|Wraparound cover by Hannes Bok,|
depicting "A Rose for Ecclesiastes."
Friday, December 30, 2022
Casual Shorts & the ISFdb Top Short Fiction #13: A Rose for Ecclesiastes by Roger Zelazny
Zelazny, Roger. "A Rose for Ecclesiastes." The Magazine of Science Fiction, November 1963.
This article is part of my attempt to read all the 155 stories currently (as of 1 November 2022) on the ISFdb's Top Short Fiction list. Please see the introduction and list of stories here. I am encouraging readers to rate the stories and books they have read on the ISFdb.
ISFdb Rating: 9.14/10
My Rating: 7/10
"I was busy translating one of my Madrigals Macabre into Martian on the morning I was found acceptable."
Gallinger is an arrogant poet, disliked by many on the expedition. He becomes acquainted with one of the most skilled of the Martian dancers, Braxa, unknowingly seduces her, and they fall in love. This is the first experience of real love for another for the arrogant poet, and when Braxa falls pregnant and disappears into the Martian desert, Gallinger searches desperately for her. It is through this desperation, also, that Gallinger begins to see others in a different, more human light.
Gallinger is arrogant to the point that the text was difficult at times to read, and since it was published in 1963, there is lacking a certain sensitivity that prevents minimizing the idea of othering. Not only are the Martians (Easterners) patronized, but so are the women. As expected, Gallinger wins out over the Martians' innate pessimism, and does so quite cleverly, and yet in an excellent, unpredicted twist, his arrogance is pounded down, so that a victory over the fate of a race is simultaneously a personal defeat over this proud man.
There is a point to the arrogance; it is not merely the author's whim to create this character in such a way, but the trait is essential to the plot. This does not, however, make the character likeable. In addition, though technologically advanced, Earth is culturally retarded. Humans can make lengthy expeditions to other planets, yet interracial marriage is still frowned upon to the point that couples are kept physically separated. These details are a little odd, and more appropriate for a story published a decade a earlier, but I would think by 1963 our outlook on race relations of the future should not have been so stalled in its age, and I don't see that Zelazny was trying to make a particular point about the ship's captain having ben separated from his easter family, other than making a link with Gallinger.
Moreover, as with many stories of the period, the 1960s have run amok. Smoking is common, even on ships where you'd think oxygen was at a premium. At one point, comical to the contemporary lens, when Gallinger needs to catch his breath after a physuical fight, he lights a cigarette. On Mars, which of course has breathable air. Even Captain Kirk was more advanced. But of course the story is not about the science of space travel or Mars exploration or whether it is still cool for poets to smoke cigarettes, and half a century from now we might be scoffing at what contemporary speculative fiction authors are putting to paper today. Likely my own children will snicker at this silly little article.