What is the purpose of author Tom Godwin's description of the tornado and of the laws of science in the short story "The Cold Equations"?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his short story "The Cold Equations," author Tom Godwin uses the image of a tornado in order to create a realistic image to help the reader see that the pilot Barton is embarking on a genuine emergency rescue mission. In doing so, Godwin evokes empathy in the reader for Barton's plight, whereas normally, the reader would only be prone to empathize with the plight of the stowaway Marilyn.

The challenge with science fiction is that, since it descries a world so far removed from our own, it can be difficult for readers to relate with the content of the story to the point that the writer can evoke emotions within the reader. To overcome the problem, a science fiction writer will include images and details a reader can easily relate to because they are a part of our own reality. Godwin does this by explaining that the explorers on Woden are in serious need of medical aid because they are being infected with the "fever carried by the green kala midges," which reminds us of malaria, which we can get from an infestation of mosquitoes. He further describes that their situation was made worse by the "tornado that had torn through their camp." Since we are well familiar with the devastation tornadoes can cause, we easily empathize with Barton and his need to deliver emergency medical supplies to the explorers on Woden.

Godwin further develops empathy in the reader by explaining the laws of science in a paragraph soon after this one, specifically the laws concerning distance, mass, deceleration, and fuel consumption. The reader can easily see that a castaway left on-board would lead to the deaths of not just the stowaway but the deaths of the pilot and all the explorers depending on emergency medical aid. Through creating this understanding in the reader, Godwin evokes empathy in the reader for the pilot as well as for the stowaway.