“Colonel Callahan” by S. L. Gilbow

Student 17054

    • Good job overall.
    • You describe the causes of the disaster very well. Your detailed analysis of the “faulty construction of the airlocks” is excellent. I also like the way you emphasize the failure of the inspection process. Consider going into more detail about why the inspection process failed. Apathy? Ignorance? What changes in the process could have prevented the disaster?
    • Develop the effects of the disaster in more detail. What were the short-term effects? Were they predominantly economic, sociological, or psychological? What were the long-term consequences? Think deeply. Is the disaster the only reason we have not made another attempt to colonize a planet?
    • You’re still making basic punctuation mistakes. Please note the following comma errors.
      • Error: “This resulted in a catastrophic explosion and many studies have considered this explosion to be unavoidable.” Comma needed before “and” because it connects two independent clauses.
      • Error: “The evacuation order was given too late, this resulted in many unnecessary deaths.” This is a comma splice. The simplest solution is to replace the comma with a semicolon.
    • Be more specific. Your reference to the Arsia Mons Colony Disaster as occurring “about twenty-five years ago” is vague. We know the exact date: 4 April 2094. Use it. Your statement that “many people died” is also nebulous. Three hundred seventy-one people died on Mars. Ninety-six died on the way home. Sixty-one made it back alive. Precision will make your essay more effective.

Finally, the omission of any mention of Colonel Callahan is glaring—a black hole in an otherwise very good essay.

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Student 17164

  • Good effort.
  • Your writing flows nicely. However, your essay is merely a restatement of the facts of the incident. Everyone is aware that “a valve and its backup somehow failed.” We are also aware of the resulting “catastrophic explosion.” What we really want to know are your assessments of the disaster. Noting that the colony was “established in 2081 and failed thirteen years later” is not enough. Why did it fail? Think deeply. How did apathy on Earth contribute to the disaster? Could a “faster response from Earth” really have saved lives, as you suggest?
  • Consider rewording the following awkward sentences:
    • Spreading quickly, chaos was observed by Colonel Callahan who also saw the only functioning shuttle and seized it.
    • After the shuttle had been launched by Colonel Callahan and started home, it was believed by many that they would never make it back to Earth.
    • Being that there was little chance to put food on the shuttle before it took off, enough food was not in supply for the long journey home.
  • Look a little more deeply into Colonel Callahan’s motives. Why do you think he did what he did? Are actions such as his ever justifiable? How could Colonel Callahan have reacted differently in good conscience?

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Student 17074

  • I’m afraid you’ve missed the point. The prompt was to “write an argumentative essay about the Arsia Mons Colony Disaster.” You have written a personal essay. Although interesting, this essay is not appropriate for this assignment.
  • Your uncle’s role in the colony shouldn’t be the primary emphasis of this essay. However, if you are going to make him the focus, you need to develop him in much more detail. Most references to your uncle are vague, oblique, and confusing. For example, when you mention that your uncle “struggled with Colonel Callahan,” you need to elaborate. Was it a physical or verbal struggle? What was the outcome? Here are some other things to consider: How long did your uncle spend on the colony? Was he part of the initial settlement, or did he arrive on one of the later shuttles? What specifically was his role in the colony? What exactly happened to him? Think deeply. You mention that he ultimately boarded the shuttle but don’t elaborate on his fate. Did he die on the way back? Was he one of the few who made it home to Earth alive? Finally, what was your uncle’s name?
  • Many errors detract from this essay. Please note the CORRECT spelling of the following words: “forlorn,” “suffocated,” “vaporized,” and “cannibalism.” Bottom line: PROOFREAD!
  • Review sentence fragments. Fragments should be used judiciously and with purpose. Here are just a few I noted. For homework I want you to rewrite each of these fragments as a complete sentence.
    • A desolate blue pearl floating in space.
    • Alone, afraid, having no chance to escape.
    • Dumped in space, one by one, before the last few survivors could make it back to Earth alive.
    • Just as Colonel Callahan commanded.
    • Screams echoing throughout the ship.

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Student 17193

  • This is not an essay. This is a haiku.
  • Allow me to comment on what little you have provided. The title is effective: Colonel Callahan. Nice and simple. I assume the “Large ant on a leaf” is a reference to the colonel. It is an effective beginning, and the animal imagery is appropriate for a haiku. The second line, “floating in space, looking back,” should traditionally reference a season. But I must admit, referring to seasons in space is problematic. Your final line, “at vanishing specks,” could be stronger. You have squandered three of your five syllables on a single word. Haiku are too tightly constructed to waste syllables.
  • For homework I would like you to write a paragraph contrasting a haiku and an essay and explaining when each is appropriate. You might note in your paragraph that when your instructor says to write an essay, it is appropriate to write an essay.

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Student 17029

  • Nicely written.
  • I like this essay’s sharp focus on Colonel Callahan. Consider providing a little more information about the disaster itself to help orient your reader.
  • The section about the voyage home is well developed. However, remember that there are widely varying accounts about what truly happened. For example, there are at least seven distinct versions of the mutiny on board the shuttle. Think deeply. Which version is true? Are any? You must be careful with sources when dealing with such a controversial topic. Primary sources about the Arsia Mons Colony Disaster are questionable. Secondary sources are almost useless.
  • I like your use of direct quotes from official transcripts when discussing Colonel Callahan’s trial. However, you seem to focus a little too much on evidence against Colonel Callahan—the gun, the knife, the dice, the testimony from his second-in-command. Remember, Colonel Callahan was never convicted of anything. Do you question the court-martial verdict, or do you ultimately agree with the findings? Be clear.
  • Finally, watch your commas. For example, you mangled your concluding sentence. It should be punctuated as follows:
    • When you look closely at Colonel Callahan, when you look deep into his soul, sometimes you see total darkness, sometimes you see blazing light, but you always see a broken valve and a man far from home trying to make it back alive.

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Student 17221

  • Unique perspective.
  • Your argument is interesting and provocative. Many have speculated about whatever happened to Colonel Callahan. This is the first time I have heard your assertion, but I suspect you are not the first to think it. However, I find your support somewhat lacking. Your argument rests heavily on similarities in appearance. Many people have “dominant chins.” Many people have “sad eyes.” Time changes us all and can make it difficult to support assertions based on appearance.
  • Many of your other statements are intriguing. I like your observation that “decisions are easy to judge at a distance yet difficult to make in the moment.” Few writers have taken the time to look at Colonel Callahan with the depth that you have. Few writers have taken the time to look at Colonel Callahan with the patience that you have. Few writers have tried to understand what it is like to make the kind of decisions Colonel Callahan was forced to make.
  • I like your use of dialogue, but the formatting is a little off. Remember, new speaker, new paragraph. It should look like this:
    • After his trial, Colonel Callahan dashed down the steps of the courthouse. A crowd of reporters followed him.“Where are you going now?” asked a reporter.

      “Somewhere where no one will ask me questions?” said Colonel Callahan.

      “Now that you are free,” asked another reporter, “what do you look forward to most?”

      “The day nobody recognizes me,” said Colonel Callahan. “The day nobody knows who I am.” He paused. “The day I no longer hear the screams.”

S. L. Gilbow is an active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and a 2011 graduate of Clarion West Writers Workshop. His stories have appeared in the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Lightspeed, Rose Red Review, The Dark, Black Denim Lit, and the anthologies Federations, Brave New Worlds, and The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror: 2015. Gilbow is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and navigator with over two thousand flying hours in the B-52. He currently teaches English at Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton, Virginia. S. L Gilbow can be found online at slgilbow.com.

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