Sunday, March 31, 2019

Truth Plus, by Jamie Wahls

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[Strange Horizons]
★★☆☆☆ Not Recommended

(Apocalypse) A speechwriter and a scientist try to cope with the news that a comet the size of the moon will destroy the Earth in just nine days. (4,959 words; Time: 16m)

Recommended By: ๐Ÿ‘KBurnham+1 (Q&A)

"," by (edited by Vanessa Rose Phin), appeared in issue 03/18/19, published on .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Review: 2019.184 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: The core of the story is the moral dilemma of whether to tell the truth that the future is hopeless or to give some comfort via a lie.

Con: There are no comets half the size of the moon. The typical comet has a mass about 100,000,000 times smaller than the moon. The nine-day lead time is impossible to believe; we'd see any plausible impactor months or years in advance. Nor could it be kept a secret, since amateurs would discover and report it long before it arrived.

However, even if we accept all of that, with just nine days, any scientist or engineer ought to be able to report that there is absolutely nothing to be done. Nothing. I don't think we could even get a probe out there to study it with just nine days notice, much less evacuate any human beings.

Finally, the core moral dilemma depends on someone having computed a very precise estimate of survival for humanity, and that estimate is 1%. Even in a situation where there really was at least a small chance, I simply don't believe anyone could make such an estimate with any degree of confidence, and certainly not the absolute certainty Sara has.

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5 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. they literally suggest going to mars on the second page, the problem is getting a breeding population of humans into a rocket and launching it to mars in a week

  2. Agree about the comet size, but I actually really liked the survival odds discussion. It's maybe just that I'm a sucker for acidic female characters (further recommendations to that end appreciated), but Sara being irritable and harsh ("They wheedle and browbeat you in the hopes that somehow their posturing and compromises will convince physics to cut them a break") didn't seem altogether unrealistic to me.

    1. I was down with that part. My problem was that a) the time frame was too short and b) Sara expressed too much confidence in the precision of her estimate. Physics really has little to do with an estimate of how long it'll take humanity to launch a space colony.

      I revised the review to make this a bit clearer.