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Rated: E · Essay · Educational · #1204034
Study of Short Sci-Fi in Anthology
          For humans, our greatest strength is our yearning for betterment, which includes improving our deeds, purifying our perspectives of reality, and our knowledge of, and ability to interact with, what exists in our universe. To grow as evolved humans in a vacuum environment, we must temper our approach to science with acceptance of our humanity by promoting a standard paramount worth for human existence, examine our personal views of that existence, learn to survive in outer space, and strip away that which inhibits us from flourishing beyond Earth. Tom Goodwin's story The Cold Equations indicates a future where he has boiled science down to a fundamental truth, that when man defies the laws of physics he is doomed. Emily Ratner, a fellow student, my respected contemporary, feels that the depiction of Marilyn dying as the result of her failing to notice a sign is a more than adequate fee for her ignorance. In Down & Out on Ellfive Prime, Dean Ing answers that reflection with a much more hopeful, if funkier, view of human potential to overcome adversity. Finally, It's Great to Be Back by Robert A. Heinlein shows an image of humanity from an us vs. them perspective that can easily be maneuvered over another comparison, the difference between man as he was, and as he might become.

          Our current awareness of space and space travel is extremely limited. We know that the vacuum is lethal, and that even simple mistakes could cost the lives of those who explore it. What we do not know is how our ability to manage in a frontier environment might evolve over time. The Cold Equations determines that even beyond the threshold of interstellar transit, our place in the universe will still be precarious. In the following passage, we see science as it has been developed by man as uncompromising, "The computers considered the course coordinates, the mass of the EDS, the mass of pilot and cargo; they were precise and accurate and omitted nothing from their calculations. They could not, however, foresee, and allow for, the added mass of a stowaway." (Goodwin, The Ascent of Wonder, pg. 443). Why could they not, one might ask? What is the possible harm in planning for an extra body materializing in mid-flight? If there is enough room aboard a craft for a human to hide undetected, why is there no room for a few extra squirts of space fuel in the tank? Unfortunately, I am unable to answer that question as it is never adequately addressed, except to say later that, "The environments fight back, and those who go first usually make mistakes only once." (pg. 451). The equation does not plan for "X" apparently, which Marilyn dubiously embodies for the sake of the story, the sacrificial lamb who must die to make a point about the principles of physics. What is missing from the ship and this story is the skill of humanity to get around the laws of physics, which we have managed to do for as long as we have existed. The callous dismissal of life by the corporations that built the interstellar craft is ultimately responsible for what happened to Marilyn, and an example of the kind of indifference that humans wield toward their peers under the guise of incontrovertible doctrine. It is a measure of ourselves how we treat those we consider beneath us.

          I wrote a piece entitles "B/S Flag on the Cold Equations," discussing the inaccuracies of the story listed in the above paragraph wherein I stated all of the professional procedures that never came into play in Goodwin's EDS and my opinion regarding the lack of provisions against stowaways versus a sign that warded off intruders. Emily Ratner, in her critical analysis of Tom Goodwin, felt that my view of the story dove more because I desired the "dues ex machina" described at the beginning of the story to save the girl. She writes, "in all of our advancements, there are still those sacrifices that must be made on the very edge of the innovative, the exploratory, the avante garde. The real bitch of it is that Marilyn's sacrifice is entirely pointless, but in the end, if we as a society are faced with the choice of killing one or killing seven, only one choice allows us to carry on." (E. Ratner, Posted on Discussion Group >> Story Board). This attitude rings of indignity to the human animal, zapping the notion that as sentient creatures we are more than the sum of our parts. This leaves us with the question, "are we worthy of more than a one-to-one recognition of our merit in relation to our place in space/time?" I wrote a response to her interjection stating that my experience as a member of the military serving in various "fringe" territories of the modern world gives me a unique perspective on the story as it is written. That perspective is that Goodwin's ideas, while moving and sentimental, are flawed. If there were interstellar vehicles, you can bet that the Earth government would regulate how and when it sends its EDS ships to remote locations. In that event, humans of our world would be more conscientious because it is during these times of crisis that procedures make all the difference between life and death. The rules of engagement become more prevalent in dire need, not less. That perspective leads to a more favorable conclusion to the question of where humanity heads.

          The story Down & Out on Ellfive Prime suggests that humans can adapt to certain extremes even in space so that we keep living despite the odds stacked against us. Though he does not have a cheerful outlook for Earth, there is an underlying defiance of the laws of physics as written by man for man. Zen, a temporary contractor assigned before his fake suicide to the colony, uses his talents as a grifter to parlay a life of relative ease in comparison to the earthbound alternative. When asking why Almquist failed to capture him on numerous occasions, Zen learns, "Because you've learned to live outside the system! Food, shelter, medical help, God knows what else; you have another system that hardly affects mine, and now we're going to teach your tricks to the survivors. This colony is going to make it." (Ing, pg. 191). On a colony where man has eked out a livable environment far distant from a cramped and uncomfortable Terra Firma, Zen has built a system for survival that ensures the life of the remaining humans on Ellfive Prime. This teaches us that men can live in places where life did not exist before our coming. Humans adapted and overcame the destruction of vital part of their colony in order to go on living.

          In order for humans to move on to our future destiny, we may have to severe the parts of ourselves that seem most desirable, but are in fact the most detrimental to our survival and happiness in the new frontier. It's Great to Be Back delivers a moral of "I told you so" proportions, with a couple--who might have been more at home in a 50's black and white movie matinee--living in and hating the moon. "By my comp-Miss Stone, I don't blame you personally, but this pressurized rabbit warren would try the patience of a-" declares Jo MacRae of her lunar accommodations (Heinlein, pg. 104). With this conviction firmly in their hearts, she and her husband Allan promptly shuttle back to Earth where being home begins to weigh heavily on them. Very quickly, they learn that everything they thought would be wonderful has become dull and uninteresting. The groundhogs are downright nasty, as the MacRaes' remarkably unsophisticated rural community systematically shuns them. When Allan states that "‘We're in kid! Members of the lodge[,]'" he reveals that both characters have been, and never stopped being, Loonies (pg. 114). Jo and Allan believed that what they needed was some outside amenity to make their lives complete. They tried to be something they were not, allowing desires beyond their reckoning to seduce them; and when they learned that those things had little to do with happiness, they quickly raced back to the moon. In this way, all humanity believes it needs things it does not, such as the bigger and better SUV, the High Definition Television System, or anything with the names Brittany, Jennifer, Ashley, or Kelly in the title. When man focuses on advancement rather than being sidetracked by it as he tries for less lofty goals, he will become what he desires.

{Author note: the goal of this piece was to examine, contrast and compare all of our reading material in that section of the semester along with the previous article of one member of our class. I chose Emily Ratner's untitled critical analysis of Tom Goodwin's "The Cold Equations," although I did not think to save her article for you to read for comparison. I will not omit her view point, regardless of the fact that I can not confirm her alleged testimony, as it would ruin the flavor of the work as it was originally written, even if it seems to sour the rest. One must simply trust that she said these things as I've quoted them, and that her sentiments are strong enough to support a contrasting vewpoint. Thanks for reading!}
© Copyright 2007 A. T. Miller (avistarrone at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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