Sunday, May 5, 2019

Sacrificial Iron, by Ted Kosmatka

★★☆☆☆ Not Recommended

(SF Thriller) On a decades-long journey to another star, two men take shifts managing the sleeping crew, but after a year or two, they’re ready to kill each other. (7,485 words; Time: 24m)

Recommended By: πŸ‘STomaino+1 (Q&A)

"Sacrificial Iron," by (edited by Sheila Williams), appeared in issue 05-06|19, published on by .

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

Review: 2019.244 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: The story sets up a nice problem where two people who can’t stand each other are stuck with each other for decades. We have to figure out who’s at fault and what sort of outcome to root for.

There’s a rather sad message here that nice guys finish last.

Con: This story breaks suspension of disbelief way too much. Not just with the science, but with human nature. Worse, it inflicts one infodump after another about the technical details of the mission, and the math and science in those tedious infodumps is almost all wrong.

To start with, no one on Earth is going to care about a space mission enough to pick sides among the crew. Second, no space agency is going to fail to investigate the backgrounds of the crew so much that they fail to identify a psychopath. Third, if you wanted to kill someone, why not just kill him in hibernation? Why give him a chance in a real fight?

One example of bad physics is that a radio message from Earth will not follow the ship around as it flits from star to star and then eventually catch up with it. It will travel in a straight line, and if the ship isn’t where it's supposed to be, it won't ever get the message.

The error that annoyed me the most was that the men on the ship send weekly messages, but the messages are received on Earth at ever longer intervals. This is not correct. It’s true that they’re received at a different rate, but that rate is constant since the ship isn’t accelerating. We know the ship is moving at a steady 1/3 of light speed, so using the math for the relativistic doppler effect, we can compute that those messages will arrive on Earth about once every ten days. This should not change until they engage the FTL drive.

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