My Love/Hate Relationship With “The Cold Equations”

Anne Marble
7 min readJun 2, 2023

The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin is an influential and controversial SF story published 69 years ago. Fans are still divided over it. I’m torn by it.

The cover art for the August 1954 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, showing the cover price of 35 cents in the far right corner. The cover image illustrates “They’d Rather Bye Right” by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley, and it shows a woman with bright red hair sitting in a futuristic chair. The right side of her face is aged, and the left side is still young. She is wearing dark green earrings and a lighter green top.
The August 1954 Issue of Astounding; cover art by Frank Kelly Freas. (Source: Galactic Central.)

Note: This article includes huge spoilers!

In August 1954, Tom Godwin published The Cold Equations in the influential Astounding Magazine (now published as Analog Science Fiction and Fact Magazine). The cover art for this issue was by the great Frank Kelly Freas, who also did the interior illustrations for the story. The editor was the influential John W. Campbell. But like The Cold Equations, he is controversial.

Is The Cold Equations a story about a girl dying in outer space because of a stupid act? (Didn’t I warn you about the spoilers?) Is it a misogynistic tale using a girl’s death as a plot element? Or one using her death to manipulate readers? Is it a warning about the dangers of outer space? Or a story with bad engineering and a poorly constructed plot?

Decide for yourself. You can read the whole story online in the July 2011 issue of Lightspeed Magazine. There is also an old time radio adaptation.

The Cold Equations has inspired essays, adaptations, and new stories. New stories include The Coldest Equations Yet by James D. Macdonald; The Cold Calculations by Aimee Ogden; and The Cold Crowdfunding

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Anne Marble

I’m a writer and a copy editor with experience in editing science and engineering articles. Click Lists to find my most popular articles. And hidden gems.