The Cold Inequalities • 2015 • SF short story by Yoon Ha Lee


The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin, published 1954 in Astounding, is one of most often cited or rewritten SF stories. A stowaway exceeds a starship’s freight capacity, threatening the mission’s success and is ejected into space. A complete failure of engineering, considering the small margin for error.

Lee’s story is an answer, replacing the physical freight capacity with digital storage – human minds and all they need in terms of knowledge are digitalized. The stowaway interfers with that memory, thereby threatening the mission. A.I. captain Anzhmir has to find and react on that threat. The eponymous „inequalities“ is reflected in mathematical definitions of an equivalence relationship, defining the total order by which Anzhmir has to calculate which information might be lost and replaced in order to save the mission.

Neither the mathematics nor the amusing reference to the older work made the story better. I can’t think of worse engineering where digitalization of anything couldn’t be stored; even nowadays, engineers wonder if one Yottabyte couldn’t fit into a small cube of DNA computer storage. The forced citation of rather simplistic mathematic axioms to get to the title made me gnaw my teeth.


Meta: isfdb. This SF short story appeared 2015 in Meeting Infinity.


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