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Letters to the Editor, December 1999

This a traditional letter column. You are encouraged to write a letter of comment on anything that you find worthy of comment. It will (may) be published in this column along with my reply. As editor I reserve the right to delete material; however I will not alter the undeleted material. E-mail to me that solely references the contents of this site will be assumed to be publishable mail. All other e-mail is assumed to be private. And, of course, anything marked not for publication is not for publication. Oh yes, letters of appreciation for the scholarly resources provided by this site will be handled very discreetly. This page contains the correspondence for December 1999.

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From: Ted Lemon
Date: 12/13/99
Subj: Just read your web page on the Cold Equations…

I really enjoyed it – you obviously put a lot of thought into deconstructing the story, and came up with several things that I missed when I read it as a teenager. I’m not sure why people were arguing so vehemently about it – the power of the story, to me, was the feeling of being trapped by circumstance into a situation from which there was no morally correct escape, and in which the blame for the situation could not be clearly placed on the person on whom one would have liked to place it.

Thanks for the kind words. Sometimes I like to grab hold of something and really think about it.

I think you have the right of it in your description of the power of the story. The mistake – I will call it a mistake – that people make is to try to draw a lesson from the story. To be sure there are lessons to be had, albeit not necessarily the ones that people draw. The whole notion of learning a lesson carries with it the hidden thesis that the happy ending is possible if you learn the right lesson.

I think that having read this story had a *major* effect on how I turned out from a moral perspective, although not because I actually understood everything in it. Yes, the thing is incredibly flawed, and I remember sitting after having read the story trying to think of all the possible ways it could have turned out differently. But the beautiful thing about the story is that it made me sit down and *really* think. I think you would find if you did a really close study of the people who responded to you that the story affected their worldview in ways of which they are not even aware.
In the United States the story is a touchstone between two politicized sentiments, hard vs soft, realist vs bleeding heart, et cetera. For one side the girl becomes a symbol for people on welfare and people who sue and collect for the consequences of their own folly. For the other side the first side are heartless proponents of viscious conservatism. I suppose that the story has affected people’s worldviews but I get the impression that people impose their worldviews upon their reading of the story.
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From: Kathleen
Date: 12/12/99
Darwin Wannabes

I just finished reading the stories and was almost on the floor from laughing so hard.
Thanks for some hearty laughs,

You’re welcome. I’m not sure I’m up to “Darwin Award of the Millenium”.
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From: “Harris, Cebern (student)”
Date: 12/8/99
Subj: Web Site

I have just spent something like the last three hours exploring various nooks and crannies of your web site. This in itself is odd – I rarely do that any more. I found it b/c, as you may or may not know, your page detailing the recipe for a Whole Camel was the cool link of the day at National Review Online. The next thing I knew, I’d hit Home and was poking around for a better idea of who I was dealing with. It was a rewarding experience.

Oh Gawd, so it is. I didn’t know that; I’m not sure I wanted to know that. The camel recipe page has some magic mystical power that fascinates people. A while back some talk show host burbled about whole roast camel and I got a whole flurry of hits. [Note: National Review has moved on.]
Anyway, I felt I owed you an email after the interesting couple of hours of not studying for my Evidence exam you have provided me.
But of course. My site exists to provide an alternative to studying for Evidence exams.
I went through your SF pages with particular interest (and passed the hilarious TLOTR sendup/feminist screed along to some friends – w/ attribution, I hope you don’t mind).
No problem. I once posted it on the rec.arts.sf.written newsgroup and some chap denounced it as post-modernist rubbish.
I read SF almost exclusively – contemporary fiction bores me – yet I only happened to read “Cold Equations” for the first time a few months ago. The problem you detailed in your article bothered me at the time, too. No, it didn’t bother me enough to write a thesis on it but I found myself railing, as it were, not against the cold forces of space but against the impossibly stupid system that made no more effort to prevent that catastrophe than a simple, ambiguous sign. I was disappointed to say the least. This wasn’t b/c I didn’t get the deus ex machina I “expected” but b/c I saw where the author was going, got the point (I even agreed with it, in a sense – Heinlein once pointed put that the Universe’s only capital crime is ignorance and I’ve never had cause to question the truth of that observation) but I just didn’t feel the author had done the point justice. Better craftsmanship would have yeilded the same payload without the disappointment.
Heinlein was wrong. The only capital crime is being unlucky – being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The best you can do is put the odds in your favor as best you can. It doesn’t really work. In the long run the universe is going to get you no matter what you do.

I suspect that TCE would not be a classic if it were better written. It is the holes in the logic that exercise the emotions of the readers.

I also read a bunch of your other pieces, including the one on not being a professional poker player. I liked it a lot. When I was in the Navy (just a few years ago), as you would no doubt predict, there were still plenty of savers making a tidy profit on payday. I was a spender, myself, but I managed to avoid the “I’ll give you 30 bucks on payday for 20 now” scheme. A lot of my fellows in the barracks didn’t and the guys who never went out did well off of them. Playing poker in public areas on gov’t property isn’t as common these days, though I’m sure it happens. I was too busy hanging with my three buddies – we called ourselves The Four Hoursemen of the Apocalypse and our stated purpose (which I stole from a Mensa SIG in my hometown of Louisville, KY) was to end drinking on the planet by drinking all the alcohol. I didn’t require any explanation of what you meant by ways of not getting a college degree, either. I’m in law school now, but I didn’t end up in the Navy b/c of the grand success of my first (expensive) stab at attending college.
It’s good to see that some things never change. Weapons may change, and the grunts may come equipped with a different set of genitals but the loan sharks are always there. From what you say, the interest rate seems to have gone up. In my day they were content with 5 now for 6 later.
Well, this unsolicited email is getting a bit long and I didn’t write to give you rthe impression that I thought that just b/c you have a web page and we had a couple of things in common that you were somehow required to hear the story of my life, so I’ll break off now. Thanks for the interesting evening. Feel free to respond – or not – as you wish. I’d welcome hearing from you, but I won’t be offended if I don’t.
Your letter is appreciated; thanks for letting me know about the National Review link. Your letter will appear in the letter column; if you didn’t check that out you should.
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From: Morris M. Keesan”
Date: 12/8/99
Subj: Hot New Russian game

If we ever wondered where television writers get their ideas, now we know, and it’s not from a Schenectadian post office box. The writers at Saturday Night Live appear to be getting their ideas on the web — the December 4th show included a skit featuring host Christina Ricci as a contestant on “Who Wants to Eat?” (she won a bowl of rice, then a bag of wheat, but lost them trying to win the goat, when she couldn’t correctly identify anorexia).

Oh my. I suppose it’s a natural – one of those things that many people think of at the same time. There are a lot of sick minds out there.
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From: Chip Hitchcock
Date: 12/8/99
Energy requirements…

So now you’re channeling Stewart and Sheinwold? Who’s next? Victor Mollo?

It’s very ancient; I stole it from Donald Parson (Fall of the Cards) but it probably dates back to Hoyle.
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From: “sib d”
Date: 12/7/99
Subj: Mash Note

Hello, Richard Harter-
Just spent an immensly enjoyable hour wandering around your site. Who is this masked man? Found you via Darwin Awards my husband keeps e-mailing me. Had to find the mad-man behind the mode. Just wanted to let you know how you have delighted this beleagured soul. I laughed so hard I think I pulled something…. Sibley

Now I like that – the masked mad man behind the mode.

Glad the site has tickled your fancy.

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From: Gerri Wood
Date: 12/5/99
Subj: Stuffed Camel

I have sent the stuffed camel recipe to almost all of my friends via e-mail. No one will make this delicious sounding dish and invite me over to enjoy it.

Gee, I can’t imagine why not. Maybe you should tell them that you are bringing a hundred guests.
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From: Harry Palmer
Date: 12/2/99
Subj: A poor girl’s testimony of God’s LOVE

Amen sister. God’s mercy is infinite!

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This page was last updated January 21, 2007.
It was reformatted and moved December 15, 2004

site home site map letters December 1999 email