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The Cold Equations is a short story by Tom Godwin, first published in Astounding Magazine in August 1954. The story’s about a teen-aged girl named Marilyn Lee Cross who stows away on an emergency space shuttle with disastrous results.You might want to read it before we go any further. I chose it as one of the two radio dramas we included in our science fiction radio pilot Faster Than Light.Usually we scavenged lines from other takes of the same scene.
Because it was radio, I needed her to speak at the beginning of the story to help illuminate to the listener what was going on. He needed to acknowledge what he’d just been through. Later, one of my colleagues suggested that if you allow a character to cry, you are depriving the audience of the chance to cry themselves, because you’re doing it for them. Making the pilot cry felt like what would actually happen.
(You can’t just have a character say, “I’m sneaking into the shuttle now,” and so on. I work hard at them because I consider them extremely important. I know that truth doesn’t necessarily equate to good fiction—the truth is deeper than that—but sometimes it does.
It didn’t take me long to edit The Cold Equations, probably a couple of hours.
I used most of the scenes we recorded in their entirety, which was unusual.
Shawn Smyth played the stowaway’s brother Gerry Cross.
Andrew Gillies played Commander Delhart of the Stardust.She spends the rest of the story waiting to die, while the pilot reflects on the cold, harsh reality of the universe. I began reading it during class, during the teacher’s lecture, and quickly forgot about the lecture. This was long before cold-blooded authors like George R. Martin began killing off our favourite novel and television characters with impunity. I kept waiting for her to be saved, and was utterly gobsmacked when she was finally jettisoned from the space shuttle.Reading the story as a teen-ager, I had never encountered such a brutal ending before. But Dave felt strongly that we needed more tension, more suspense, so for my version of the story I concocted a storyline where there was some slim hope that another ship (the Stardust) would catch up with the emergency shuttle and rescue Marilyn. In the original story, Marilyn was older, in her late teens.In the story, Marilyn just wants to visit her brother on a nearby planet.The emergency shuttle is delivering critical medical supplies to sick miners on that planet.I didn’t have the budget for much original music, but I was able to use an original piece of music for the opening called Snowfire Reprize, by Rod Crocker.I used a couple of Manheim Steamroller pieces from Fresh Air 1 for a couple of tiny music bridges.Godwin might argue that fuel would be a precious resource in space; you wouldn’t want to use any more than was absolutely necessary.Of course, the real reason is that Godwin needed to create a very specific set of circumstances for the story to work.Oh, and allegations that he borrowed the idea from a story published in EC Comics’ Weird Science #13 . An embarrassing amount of actors showed up for the casting call (we auditioned for both radio plays included in Faster Than Light at the same time, The Cold Equations and Captain’s Away).Anyway, Campbell recognized the true power of the story: the idea that the universe is impartial. Reading it back in high school, I glimpsed, perhaps for the first time in my life, a sense of the implacability of the universe. Ultimately we cast Matthew Mac Fadzean (not to be confused with British actor Matthew Macfadyen) in the role of the shuttle pilot, and Vivian Endicott-Douglas as the young stowaway Marilyn.