The Cold Equations Summary

"The Cold Equations" is a short story by Tom Godwin in which a girl named Marilyn sneaks onto a cargo ship headed for the planet where her brother lives.

  • Marilyn hasn't seen her brother in ten years. Unaware of the laws surrounding stowaways, Marilyn sneaks onto a cargo ship bound for the planet her brother lives on.

  • Interstellar Regulations state that stowaways found on an interstellar flight will be jettisoned into space to preserve fuel.

  • The ship has only enough fuel to reach its destination with the predetermined number of passengers. As such, Marilyn is jettisoned, according to the law.


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Last Updated on May 20, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 428

Tom Godwin’s science-fiction story “The Cold Equations” takes place entirely aboard the Stardust, an Emergency Dispatch Ship (EDS) headed for the frontier planet Woden with a load of desperately needed medical supplies. The pilot, Barton, discovers a stowaway: an eighteen-year-old girl. By law, all EDS stowaways are to be jettisoned because EDS vessels carry no more fuel than is absolutely necessary to land safely at their destination. The girl, Marilyn, merely wants to see her brother, a colonist on Woden, and is not aware of the law. When boarding the Stardust, Marilyn sees the "UNAUTHORIZED PERSONNEL KEEP OUT!" sign, but thinks she will simply have to pay a fine if she is caught. Barton explains that her presence dooms the mission and will result in the deaths of the colonists. He is forced to eject her into space.

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The story, first published in the August 1954 issue of Astounding , has been widely anthologized and even dramatized. It is in the form of a cautionary tale, which commonly has three parts. First, a cautionary tale presents a restraint or restriction, in which something is said to be taboo, dangerous, or forbidden. The story's fifth paragraph sets up the first part by including a quotation from "Paragraph L, Section 8, of Interstellar Regulations: Any stowaway discovered in an EDS shall be jettisoned immediately following discovery." Second, the story introduces a hero figure who disregards—wittingly or...

(The entire section contains 428 words.)

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