN DIAMOND? “DC to Sell New Comics. Here’s Why it Matters” is a Nerdist analysis of a potentially revolutionary development.

It’s been a wild month for comic book fans everywhere. Since the COVID-19 crisis fully took hold we’ve been getting used to new ways of living, working, and accessing our favorite art, even SDCC has been canceled! It was only a few weeks ago that Diamond–the comic book industry’s only physical distributor–would stop distributing single issues to comic shops. Since then, there have been plenty of rumors, failed plans, and new ideas. But now DC Comics has announced they will be selling comics directly to shops via two new distributors.

It’s great news for comics fans but also has massive implications for the future of the industry as a whole. We’re here to break down why.

… The fact that DC Comics is breaking with the exclusive deal Diamond has had with them for decades means that they are introducing two new distributors into the market for the first time in 20 years. It could essentially break the monopoly that Diamond has had on the industry. Possibly freeing up the proverbial trade routes that have long been under the control of one massive company….

(15) LEGACY OF THE PLAGUE. Sari Feldman looks ahead to “Public Libraries After the Pandemic” at Publishers Weekly.

…In a previous column, I wrote about the unprecedented library closures around the country in the wake of the pandemic. The value of public libraries is rarely questioned in times of crisis—think of the New Orleans Public Library after Hurricane Katrina, or the Ferguson Municipal Public Library during the unrest there. But this crisis—more specifically, the social distancing required to address this crisis—strikes at the very foundation on which the modern public library rests. And as the days go by, I find myself increasingly concerned about how libraries come back from these closures.

For one, I suspect that Covid-19 will change some people’s perspective on what can and should be shared. I fear many people will begin to overthink materials handling and the circulation of physical library collections, including books. It’s a reasonable assumption that people will emerge from this public health crisis with a heightened sense of risk related to germ exposure. How many of our patrons—particularly those with means—will begin to question the safety of borrowing books and other items from the library?

In terms of our buildings, open access for everyone has long been a celebrated library value. Public libraries have evolved, survived, and have even managed to thrive through a digital transformation by reconfiguring our spaces to be more social, more functional, and by offering more programs and classes. Can we maintain that in an age of social distancing? Will libraries need to supply gloves for shared keyboards? Will parents and caregivers still want to bring their children to a “Baby and Me” program? Will seniors still find respite in a library community?

(16) ONE PICTURE AND A THOUSAND WORDS. In “Revisiting Ursula K. Le Guin’s Novella About Interplanetary Racism” at New York Times Books, artist Ben Passmore visually comments on a Le Guin story.

A graphic novelist renders “The Word for World Is Forest,” a work that mixed the reality of racism with the fantasy of retribution.

(17) COUNTDOWN. In the Washington Post, Christian Davenport says NASA has authorized the first human spaceflight launching from the U.S. since 2011, with veterans Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley scheduled to go to the International Space Station on a SpaceX craft. “NASA sets a date for historic SpaceX launch, the first flight of NASA crews from U.S. in nearly a decade”.

…This time, though, the launch will be markedly different from any other in the history of the space agency. Unlike Mercury, Gemini, Apollo or the space shuttle era, the rocket will be owned and operated not by NASA, but by a private company — SpaceX, the hard-charging commercial space company founded by Elon Musk.

(18) KEEP YOUR DISTANCE. The Washington Post’s Travis M. Andrews says that last Saturday a giant music festival was held “featuring emo titans American Football, chiptune pioneers Anamanaguchi and electropop pioneer Baths,” but social distancing protocols were followed because this was a virtual festival that took place inside Minecraft. “Thousands gathered Saturday for a music festival. Don’t worry: It was in Minecraft.”

… Interested parties could “attend” in a few different ways. Some watched on the video game streaming site Twitch. To really get into the action, though, you needed to log into Minecraft, plug in the proper server info and, voilà!, you’d pop to life in a hallway and then explore the venue through your first-person viewpoint.

Purchasing a VIP pass (with real money) allowed access to special cordoned-off parts of the venue and the chance to chat with the artists on the gamer hangout app Discord. Meanwhile, the nearly 100,000 unique viewers on Twitch were encouraged to donate money to disaster recovery org Good360, which ended up with roughly $8,000 in proceeds.

(19) BIG SQUEEZE. “‘Bath sponge’ breakthrough could boost cleaner cars”

A new material developed, by scientists could give a significant boost to a new generation of hydrogen-powered cars.

Like a bath sponge, the product is able to hold and release large quantities of the gas at lower pressure and cost.

Made up of billions of tiny pores, a single gram of the new aluminium-based material has a surface area the size of a football pitch.

The authors say it can store the large volume of gas needed for practical travel without needing expensive tanks.

…As well as developing electric vehicles, much focus has been on hydrogen as a zero emissions source of power for cars.

The gas is used to power a fuel cell in cars and trucks, and if it is made from renewable energy it is a much greener fuel.

However, hydrogen vehicles suffer from some drawbacks.

The gas is extremely light – In normal atmospheric pressure, to carry 1kg of hydrogen which might power your car for over 100km, you’d need a tank capable of holding around 11,000 litres.

To get around this problem, the gas is stored at high pressure, around 700 bar, so cars can carry 4-5kg of the gas and travel up to 500km before refilling.

That level of pressure is around 300 times greater than in a car’s tyres, and necessitates specially made tanks, all of which add to the cost of the vehicles.

Now researchers believe they have developed an alternative method that would allow the storage of high volumes of hydrogen under much lower pressure.

The team have designed a highly porous new material, described as a metal-organic framework.

(20) CREDENTIAL TO KILL. NPR reveals what your SJW credential already knew — nature is full of self-propelled cat food: “The Killer At Home: House Cats Have More Impact On Local Wildlife Than Wild Predators”.

What does an outdoor cat do all day? According to new research, it could be taking a heavy toll on local wildlife.

A tracking study of more than 900 house cats shows when they kill small birds and mammals, their impact is concentrated in a small area, having a bigger effect than wild predators do….

“Even though it seems like their cat isn’t killing that many, it really starts to add up,” said Roland Kays, a scientist at North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. (Full disclosure: Kays isn’t a cat or dog person but a “ferret person.”)

Kays and colleagues collected GPS data from cats in six countries and found most cats aren’t venturing very far from home.

“These cats are moving around their own backyard and a couple of their neighbors’ backyards, but most of them are not ranging very much further,” Kays said. “So initially I thought: ‘Oh, this is good news. They’re not going out into the nature preserves.’ “

Then Kays factored in how much cats kill in that small area. Some cats in the study were bringing home up to 11 dead birds, rodents or lizards a month, which doesn’t include what they ate or didn’t bring home to their owners.

“It actually ends up being a really intense rate of predation on any unfortunate prey species that’s going to live near that cat’s house,” he said.

(21) FLASHER. “Deep Sea Squid Communicate by Glowing Like E-Readers”NPR item includes video so readers can test whether they see the patterns.

Deep in the Pacific Ocean, six-foot-long Humboldt squid are known for being aggressive, cannibalistic and, according to new research, good communicators.

Known as “red devils,” the squid can rapidly change the color of their skin, making different patterns to communicate, something other squid species are known to do.

But Humboldt squid live in almost total darkness more than 1,000 feet below the surface, so their patterns aren’t very visible. Instead, according to a new study, they create backlighting for the patterns by making their bodies glow, like the screen of an e-reader.

“Right now, what blows my mind is there’s probably squid talking to each other in the deep ocean and they’re probably sharing all sorts of cool information,” said Ben Burford, a graduate student at Stanford University.

Humboldt squid crowd together in large, fast-moving groups to feed on small fish and other prey.

“When you watch them it looks like frenzy,” Burford said. “But if you pay close attention, they’re not touching each other. They’re not bumping into each other.”

(22) THE HORROR. Consequence of Sound introduces a video publicizing Stephen King’s novella collection — “Stephen King Reads From New Book If It Bleeds: Watch”.

Stephen King jumped into the live stream game on Friday afternoon. The Master of Horror flipped on the camera to read the first chapter from his new book If It BleedsAs previously reported, the book collects four different novellas — similar to Different Seasons or Four Past Midnight — and is available for Constant Readers on April 21st.

Wearing a Loser/Lover shirt from It: Chapter One, which is just all kinds of charming, King read from the first novel Mr. Harrigans Phone. The story continues the author’s mistrust of technology in the vein of Cell, and should make us all think twice about our respective smart phones. So, think about that as you watch King from your couch.

[Thanks to Michael Toman, JJ, Cat Eldridge, Bella Michaels, Martin Morse Wooster, John King Tarpinian, Chip Hitchcock, Mike Kennedy, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Jayn.]

Discover more from File 770

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.

76 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 4/18/20 You Can’t File All Of The Pixels All Of The Time

  1. The pieces of the story just don’t fit together well. If it’s a true one-off medical emergency, then not having a particularly good plan makes sense, and no one has had time to think about what to do with stowaways – but the pilot knows immediately what the rules are (he has to toss the girl out), and so does her brother (he doesn’t need to be told either – he just knows, because this situation is routine).
    If emergency medical deliveries are a routine situation, then they should be treated that way – and that includes things like checking the ship for stowaways, adding a little extra fuel for emergencies, etc. I don’t blame Godwin for the inconsistencies – he had written a story in which the girl is saved and had the current ending imposed on him.

    A story planned in advance to provide a plausible tough choice is certainly possible – it would feature a way to have a stowaway that doesn’t make the pilot or his superiors seem like idiots for not having considered that someone might just walk through an unlocked door, and would also feature the pilot having to work out for himself that the laws of physics require expulsion, rather than having him refer to a written policy (which weakens the point that it’s the implacable laws of the universe driving the story). Instead we have a story in which both stowaways are a routine event, and no one makes the least effort to prevent them (pilots don’t even seem to worry that someday they’ll encounter a stowaway who is able to overpower them and toss them out the airlock – no sense of self preservation, or desire to eliminate risks in advance).

  2. Thanks to OGH for the signal boost.

    For those looking for real-world examples, consider the Titanic and the Birkenhead. [I’m a fan of the History Professor YouTube channel.]

    For a more nuanced/subtle example, one constant criticism of the US government in the 60s and 70s was that it was spending a ton of money on NASA while people were living in poverty. NASA inarguably improved the living condition of every person on the planet by fostering improvements in materials science, biology, and general technology.

    One can pretty easily identify single/discrete individuals that might have benefited from that money due to living in poverty. It is impossible to identify single/discrete individuals that were significantly impacted by improvements driven by NASA. That impact can only be seen in the aggregate and it dwarfs any comparable spending on poverty programs.

    And before we get there, Thatcher’s aphorism about running out of other people’s money applies….

    I’m in the middle of Freakonomics episode 413 which is presenting doctors discussing the medical ethics associated with the rationing of limited public health resources.

    Quality, Speed, Price. Pick any two.

  3. Not meaning to derail the “hard choices” discussion in the slightest, but rather to explore nuances…

    The “do I donate part of my liver?” question points out how nuanced these choices can be, especially if compared to “do I donate one of my kidneys?” Livers regenerate (and not just if your name is Prometheus). If you donate part of your liver (or have part removed, as a friend of mine did), your liver will normally regenerate the portion and retain full functionality. So while there are always risks of surgical complications that must be weighed, liver donation is more similar to blood donation in qualitative terms (though certainly not in quantitative terms).

    But you only get two kidneys. They don’t regenerate. And some people only get one, through a quirk of embryological development. Having two kidneys means that if, for some reason, you end up with reduced kidney function, it may still be enough to manage as long as you have two. But if you’ve donated one, and then experience reduced function, you’re much more at risk. (Doctors would presumably always check to make sure you have two fully functioning kidneys before removing one for donation, so at least we don’t have the thought problem in that direction.)

    I’ve actually worked through the thought experiment of whether I’d be willing to donate a kidney to a near relative, with the balanced consequences that it might make no difference to their outcome and might put my own life substantially at risk. And honestly, I’m not sure.

    Yet there are many people out there who do make the donation. There are people who make “chain donations” of kidneys to complete strangers because–due to tissue compatibility issues–they can’t donate to their own loved one. There are people who participate in chain donations of kidneys to complete strangers without having a stake in the outcome. At the opposite end of the scale (without meaning any criticism) there are people who would object to donating their organs after death, or to donating blood even if they are healthy and otherwise able to do so. (Then there are the structural comparisons between organ/substance donation and childbearing.)

    The entire field is a very fertile one for exploring ethical decisions and how they are made on an individual and communal basis.

  4. additional to @Magewolf: I made one mistake in the above answer: I did not directly address the error (being kind) built into your question. That error is that magicking up additional fuel was the only thing that could have saved the girl; as Harter pointed out in 1977, there are obviously other things that can be thrown overboard to reduce the mass — starting with the weapon the pilot was issued, the gauge that didn’t tell him in time that somebody else was on board, and the door of the closet the girl was hiding in. (That gauge goes beyond cold physics and well into handwavium; the tech to make something that would read quickly and accurately enough to be checked before departure existed at least a decade before the story was written. If Godwin hadn’t told that porky the pilot would be guilty of criminal negligence.) These days what you did is sometimes called the Sherlockian fallacy: the belief that one has seen all the alternatives.

    As I’ve noted, this story makes an interesting contrast with Godwin’s “Mother of Invention”, which Campbell published the year before. The story is prefaced with an observation by an alien philosopher that “The human mind can be very ingenious at altering unpleasant circumstances.” In that story, a batch of bros come up with anti-gravity — but they’re men working for other men and showing their superiority to aliens (a couple of Campbell’s favorite themes), while a woman just gets thrown away with no effort. That’s not physics; that’s xenophobia and sexism.

  5. @Dann: I’m curious what, in this context, you think the stories of the Birkenhead and the Titanic are examples of.

    The actions of the crew in the sinking of the Birkenhead in 1852 not only established the principle of “women and children first”; even after the captain ordered everyone to abandon ship and swim for the lifeboats after the Birkenhead broke in half, the military officer in charge ordered the troops mustered on deck (the Birkenhead was primarily a troopship) to maintain ranks, because he feared a rush for the boats would swamp them and endanger the women and children. To their undying credit, virtually every single soldier held position even as the ship foundered around them. Nearly all of them (including the commanding officer) died, from drowning, exposure, or sharks.

    The sinking of the Titanic sixty years later caused an international outcry at the regulatory and operational failures that resulted in the appalling (and appallingly class-dependent) loss of life. The result was a complete overhaul of safety regulations, mandated by international agreements, and, among other things, the establishment of the International Ice Patrol, a US Coast Guard unit that is internationally funded to monitor and report on icebergs in the North Atlantic. Adhering to these standards of course costs money. I can’t imagine anything more antithetical to the no-precaution, no-safety framework of The Cold Equations.

  6. @PhilRM: I’ve read Heinlein for fifty years. Since I got the gist of it from context, I never thought to research what he meant by “caught by the Birkenhead drill”.

    Shame on me for laziness! And now I know. Thank you for my lucky ten thousand membership for the day!

  7. @John A Arkansawyer: You’re welcome!
    I also originally understood the gist of that line from context (about that long ago, too) but not very long afterwards, I read an account of the sinking of the Birkenhead – I think it was in one of those color-coded, self-paced reading comprehension units that seemed to have been popular with schools back then.

  8. @PhilRM: “I think it was in one of those color-coded, self-paced reading comprehension units”

    Then how did I not know that? I was addicted to those in sixth grade. I’d whip through one, ace the quiz, then go get another one. I was so restless! And the year after, give or take a year, is when I inhaled almost all the early (pre-1958) Heinlein. Maybe I did whip through those a little too fast.

  9. @PhilRM

    Both are real-world examples of having limited resources where that lack of resources means that someone is going to die.

    No man ever listened himself out of a job. – Calvin Coolidge

  10. @Dann: Both are real-world examples of having limited resources where that lack of resources means that someone is going to die.

    The Titanic didn’t have lifeboat space for only half its passengers because of some immutable law of nautical physics, it was because the White Star Line made the decision to launch it with an inadequate number of boats: it only carried 20, when it was designed to carry 48. (The latter number would still have been inadequate if the ship had been filled to capacity.) And the worldwide reaction to the sinking was not a shrug of the shoulders and “Sucks to be them”; it was the immediate institution of new mandatory safety regulations and operating procedures to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again, as I pointed out above. A point which you are, of course, ignoring.

  11. It just occurred to me that one could consider “The Cold Equations” as a rigged test of character, like the Kobayashi Maru scenario; the pilot in question fails miserably, worse than some of the staff and passengers of the Titanic — where unfilled lifeboats were launched in panic, but at least people were trying. This is of course outside the intent of the author and editor — but their intent was just as untenable as that of social Darwinists ever since Darwin became acceptable, and only slightly less dreadful than outright frauds like Cyril Burt.

  12. @PhilRM

    I am reasonably well versed in the history of the Titanic; both the decisions made before and the impact following. I’m not ignoring your point. You appear to be ignoring the situation at hand once the ship had struck the iceberg and before it finally sank.

    There are too few lifeboats and too many people. What do you do? How do you decide you lives and who dies?

    This Tagline is OFF TOPIC! (as if the rest of the message wasn’t)

  13. @Dann: I’m not ignoring your point. You appear to be ignoring the situation at hand once the ship had struck the iceberg and before it finally sank.

    I am not: you are resolutely ignoring the fact that “the situation at hand” once the Titanic struck the iceberg was the consequence of completely irresponsible decisions made by people before the Titanic ever left harbor, and it was those people who bore responsibility for the horrendous loss of life, not the passengers who sailed on her. And in the wake of the disaster, procedures and regulations were implemented to prevent anything like it from happening again.

    You want to hold up The Cold Equations as an example of how the universe doesn’t care about morality (which it doesn’t), but it isn’t: it’s not the laws of physics that forces the girl out the airlock, it’s mandated by a system so completely absurd and vicious that one can only conclude it was designed and operated by people who are guilty at best of criminal negligence and at worst of outright sadism.

  14. The Cold Equations isn’t about “whose fault is it?”; it’s about “Here is a situation; what is to be done about it?” And whether the situation is from evil people or physics doesn’t change the situation.

  15. @Bill —

    “Here is a situation; what is to be done about it?”

    The answer to your question is: “Don’t let that situation occur in the first place.”

  16. @bill: It does when you’re trying to claim that the story is about how the laws of the universe demand hard choices, rather than “Don’t put sociopaths in charge.”

  17. You know, this attitude is sounding more and more familiar.

    “Who could have ever imagined that someone would try stowing away?”

    “Who could have ever imagined that a need for more fuel would crop up unexpectedly?”

    “Who could have ever imagined that a worldwide pandemic might occur?”

    Planning and forethought? Who needs planning and forethought?? Planning and forethought are for pansies, I tells ya!

  18. @Contrarius

    A friend that spent over a decade as a paramedic would tell you that humanity does not exactly excel at prior planning. We also seem disinclined to desire for safety until there are several examples to justify including safety in our mental estimates.


    I’m Ok with walking away from this one. We aren’t in the same library (much less the same book) so I don’t think we’ll end up on the same page.

    Still, you might enjoy The Last Dance by Martin Shoemaker. While safety design is not central to the plot, it is a prominent feature that helps shape character development. People do die. Mostly due to personal stupidity. Occasionally due to random acts of the universe. Rarely while people shrug their shoulders and watch it happen.

    Whatever it is that hits the fan will not be evenly distributed.

  19. @Dann —

    A friend that spent over a decade as a paramedic would tell you that humanity does not exactly excel at prior planning.

    Too true! But there is a huge difference between “laws of physics” and “laws of human stupidity”.

  20. @bill: it’s about “Here is a situation; what is to be done about it?” Bull. The whole point of the story is that there are no alternatives, and none are discussed. See my previous response summarizing Harter’s discussion (linked in the comment) for things that could have been tried.

  21. @Contrarius

    I agree! I even agree that the most prominent weakness of the story is that there is no discussion of alternatives nor is there any discussion for why the safety margin is so slim as to render the mass of a single person sufficient to cause the mission to fail. Just saying that the situation is at it is without any justification is a form of handwavium.

    Where I disagree is that it seems that many critics are performing an obverse bit of handwavium by insisting that there had to be options.

    When human stupidity builds to excessive levels, the laws of physics must take over.

    And then what do we do….

    The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection. – George Orwell

  22. Dann665: Where I disagree is that it seems that many critics are performing an obverse bit of handwavium by insisting that there had to be options.

    I don’t think the problem is that there had to be options by the time the point of the story begins (though as some have pointed out, there were a few other things which might have been done).

    The problem is that the story should be a commentary on stupidity and cupidity, but Campbell intended it to be a commentary on Cold Hard Manly Physics. And that to this day, there are still people who insist that it’s about Cold Hard Manly Physics, when what it’s really about is stupidity, shortsightedness, false economies, and bad business management.

  23. @Dann —

    What JJ said. Also:

    Where I disagree is that it seems that many critics are performing an obverse bit of handwavium by insisting that there had to be options.

    But there were options, as pointed out at length in the Harter essay.

    At its base, what this story is really about is a dystopian universe in which the Powers that Be would rather buy a gun than buy a lock for a door.

  24. @Dann: This time JJ and Contrarius beat me to the punch.

    I agree! I even agree that the most prominent weakness of the story is that there is no discussion of alternatives nor is there any discussion for why the safety margin is so slim as to render the mass of a single person sufficient to cause the mission to fail. Just saying that the situation is at it is without any justification is a form of handwavium.

    And yet that’s what we’ve been arguing about this entire thread.

Comments are closed.