The Cold Equations Summary

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

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In "The Cold Equations," what follows is a science fiction short story with a very definable plot.  Plot involves six main elements:  the exposition, the conflict (or inciting incident), the rising action, the climax, the falling action, and the resolution.  Each can be found within "The Cold Equations."

The exposition of a story is where we learn about the setting, characters, and general situation.  The exposition of "The Cold Equations" is when readers learn all about a spaceship called Stardust which is an EDS (an Emergency Dispatch Ship) and its mission:  to find the pioneer planet of Woden and bring medical supplies to the residents there.  Next comes the conflict (or the inciting incident) which is what causes tension to rise.  The inciting incident here is when Marilyn is found on the ship.  From here on, the tension rises.  We learn all about Marilyn who is eighteen and stowed away on the ship in order to simply see her brother, who is one of the injured colonists on Woden.  We learn that Marilyn had no idea about the important law that now governs her fate:  anyone found on a starship is rocketed into space.  Why?  These ships on medical missions hold only the amount of fuel needed,  not even enough to transport one more passenger.  The tension rises even further in the rising action when Marilyn states her case, indicating she thought a fine would be appropriate, but not death.  The captain disagrees and, in the climax of the story, sends Marilyn rocketing into space.  It is Barton's explanation that makes up the resolution here:  if Marilyn was not sent to her death, it would have meant the deaths of all of the other colonists on Woden, including Marilyn's own brother.  Marilyn's fate, then, saves the mission.

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Kristen Lentz | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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"The Cold Equations" by Tom Godwin is a science-fiction short story that tells of a teen-aged girl, Marilyn, who sneaks aboard a space craft bound for a colony where her brother is stationed.  Although she realizes that being a stowaway is breaking the law, she believes that she will simply have to pay a fine.  When the pilot discovers Marilyn, however, he informs her that she must be ejected from the ship, because her additional weight will jeopardize the entire voyage and the lives of the sleeping crew members.  Ultimately, Marilyn accepts her fate and is jettisoned into space.

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