A Rose for Ecclesiastes
Zelazny won sixteen awards over the course of his career: six
Since his death, his fame has
in his day he was popular with readers and respected by authors and
critics. He seemed like a reasonable bet for someone whose appeal
might have stood the test of time.
Rose for Ecclesiastes for
a few reasons. The least important is because I only recently read it
myself (the story kept coming up in the context of a grand review
project of mine and I got tired of admitting over
and over again that
I had not read it.). Another is its historical significance: this is
one of the last SF stories written before space probes showed us what
Mars was really like. The final reason is this story was nominated
for a Hugo and I am hopeful that the virtues the readers saw a half
century ago are still there.
Let’s find out!
Rose for Ecclesiastes
can be found in his collection The
Doors Of His Face, The Lamps Of His Mouth,
Pod’s audio adaptation can be
I was astounded to discover his
in the Sands
for Hugo and Nebula, has been out of print since 1991. 1991!
story was quite ‘meh’ for me. Having studied English literature,
this seems similar to many other stories written by modernist
poets/authors angsting about the late 19th/early 20th century. Like
the poets the narrator mentions, Zelazny seems to be going for a
blend of ‘perfecting a classic’ (in this case, the meta short
story) and ‘the modern future that is here will be nothing like
anyway, enough of sounding like a student’s literature essay. What
I mean to say is, this story feels old. As if it was written much
earlier than when it was. I don’t know if that’s worse, but it’s
story, I get the same feeling as reading a book series – this story
is like your least favourite book in the series. It’s like the one
you’d want to skip over if you’re re-reading the series for fun
(like not reading the 6th or 7th in the
Chronicles of Narnia series—yes, I like those ones much less than
The Horse and His Boy).
whole story reminds me of the Stargate movie, told form the
perspective of the linguist character Daniel Jackson. The other
characters look down on Jackson a little as a nerdy character. Same
for Gallinger. Jackson is the one who learns to speak with the people
from this other world. Same for Gallinger. Jackson is ‘gifted’ a
girlish woman. Same for Gallinger. Probably the same prevalent male
be fair, Gallinger is left out of the matriarchal alien society once
he fulfills his role in the prophecy by impregnating the girlish
weird thing very specific to around the 1950s: Gallinger uses
champagne and Benzedrine. This was such an oddly specific combination
I had to look it up. So first I learned that Benzedrine was a
popular, commonly available and quite strong amphetamine. Then I
learned that champagne and Benzedrine was specifically popularized by
early James Bond. You know, in the days when baccarat was a popular
way to gamble.
for the story’s title, it’s a trade between races. Gallinger
gives them a rose, literally as well as figuratively. He gives them a
rare thing they cannot make themselves (a baby). In exchange, he gets
Ecclesiastes (their ancient texts). It’s all a beautiful poetic
sentiment. But my question is, how does one baby save the alien race?
Do their genetics work differently? Isn’t the Martian/Earthling
hybrid going to have a shorter life span than the Martians who can
live for hundreds of years?
I’m saying is: this whole story is a beautiful poetic sentiment.
It’s a Modernist poet’s feverish daydream of alien abduction.
Prod it, and it falls apart.
guess the best thing about this story is that it is immediately made
very clear that I shouldn’t hold out any hope of either it or its
protagonist having any redeeming value.
have no interest in reading about an entitled guy who’s been
allowed to get away with being rude to everyone because he’s smart.
I have no interest in dealing with men like that in real life, and I
certainly don’t need to read about them in my fiction. And even if
the protagonist’s smugness didn’t put me off, the casual sexism
and racism throughout the story would have.
was interested when it was explained that the Martian society was
matriarchal, although not overly optimistic considering the way Betty
is portrayed and the language used to describe her. It turned out
that my cynicism was completely deserved, since the only point of the
matriarchal culture seemed to be that they seduced him with dancing
so that he would father a baby. *eyeroll*
was frustrated by the idea that Gallinger became more civil when he
was involved in a romantic relationship. As someone who is aromantic
and tired of romance being used to fix people, that trope can go die
in a fire.
also uncomfortable with the use of a Christian missionary, and trying
to convert the native from their apparently misguided religion using
story was annoying, sexist, racist, has ace and arophobic
microaggressions, and failed to do anything interesting with the plot
elements it introduced. I wouldn’t have finished it if I wasn’t
reading it to review.
liked this one. It just needs a modern editor to say "no, you
can't call it 'the Orient'" and maybe catch a few other
questionable phrases. This story spends so little time on showcasing
questionable science that I was able to overlook it. However, the
more I think on it an empty, mostly vacuum desert (that wasn't always
that way) would only add to the tragedy of the Martian people. A
dying civilization locked in a pressurized city beneath the surface
would fit right in. As it is, they might as well be on some
unexplored continent of Earth.
Martians looking like humans was unexpected. Until Gallinger
mentioned that they looked exactly like humans that is not how I
imagined them at all. For some reason I was picturing rust-red skin
and long thin arms. Something about the initial description of
M'Cwyie's dress. I guess panspermia is the correct theory in this
universe. And recently, to spread humans to both Earth and Mars.
thought of an entire religion based solely on writings similar to
Ecclesiastes is pretty dour. No wonder the Martians were prepared to
just die out.
liked how in the end Gallinger wasn't some grand hero who stayed to
repopulate the Martian race. I've read stories with that kind of
ending, kind of wish-fulfillment fantasy. Everyone is more reasonable
in this one. The Martians decided to live, so they'll ask for some
human medical expertise and maybe put in some orders to a sperm bank.
This wasn't a tale of how amazing humans are, saving the poor
Martians. After their prophecy was fulfilled, the Martians decided to
kind of feel bad for the future of the Martian race though, based on
humanity's track record of contact with lower-technology cultures.
really hated this story... at times. At other times, it confused,
amused, and frustrated me. Maybe it was just the mood I was in last
night as I read, but the story definitely took me on a ride, which I
story had some of the elements of science fiction I find annoying,
like having weird technology not fully explained that I don't really
understand. But I guess science fiction minus otherworldly/futuristic
stuff is kind of just fiction, so this time I was willing to let that
slide, suspend my disbelief, and keep reading.
characters (well, the main character) was great. I loved seeing Mars
and martian culture through his biased, flawed, and arrogant eyes.
All the other characters seemed fine, although you never really get
to know them, since the narrator is just so self-centered.
really appreciated the way the narrator engaged with the martians. He
studied them without ever talking to them. He assumed knowledge of
them without ever asking them about their past experiences. He saved
them from something he knew nothing about, since he was a white guy
from Earth, and they were a female-run colony with philosophical
beliefs that differed from his own. He sort of put his arrogance
aside because he fell in love with one of them... but still tried to
impose his beliefs on the entire society anyway.
the story went on, my annoyance with the author and the story
increased. I knew exactly what kind of story it was going to turn
into – White Guy Saves Women Who Don't Know Better From Themselves.
I hate-read the last few paragraphs of the story. And then, at the
end, I was surprised. I am actually even considering re-reading this
story to see if I missed any clues alluding to the ending because I
was so sure I knew better than the author, that I was positive I knew
how things were going to end. If that was Zelazny's end goal, it was
well played. If he never intended to blind his readers with fury, and
just wanted to make a point, well that's pretty cool too.