Escape Artists
November 28, 2014, 04:33:25 AM *
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.

Login with username, password and session length
News:
 
   Home   Help Search Login Register  
Pages: [1] 2 3  All
  Print  
Author Topic: EP437: A Rose for Ecclesiastes  (Read 2532 times)
eytanz
Moderator
*****
Posts: 4713



« on: February 28, 2014, 07:33:05 AM »

EP437: A Rose for Ecclesiastes

by Roger Zelazny

Read by Pete Milan

This story was first published by Mercury Press, 1963

--

I was busy translating one of my Madrigals Macabre into Martian on the morning I was found acceptable. The intercom had buzzed briefly, and I dropped my pencil and flipped on the toggle in a single motion.

“Mister G,” piped Morton’s youthful contralto, “the old man says I should ‘get hold of that damned conceited rhymer’ right away, and send him to his cabin.–Since there’s only one damned conceited rhymer . . .”

“Let not ambition mock thy useful toil,” I cut him off.

So, the Martians had finally made up their minds! I knocked an inch and a half of ash from a smouldering butt, and took my first drag since I had lit it. The entire month’s anticipation tried hard to crowd itself into the moment, but could not quite make it. I was frightened to walk those forty feet and hear Emory say the words I already knew he would say; and that feeling elbowed the other one into the background.

So I finished the stanza I was translating before I got up.

It took only a moment to reach Emory’s door. I knocked thrice and opened it, just as he growled, “Come in.”

“You wanted to see me?” I sat down quickly to save him the trouble of offering me a seat.

“That was fast. What did you do, run?”

I regarded his paternal discontent:

Little fatty flecks beneath pale eyes, thinning hair, and an Irish nose; a voice a decibel louder than anyone else’s . . .

Hamlet to Claudius: “I was working.”

“Hah!” he snorted. “Come off it. No one’s ever seen you do any of that stuff.”
I shrugged my shoulders and started to rise.

“If that’s what you called me down here–”

“Sit down!”


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
Logged
albionmoonlight
Peltast
***
Posts: 149



« Reply #1 on: February 28, 2014, 05:08:17 PM »

One of my all-time favorite stories.  Can't wait to listen to it.
Logged
Warren
Extern
*
Posts: 16


« Reply #2 on: March 02, 2014, 08:52:33 AM »

The story was awesome. Literally, as in inspiring of awe. An astoundingly good story, and well delivered by the reader.

My only complaints are nerdy ones:
1) Why oh why did it have to be Earth and Mars? I know there is a long tradition of this, and it saves on set-up. But it makes the biology ludicrously implausible (we know human evolved on Earth, we know humans didn't colonize Mars, and every scenario you concoct to explain away these difficulties just causes new problems), and it risks making ludicrous the part where the poet can so freely interact with his hosts and especially the long chase scene and the tumble down the hillside. It would have been better to have two long-lost human interstellar colonies interacting, though perhaps this might have made the surprise less when the couple was first sexually and then genetically compatible. Still, who was greatly surprised, given the groundwork laid?
2) I can't help wondering what happened to the poet's research materials, that he clearly didn't bring back with him to the ship (given that he stumbled back on foot).
Logged
DKT
Friendly Neighborhood
Editor
*****
Posts: 4691


PodCastle is my Co-Pilot


WWW
« Reply #3 on: March 03, 2014, 12:56:35 PM »

ZELAZNY!!!!!

Looking forward to this one!  Smiley
Logged

skeletondragon
Palmer
**
Posts: 49


« Reply #4 on: March 03, 2014, 06:24:57 PM »

I thought it was sexist and boring. A "romance" between a (white) human man (who is contemptuous of Betty and other human women) and a one-dimensional, "exotically beautiful", alien who is inexplicably attracted to him and still strangely submissive even though she supposedly comes from a matriarchal society? No thanks. Even the eventual explanation of Braxa's motivation as her "duty" is still ridiculous and unbelievable, and playing again into exactly the sort of cliche that gives space opera a bad name. It's a shame, because I was really looking forward to an interesting story about xenolinguistics until he started fixating on her nipples.
Logged
Moon_Goddess
Palmer
**
Posts: 40



« Reply #5 on: March 04, 2014, 09:17:03 AM »

I thought it was sexist and boring. A "romance" between a (white) human man (who is contemptuous of Betty and other human women) and a one-dimensional, "exotically beautiful", alien who is inexplicably attracted to him and still strangely submissive even though she supposedly comes from a matriarchal society? No thanks. Even the eventual explanation of Braxa's motivation as her "duty" is still ridiculous and unbelievable, and playing again into exactly the sort of cliche that gives space opera a bad name. It's a shame, because I was really looking forward to an interesting story about xenolinguistics until he started fixating on her nipples.

I have to agree, I loved the Amber novels as a teenager, this story makes me wonder if rereading them now I'd see problems too.

For me the point where I really lost it... was when our genius linguist poet, just happens to know enough martial arts to take down the 7 foot tall martian.    Really?   

Logged

Was dream6601 but that's sounds awkward when Nathan reads my posts.
JackSpellman
Extern
*
Posts: 2


« Reply #6 on: March 04, 2014, 08:53:28 PM »

And the moral of the story is, Thank Locar for cigarettes.
Logged
Varda
Editor
*****
Posts: 1737


Definitely not an android.


« Reply #7 on: March 05, 2014, 10:57:50 AM »

I'm going to respectfully disagree that this story was sexist. While it's true that the main character is sexist, that's deliberate, and a part of the overarching themes of this brilliant and subtle story.

This is the tale of the Great White Male Savior (a la Avatar or Dances with Wolves) completely subverted and stood on its head. From the get-go, it's clear to me that Gallinger is not a nice guy, and that we don't have to like him. He's so brash and arrogant that even all the other humans can't stand him. He (and the other humans) initially approach Martian culture and society with an attitude of cultural imperialism and condescension, treating them as if they are primitive and inferior to Earth culture. And yes, Gallinger's attitude toward the matriarchal Martian women is sexist and patronizing, especially initially. But the key to this story is that everything Gallinger believes and assumes is wrong, wrong, wrong.

He believes that Earth culture is superior to primitive Martian culture, only to discover that Martian society is astonishingly ancient and rich, and that Martians themselves are biologically superior in that they have incredible life spans and are therefore able to accomplish far more artistically than Earth people are.

He thinks he's a genius for figuring out the sterility problem, and pontificates on how he's going to expose this truth for all the researchers of Earth who failed to put it together, but never considers that only the Martian men might be sterile.

He rushes out into the desert to save Braxa in a stereotypical gesture of gendered romantic gallantry, only to find that she doesn't love him and never did, and only slept with him on orders. To add insult to injury, Braxa isn't even pleased about the fulfillment of the prophecy and that her child is saved from death, as she never believed the prophecy herself.

He mocks their religion, only to find out that in doing so, he fulfilled a religious prophecy and only strengthened the religion in the end.

He criticizes the Martians for their fatalism and nihilistic attitudes, and then attempts suicide himself.

Gallinger thinks he's a great poet and hero who is acting upon this story, but in the end he's just a pawn of fate and all the people around him. Nothing he loves or believes in pans out. The Martians get a happy resolution to their story, but Gallinger can't even die when he wants to. Gallinger is exactly like the force-grown rose: it looks beautiful and full of significance at a glance, but everything about it was cultivated or engineered artificially, and is less remarkable than it seems.
Logged

Medical Microfiction: Stories About Science
http://rckjones.wordpress.com
skeletondragon
Palmer
**
Posts: 49


« Reply #8 on: March 05, 2014, 05:23:13 PM »

While I think there are some elements of subversion of the White Savior trope here, they're so subtle that if I wasn't desperately looking for them I wouldn't have seen them. Significant parts of it are just played straight. The Martians wait for somebody from another planet to come and save their culture. Part of it is the (implausible) breeding scenario, but then there's the scene where he saves them from their philosophical death by preaching from the Bible. That part pretty much came off exactly the way Gallinger wanted it to. They saw that his culture had kept going even after some dude was really pessimistic and it inspired them to do the same. What? I could get behind it if this story was more obviously comedic, but if it's a satire I don't think it's a very entertaining one.
Logged
Varda
Editor
*****
Posts: 1737


Definitely not an android.


« Reply #9 on: March 05, 2014, 05:41:06 PM »

While I think there are some elements of subversion of the White Savior trope here, they're so subtle that if I wasn't desperately looking for them I wouldn't have seen them. Significant parts of it are just played straight. The Martians wait for somebody from another planet to come and save their culture. Part of it is the (implausible) breeding scenario, but then there's the scene where he saves them from their philosophical death by preaching from the Bible. That part pretty much came off exactly the way Gallinger wanted it to. They saw that his culture had kept going even after some dude was really pessimistic and it inspired them to do the same. What? I could get behind it if this story was more obviously comedic, but if it's a satire I don't think it's a very entertaining one.

Well, not exactly. They gave up on the pessimism because they had a prophecy about a righteous scoffer who would come and mock the teachings of Locar. It was the fulfillment of their Martian prophecy and not the content of Gallinger's message that persuaded them. He thought that by preaching a message to undermine religion, he could get them to set it aside and move forward with a new way of life, but instead he ended up reinforcing their faith in their religion. From the Martian perspective, he's just sort of adorable in a, "God's place for you is to be the guy who mocks religion, but we all know that God made you do it" sort of way. It's clever because while it appears even to Gallinger at first that humans are saving their species, you could also say that the off-world species are just pawns of the Martian gods brought there to serve the Martians and their purposes. It flips cultural imperialism on its head, because all of Gallinger's self-aggrandizing amounts to nothing, and he gets no moral victory in the end from either the humans or the Martians.

I do agree with you that this story is subtle, though. It's one of the reasons it's considered one of Zelazny's finest. Personally, I found it to be a strength of the story instead of a weakness. There are layers upon layers over what seems like a simple story. But I can see if you're looking for lighter fare that this one wouldn't scratch that itch, so I certainly respect that this story isn't for everyone. Smiley
« Last Edit: March 05, 2014, 05:57:26 PM by Varda » Logged

Medical Microfiction: Stories About Science
http://rckjones.wordpress.com
Just Jeff
Palmer
**
Posts: 66


« Reply #10 on: March 06, 2014, 12:26:26 AM »

He had me at "sacred scoffer." Okay, that was almost at the end, but the protag is unpleasant and nothing happening up to that point was really working for me. It was the "sacred scoffer" line that pieced it all together for me and tied it up with a nice bow.
« Last Edit: March 06, 2014, 08:49:10 PM by Just Jeff » Logged
Unblinking
Sir Postsalot
Hipparch
******
Posts: 6583



WWW
« Reply #11 on: March 06, 2014, 09:39:56 AM »

I thought it was sexist and boring. A "romance" between a (white) human man (who is contemptuous of Betty and other human women) and a one-dimensional, "exotically beautiful", alien who is inexplicably attracted to him and still strangely submissive even though she supposedly comes from a matriarchal society? No thanks. Even the eventual explanation of Braxa's motivation as her "duty" is still ridiculous and unbelievable, and playing again into exactly the sort of cliche that gives space opera a bad name. It's a shame, because I was really looking forward to an interesting story about xenolinguistics until he started fixating on her nipples.

My impression was very similar to skeletondragon's.

Maybe it attempted to subvert the tropes, but IMO it didn't do so effectively.  I was so bored with the character and annoyed with everything he said or did that I was mostly just checking the time to see when it would be over and saying "there's seriously still a half hour left?"  The attempted suicide at the end was certainly a change instead of "living happily ever after and keeping a pretty little native wife" but to me that felt like an exaggerated affectation of the poet being all sensitive and stuff.  To me it read as no different than a less-than-spectacular story picked at a random from a 50s SF magazine.

In the end, though, the moral of the story is that you can save a civilization by having casual sex with someone who pretends to like you.
Logged

--David Steffen
The Submissions Grinder:  Fiction market listings, submissions tracker, always free, poetry and nonfiction markets coming soon!
Wilson Fowlie
Hipparch
******
Posts: 1436


WWW
« Reply #12 on: March 06, 2014, 05:24:05 PM »

I think I was somewhat turned against the story before I even started listening to it, when I looked at my player and it said the episode was an hour and thirty-seven minutes long. I realize this is petty, but I have a lot of listening to keep up with, and a finite amount of time, and the longer a story is, the more I have difficulty not having the attitude that I'm listening to it to get it over with, rather than to enjoy the story.

And then, disliking the protagonist (despite - or maybe because of? - the fact that it was pretty obvious I was supposed to) didn't start me off well on the actual story. With all that negativity to begin with, it's hard for me to be fair to the story. I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it.

I can see bringing in a story of this length and vintage for a landmark like episode 500, but not as a regular episode. I really wish EP had serialized this into two or even three episodes. There is a precedent, close at hand.

This is the first episode, since I became an Escape Pod listener, where I gave up on listening and went to the website to read it instead, to save time. When I go back to my MP3 player, I'll listen to Alasdair's thoughts on the story - maybe they'll help me appreciate it more (Varda's certainly did), even if I don't end up liking it better.
Logged

"People commonly use the word 'procrastination' to describe what they do on the Internet. It seems to me too mild to describe what's happening as merely not-doing-work. We don't call it procrastination when someone gets drunk instead of working." - Paul Graham
slic
Hipparch
******
Posts: 717


Stephen Lumini


« Reply #13 on: March 06, 2014, 05:27:14 PM »

I'm definitely in Varda's camp here.

It really started off for me as - yikes, an old story that is considered a classic because back in the 50's this was cutting edge, but now is dated and really a bit uncomfortable (the way it is when you are 12 and your Dad tells you and your friends a dirty joke).  But the protagonist being a douche clued me in a bit and maybe because I hate douche-y main characters, I saw more the events as him being an idiot versus a saviour. 

In the end, though, the moral of the story is that you can save a civilization by having casual sex with someone who pretends to like you.
That is so sadly reductive.  First off, it's not even true.  The civilization will be radically changed if only because every child will be a half-breed or at least the first generation (it depends on how fast super-duper Earth science can cure the Martian sterility - which I also saw as a dig - like how everyone seemed ot think science will cure all of mankind's ills).
Second, think about the implications.  For a human reaction, just look back at the end of WW2, and what how people treated children with German fathers and not-German mothers.  There's a lot of baggage there - in a sci-fi context, it's like a whole generations of Spocks.

I don't want this post to get too big, so I'll stop here with one last reply
...they're so subtle that if I wasn't desperately looking for them I wouldn't have seen them.
I'm not sure what the measure of "desperately" is, but subtle means that they don't hit you over the head - that some looking is needed.  It is a fine line, I know, but prefer stories that assume some intelligence rather than those that feel the need to "shout" their point to make sure it came across.
Logged
DKT
Friendly Neighborhood
Editor
*****
Posts: 4691


PodCastle is my Co-Pilot


WWW
« Reply #14 on: March 06, 2014, 06:04:06 PM »

I can see bringing in a story of this length and vintage for a landmark like episode 500, but not as a regular episode. I really wish EP had serialized this into two or even three episodes. There is a precedent, close at hand.

I dunno, Wilson. It's true we (PC) split that particular story up, but we've also run some pretty looooooooooong stories that we haven't split up (and we run vintage pieces pretty regularly that aren't landmark episodes). Personally, I tend to prefer stories that aren't split up, but most people know I'm long-winded by nature Smiley
Logged

Devoted135
Hipparch
******
Posts: 872



« Reply #15 on: March 06, 2014, 06:50:13 PM »

This is a story where I particularly appreciate the discussion afterwards, you guys have really increased my understanding of the story. I can see both sides of the discussion, and am glad to have seen both presented because it definitely deepens my reading of it. To be honest, it was so long that I listened in three different segments; when I do this I often end up much less involved in the story. When it ended my feelings were in the realm of "well, that was a thing that I listened to..."

Logged
Asomatous
Palmer
**
Posts: 21


Uniformity≠equality


« Reply #16 on: March 06, 2014, 11:20:29 PM »

Gallinger thinks he's a great poet and hero who is acting upon this story, but in the end he's just a pawn of fate and all the people around him. Nothing he loves or believes in pans out. The Martians get a happy resolution to their story, but Gallinger can't even die when he wants to. Gallinger is exactly like the force-grown rose: it looks beautiful and full of significance at a glance, but everything about it was cultivated or engineered artificially, and is less remarkable than it seems.

I think Varda is right on point with the analysis of Gallinger. For all his bravado and expertise, Gallinger has great difficulty seeing himself as a bit player in a larger narrative. Despite his being in the highest percentile rankings of humanity, his "sermon" only provokes a vote from the matriarchal Martian elders. When he is rejected by his Martian lover, he falls prey to despair common to the common human.

For me, the key to understanding the story and its meaning comes from the reference to Ecclesiastes in the title. The swing from an analysis of everything to finding everything meaningless follows the arc of Ecclesiastes. Gallinger is the "Preacher/Teacher" even though he rejected the "calling/vocation" put on him by his fundamentalist father. He uses his intellect to isolate and distance people from himself. Maybe this is out of both a sense of superiority and insecurity. He could be continuing to try and distance himself from his childhood. The crisis of identity that flows from seeing yourself become the very thing you rejected can lead to great despair. Further, finding you are a minor prophet in a much larger prophetic tradition, can push one deeper still. Things could indeed seem meaningless.

On a personal note, I found the story to be a literary delight. Having been raised in a religious environment similar to Gallinger's, I understood the weight he must have felt as well as the desire to find his own identity separate from the one in which he was raised. I too studied theology and followed the path set out for me by my parents. Eventually, I found my way to another field of scholarship confident that I could make contributions of greater value in my chosen field. As I have gotten older, I too find myself revisiting the role my parents had articulated for me. Fortunately, I have not come to the conclusion that everything is meaningless.


“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Gallinger.
      “Everything is meaningless!”
     Not only was the Gallinger wise, but he also imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. The Gallinger searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true.
     The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one shepherd. Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them.
 

    Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.

    Now all has been heard;
      here is the conclusion of the matter:
   Fear Locar and keep his commandments,
      for this is the duty of all mankind.
   For Locar will bring every deed into judgment,
      including every hidden thing,
      whether it is good or evil.
« Last Edit: March 07, 2014, 09:13:27 PM by Asomatous » Logged
SF.Fangirl
Peltast
***
Posts: 137


« Reply #17 on: March 07, 2014, 06:57:00 PM »

I am glad you ran this because I read another sci fi story about deciphering an alien language in the last several years and discussion of this story came up.  I was meaning to read this story eventually. That said, I did not enjoy it at all and oh God, it dragged on and on.

Gallinger is a ass from the get go and although it's obvious we are supposed to think him so, it did not help me enjoy the story.  I am not fond of poetry or flowery descriptions either so again here's another story that is just not meant for me to like.

I do get the that the author is playing with the trope of the human-like martian alien civilization and human breathable air and everything that was already known false before this story was published.  Frankly my interest was most piqued by the Captain's story of his lost Asian non-wife and children. (That's a tragic story by a potentially likable character.) It just makes me sad that, like equality for women, 1960s science fiction authors couldn't see those social attitudes were going to change completely before humans ever make it to Mars.  That is what dates the story most for me - well that a the cigarette smoking.  The authors couldn't envision that was going to go away either.
Logged
Cutter McKay
Hipparch
******
Posts: 881


"I was the turkey the whoooole time!"


WWW
« Reply #18 on: March 07, 2014, 09:33:38 PM »

This is a story where I particularly appreciate the discussion afterwards, you guys have really increased my understanding of the story. I can see both sides of the discussion, and am glad to have seen both presented because it definitely deepens my reading of it. To be honest, it was so long that I listened in three different segments; when I do this I often end up much less involved in the story. When it ended my feelings were in the realm of "well, that was a thing that I listened to..."

This sums up my thoughts pretty well. As I only have a twenty minute commute, I, too, listened to this in segments, which kept me from getting very grounded in the tale. But the discussion here in the forums is awesome.

I have a hard time relating to people who have everything work out for them just as they planned. Now, as Varda pointed out, in the end nothing worked out the way Gallinger planned, which I was pleased to see, but throughout the whole--very long--story, everything went according to plan. He deciphered the language, got the girl, took down the behemoth (c'mon), and solved the great mystery. No challenges throughout the tale. Which I get was kind of the point, since it all came crashing down at the end. But by then it was too little, too late.

What I did love about this story was the language. I'm not one for flowery language and tons of metaphor, especially in my own writing, but I continually found myself reveling in Zalazny's words. His descriptions, though overdone in many places, were absolutely beautiful in ways that I forgot language can do. So props there.
Logged

-Josh Morrey-
http://joshmorreywriting.blogspot.com/
"Remember: You have not yet written your best work." -Tracy Hickman
Unblinking
Sir Postsalot
Hipparch
******
Posts: 6583



WWW
« Reply #19 on: March 10, 2014, 08:43:41 AM »

In the end, though, the moral of the story is that you can save a civilization by having casual sex with someone who pretends to like you.
That is so sadly reductive.  First off, it's not even true. 

Although i didn't care for the story in general, my one-line summary of the story's moral was intentionally reductive with the intent to elicit a chuckle, not actually meant as a serious summary of what message the story was meant to convey.  I'm not claiming the joke was hilarious, but it was meant to be a joke.

I think I was somewhat turned against the story before I even started listening to it, when I looked at my player and it said the episode was an hour and thirty-seven minutes long. I realize this is petty, but I have a lot of listening to keep up with, and a finite amount of time, and the longer a story is, the more I have difficulty not having the attitude that I'm listening to it to get it over with, rather than to enjoy the story.

I hear you.   A very long stories got a pretty big hurdle for me to like it.  This was like 4 commutes.  That means that with it getting chopped into smaller pieces it's harder to keep momentum of interest, and I'm looking for the story to raise the bar to really be worth that block of time.  Although for me, splitting it into multiple episodes wouldn't really change any of that.  That just generally comes from my general distaste for novelette and novella formats--they alternately seem to be trying to be novels that aren't quite complex enough, or short stories that weren't trimmed for fluff.


Logged

--David Steffen
The Submissions Grinder:  Fiction market listings, submissions tracker, always free, poetry and nonfiction markets coming soon!
Pages: [1] 2 3  All
  Print  
 
Jump to:  

Powered by MySQL Powered by PHP Powered by SMF 1.1.20 | SMF © 2013, Simple Machines Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!