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by Barry Malzberg

The title story of this volume, "The Cold Equations," is perhaps the most famous and controversial of all science fiction short stories. When it first appeared in the August 1954 issue of Astounding, it generated more mail from readers than any story previously published in the magazine. Since then, it has been reprinted thousands of times (almost all college courses on science fiction routinely include it on reading lists). It has been the basis of a television movie and a Twilight Zone episode, and prior to that had been adapted for radio and television many, many times.

Its impact remains. In the late l990's it was the subject of a furious debate in the intellectually ambitious (or simply pretentious; you decide) New York Review of Science Fiction in which the story was anatomized as anti-feminist, proto-feminist, hard-edged realism, squishy fantasy for the self-deluded, misogynistic past routine pathology, crypto-fascist, etc., etc. One correspondent suggested barely-concealed pederasty.

The debaters' affect over a story more than four decades old was extraordinary, and the debate did not end so much as it kind of expired from exhaustion. Godwin's adoptive daughter, Diane Sullivan, said in conclusion that Godwin himself had always felt women were "To be loved and protected" and A.J. Budrys in a similarly funerary tone noted that " 'The Cold Equations' was the best short story that Godwin ever wrote and he didn't write it."

But, of course, he did. I'll have more to say about the history of the short story in my afterword (see below), but for now that's enough. Here, in one volume, are the best writings of Tom Godwin. It begins with his most popular novel, The Survivors, and closes with his legendary story, "The Cold Equations."

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