In both “The Cold Equations” by Tom Godwin and “The Minority Report” by Philip Dick, an apocalypse is created which is controlled by middlemen who kill to prevent death to the masses while destroying free will.
In both short stories, the protagonists serve as the middlemen, murdering one person for the sake of others. According to critic Dominic Alessio, Dick’s stories cover several themes, two of which are evident in “The Minority Report” and Godwin’s “The Cold Equations”: “‘people who are not what they seem’” and “the blurring of boundaries.” While they seem like good people who operate with good will, both Barton and Anderton are murderers. They know they are committing murder, yet they kill anyway. Barton jettisons Marilyn into space for the sake of himself plus six men dying on Woden. Anderton shoots former army general Kaplan to preserve Precrime so that fewer people will be murder victims. Also, boundaries are unclear in both situations; both protagonists murder under the pretense of prolonged humanity. If Barton did not kill Marilyn, he would be killing the men in Group One, himself and Marilyn since he would not have enough fuel to return to home ship Stardust. Anderton would be killing future murder victims if he did not kill Kaplan. Both Barton and Anderton wield their power over life and for the protection of many.
Barton and Anderton serve as middlemen in an apocalypse of the mind. In “The Cold Equations,” breaking one small rule, which may be considered insignificant on earth, leads to death in space. Free will is limited because of the death sentence forced by science. Marilyn forfeits life by disobeying one rule, and Barton jettisons her because, as critic W.A. Senior says, “science is ‘amoral and indifferent to human emotion.’” He obeys orders due to an apocalypse imposed on the mind and emotions: free will is eliminated, even in the face of strong emotions toward moral convictions. Barton has no choice but to jettison Marilyn because science forces him to act against morality. In “The Minority Report,” Anderton is the inventor of Precrime, which is a form of control. While it decreases the amount of murder and therefore maintains life, it ends free will. People cannot make the decision whether to murder or not, because the government makes that decision for them. Whether or not they would become murderers is unclear because they never get the chance to act on their own will.
In both “The Cold Equations” and “The Minority Report,” the middlemen decide between saving a single life or a community of lives. For Barton, he has two decisions to make. One is whether or not he keeps the girl alive at the expense of all six men of Group One; the other is whether he will sacrifice his own life or the life of the girl. He knows his duty; according to “Paragraph L, Section 8, of Interstellar Regulations: Any stowaway discovered in an EDS shall be jettisoned immediately following discovery” (Godwin 293). Similarly, Anderton decides whether to save himself from detention or save many lives by preserving Precrime. When his wife asks him which he values more, his safety or the system’s, Anderton replies, “‘If the system can survive only by imprisoning innocent people, then it deserves to be destroyed. My personal safety is important because I’m a human being’” (Dick 90). In the end he decides to shoot Kaplan because if he abstains, Precrime will end, cutting lives short. Barton and Anderton save many lives by ending one.
Both “The Cold Equations” and “The Minority Report” explore the apocalypse of free will. The protagonists make decisions regarding the life of a single person in order to protect the masses. The stories reveal how apocalypses are controlled by humans and their decisions.
Alessio, Dominic. “Redemption, ‘Race,’ Religion, Reality, and the Far-Right: Science Fiction Film Adaptations of Philip K. Dick.” Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism 202 (2008). Literature Resource Center. Web. 4 Nov. 2011.
Dick, Philip K. The Minority Report. New York: Citadel Press, 1987. 71-102.
Godwin, Tom. “The Cold Equations.” 293-313.
Senior, W. A. “Anatomy of Science Fiction.” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 19.2 (2008): 273-278, 287. Literature Online Reference Edition. Web. 4 Nov. 2011.