Author Topic: EP437: A Rose for Ecclesiastes  (Read 20078 times)

davidthygod

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Reply #25 on: March 17, 2014, 02:19:25 PM
This illustrates the disparity between good fiction and great fiction.  Zelazny is clearly a guy that has refined his craft and execution to the highest level, thus the many awards and accolades.  Great narration and production value on this one too.  These are the types of stories that will bring subscribers to EA.

The man is clear in his mind, but his soul is mad.


davidthygod

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Reply #26 on: March 17, 2014, 02:27:34 PM
This comment thread is bothering me.  I think it is important to take a story in its place and time, and not try to apply the morality and bias of today to something that was written 50 years ago.  Its a slippery slope (though we are clearly well into the slide on many fronts in our society) to damning every piece of literature, historical figure, or idea that came before us because they lack today's level of so called enlightenment.  

I really enjoyed this.  It was well written and delivered.  Zelazny has an unbelievable ability to use the English language in beautiful and creative ways, and I found the story exciting and interesting and I thought it was great escapist fun for 1.5 hours.

The man is clear in his mind, but his soul is mad.


Varda

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Reply #27 on: March 17, 2014, 05:17:27 PM
This comment thread is bothering me.  I think it is important to take a story in its place and time, and not try to apply the morality and bias of today to something that was written 50 years ago.  Its a slippery slope (though we are clearly well into the slide on many fronts in our society) to damning every piece of literature, historical figure, or idea that came before us because they lack today's level of so called enlightenment. 

I see it as a positive and important thing to apply our consciences to everything we read, even (and perhaps especially) historical writing. While I was in the camp that loved this story, and thought that perhaps Zelazney was making use of an obviously morally deficient character to make a bigger point, I have no qualms with my fellow forumites who felt bothered enough by elements like the sexism of the main character for it to lessen their enjoyment and their opinion of the piece.

Age in and of itself is not excuse enough to dismiss elements in literature that dehumanizes people. Time doesn't necessarily take the sting out, especially for readers who are already feeling weary and worn down by stuff like racism and sexism without having to choke it down when they seek relief in a good story.

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davidthygod

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Reply #28 on: March 17, 2014, 05:52:18 PM
This comment thread is bothering me.  I think it is important to take a story in its place and time, and not try to apply the morality and bias of today to something that was written 50 years ago.  Its a slippery slope (though we are clearly well into the slide on many fronts in our society) to damning every piece of literature, historical figure, or idea that came before us because they lack today's level of so called enlightenment. 

I see it as a positive and important thing to apply our consciences to everything we read, even (and perhaps especially) historical writing. While I was in the camp that loved this story, and thought that perhaps Zelazney was making use of an obviously morally deficient character to make a bigger point, I have no qualms with my fellow forumites who felt bothered enough by elements like the sexism of the main character for it to lessen their enjoyment and their opinion of the piece.

Age in and of itself is not excuse enough to dismiss elements in literature that dehumanizes people. Time doesn't necessarily take the sting out, especially for readers who are already feeling weary and worn down by stuff like racism and sexism without having to choke it down when they seek relief in a good story.


I disagree fully.  In no way am I trying to contend that we should not learn from the mistakes of the past, and I am a strong believer that we should aggressively push those that are still actively abusing basic human rights. 

However, I fear a future that vilifies every step made that brought us to this point in history, because those that made that history were not as "socially evolved" as we claim ourselves to be.  In addition, I can fully and completely enjoy the works of an author that has views I may not agree with (i.e. I love all of Orson Scott Card's works, and blame the lack of success on the infinitely underrated Ender's Game movie on social attacks against the creator that have nothing to do with the quality of the works).

In my world view, I refuse to let politics and social issues dictate what I should and shouldn't enjoy and I attempt to view older works through the prism of the time and place in which they were created.  There are 100s of examples of works (historical and current) that I can appreciate fully that have writers, actors, directors, producers, etc that I completely disagree with and that I find repugnant on a personal level. 

The man is clear in his mind, but his soul is mad.


Varda

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Reply #29 on: March 17, 2014, 06:12:22 PM
While I respect your viewpoint, I think you're speaking from a place of privilege, perhaps as someone who does not routinely have to deal with the pain caused by stories that require you to participate in your own dehumanization. I think that recognizing and calling out dehumanizing elements is an act of kindness and human compassion. Even if we choose to enjoy a story in spite of its flaws, we owe it to each other to recognize when something is hurtful and offer some empathy. I've had this conversation re: enjoying classics with objectionable elements often enough that I'll just link to a blog post I wrote about it, if you care to hear more about why I see it this way.

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davidthygod

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Reply #30 on: March 17, 2014, 06:36:27 PM
I read the blog post, and I think I can understand the POV, though that specific analogy is a huge stretch in my mind.  To me, its near impossible to draw these lines because what is offensive or troublesome to one person may not be to another. 

One of the standard references I always hear is how media in the US has a very high tolerance for violence and similar media in Europe is much more lenient on sexual content.  I may be extremely offended by one, both, or none of those things, but at the end of the day no one is forcing me to eat that specific plate of crap (per your blog post).  I can change the channel, put down the book, or leave the restaurant, if it is not to my taste.

Personally, I feel the bible is one of the greatest fiction works of all time (and certainly the most influential), and I don't think less of it just because there are some extremely offensive acts and ridiculous viewpoints posited by people that lived thousands of years ago.  I only take offense when people try to force me to follow ridiculous (to me) rules from a bygone age that had extremely different values.


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Varda

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Reply #31 on: March 17, 2014, 07:01:37 PM
Quote
I may be extremely offended by one, both, or none of those things, but at the end of the day no one is forcing me to eat that specific plate of crap (per your blog post).  I can change the channel, put down the book, or leave the restaurant, if it is not to my taste.

Yeah, I think this is a fair point, and I'd say people tend to do this. If the thing that's crap to you is obviously on full display on top of the plate, you'll avoid the thing that offends you (which is why we have movie ratings for stuff like violence, sexual content, and language). It's a bit harder when it comes to stuff like racism and sexism, because you don't usually get disclaimers for that. Sometimes it catches people by surprise. I just think it's best to take a stance of kindness when this does happen. Everyone is different, and has different levels of tolerance for things they find personally hurtful. So for example this story, you and I both really enjoyed this Zelazny story, while some of our fellow "diners" felt like the taste of crap prevented their enjoyment. I think it's okay. I don't know what other crap my fellow diners are having to eat in other areas of their lives, or how worn down they feel by it. They're free to say this dish wasn't their thing, just as we're free to say what we found redeeming about it.

You're right that it's subjective, and I agree that it means that sometimes people will miss out on some cool stories because they found it impossible to enjoy because of certain elements. I just think that it's not the reader's responsibility to overlook something s/he finds distasteful when it was the author who wrote in the insulting bits, although it's certainly commendable when s/he at least attempts to.

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davidthygod

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Reply #32 on: March 17, 2014, 07:09:02 PM
You're right that it's subjective, and I agree that it means that sometimes people will miss out on some cool stories because they found it impossible to enjoy because of certain elements. I just think that it's not the reader's responsibility to overlook something s/he finds distasteful when it was the author who wrote in the insulting bits, although it's certainly commendable when s/he at least attempts to.

Agreed,  good discussion, thanks Varda.

The man is clear in his mind, but his soul is mad.


evrgrn_monster

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Reply #33 on: March 20, 2014, 02:31:28 AM
Whew, that was an interesting thread to read through. I'll just hop in and offer forward my few cents of opinion.

On the story itself, I'll admit that it took quite a bit of warming up to. It did seem like a story that I have heard before, and not told in a particularly interesting or masterful way that would make it stand out. However, the ending was ultimately satisfying, as I was pleasantly surprised that the main character, though still the savior of the Martians, had all the joy of that achievement sucked out of him. This mainly stemmed from the fact that I found him painfully boring as the hero of this story. I actually did not view him as stand-offish or arrogant; I don't like the way he talked  or thought about the Earth women working with him, but besides that, I failed to notice how he was such a terrible human being. He seemed to treat everyone professionally, and if he was proud of his work, with the information given regarding his poetic achievements, he has every right to be. In fact, I wish the story had focused more on him working and translating, finding a way to show the beauty of Mars and her culture to his people back on Earth. The "love" angle felt quite forced, in a narrative way, and, worse, boring to be privy to.

I also hated the fight scene so much. It was unnecessary and honestly, I rolled my eyes through most of it. It sucked a lot of the tension out of the climax of the story, for me at least.  Also had to rewind and relisten to the scene where he jumped off of the cliff. That was weird and confusing.

I do have to give major kudos to the narrator. I loved his voice and felt like he was the only interesting thing for a good chunk of time with this piece.

As far as the length of this story, I actually like longer stories just as much as I like the little guys. I listen while I'm working, so I still get to hear it all in one solid piece, so I may be biased on that note, but I appreciate the variety and choice.

Man, feels good to post again!


slic

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Reply #34 on: March 22, 2014, 03:30:00 PM
I can change the channel, put down the book, or leave the restaurant, if it is not to my taste.
I agree with this point wholeheartedly, but let me give you two examples of how that can still be a huge impact on a person.

1. People in my family have Celiac's disease (shorthand, no wheat). 
This means eating out can be tricky - many foods are just straight off limits - pasta, burgers with buns, sandwiches, etc.  And foods that may seem wholly safe are not (for example chicken with rice, except the chicken is marinated in a sauce that uses flour as a thickener, or has beer as an ingredient). 
So the answer is don't eat at those restaurants.  Understood, but it's been a long week, and no one wants to cook or in-laws are in town and they want to go out to eat, and the number of restaurants we can go to are the same 3 we've gone to all year - oh wait the Chinese food place now uses a different soy sauce that uses barley for colour, so now it's down to 2. 

2.  I want to get out of the house and see a movie, but I'm not interested in violence, boobs, or a kid's movie (not true for me, I usually love boobs and bombs, and I took my daughters to see Frozen :))  This means there are maybe 4 movies a year I would go see.  And the same can be said for books, radio and other entertainment.   

True, these are the epitome of First World, Rich People problems, but I think it is important to point out that the answer of "just ignore it" is very easy when you are in the majority. 
I am certainly not an advocate of "attending to every minor complaint", however, it serves us all to be mindful of others.



matweller

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Reply #35 on: March 22, 2014, 09:22:34 PM
In the end, the past doesn't care what judgement you place on it.

Hate To Kill a Mockingbird all you want. For me, for the greater message it presents it's a classic, and I won't waste time paying lip service to the rest.

And regarding Orson Scott Card, to me it's a very different thing. I can read a classic by a dead author and if I paid any money to do so (and usually I wouldn't) I could dismiss evil contents as signs of a bygone era. I would rest securely understanding that I choose whether or not it's that way now, and the fact that I know it existed in that time is part of what makes it possible to make that choice in the present. Therefore, it has value, even if (maybe especially if) it stings. And no matter what, none of my money is going to be enjoyed by that author, so I'm not supporting the ignorant antique.

Orson Scott Card is an influential member of an active, presently oppressive hate group. Every dollar you allow him to make by purchasing his works fuels that machine. And you may be fine with that. I'm not. I read his books before I knew of his disposition. I consider them THE most important sic-fi I have ever consumed in any media. Ten years ago, I would have moved a wedding date to make sure it didn't clash with the release of an Ender movie, no matter how good it was expected to be. But now you couldn't have given me a free car to buy that ticket or to byuy another book, for that matter. I won't be part of that problem. It's like someone smoking Mexican weed and saying they had nothing to do with all the murder in Juarez. They did. They're accessories only one degree removed.

It's very different than the smiling glance you give to the ignorant parts of a piece taken from another age



davidthygod

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Reply #36 on: March 23, 2014, 02:16:50 PM
It's very different than the smiling glance you give to the ignorant parts of a piece taken from another age

The great strength of a free and capitalist society with a strong and independent press is that you can vote with your wallet and try ideas in the court of public opinion.  I just fear limiting free speech in any form.  To me freedom of speech must be sacrosanct.
"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it"  --Evelyn Beatrice Hall

The man is clear in his mind, but his soul is mad.


Varda

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Reply #37 on: March 23, 2014, 03:35:02 PM
True, these are the epitome of First World, Rich People problems, but I think it is important to point out that the answer of "just ignore it" is very easy when you are in the majority.  
I am certainly not an advocate of "attending to every minor complaint", however, it serves us all to be mindful of others.

This is really well-put. I think, for me, the big difference is between the decisions we each make on our own about which books/movies/etc to enjoy, and how we handle those same problematic texts while in community together. I don't need anyone to justify to me why they enjoy Orson Scott Card or Lovecraft or anything - go in peace, and have at it. But when we all come to the table together, such as here on this forum, it's important to have compassion for people who find their personal demons stirred up by problematic stories. None of us lives in a vacuum, and it's perfectly okay for someone to say they were bothered by even vintage racism/sexism/etc. In fact, I think it's important to acknowledge these elements when they appear because that's what friends do.

Therefore, it has value, even if (maybe especially if) it stings.

I hope you're not saying that people at whom the sting is directed - those who already experience racism/sexism/etc - somehow benefit from an extra helping of this stuff, because that's really not true. I do think there's some educational value to be had for people that the sting is *not* directed at, but there is nothing about vintage racism or sexism that is going to teach anyone belonging to the groups being attacked anything they don't already know from their own experiences.

To be clear, I wouldn't take books like "To Kill a Mockingbird" or "Huckleberry Finn" as examples of what I'm getting at, as these books were written to purposely critique social injustices. I mean books/stories that just take as a baseline assumption that people of color or women are inferior, and go on to build plots and characters on this basis without further thought or commentary. These books have some historical value in that we don't want to wind up right back there again, but that educational value drops down to zero if we don't point it out when we read it in a community together.

I think "A Rose for Ecclesiastes" is a great text to discuss, because I think it exists in a gray area. Is it a little bit racist, sexist, and imperialist, or is it presenting these elements so that it can subvert them? If it's trying to subvert, is it successful? I've really enjoyed all the viewpoints and discussion on this thread trying to pick out the answer to these questions. I think it's a testament to the awesomeness of the community that we can have this conversation, and have it each time a story with problematic elements comes up.
« Last Edit: March 23, 2014, 05:06:44 PM by Varda »

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Fenrix

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Reply #38 on: March 28, 2014, 04:29:32 PM
I looked at this one and thought "An hour and a half of story? Ain't nobody got time for that!" followed immediately by "Holy shit, Zelazny! Sit down and shut up!" Totally worth it.

Varda's first post does the analysis so succinctly that I'm not sure I can really contribute. I'm surprised that there is no discussion of xenolinguistics. Everyone seems to be too caught up on John Carter and Barsoom. How'd Zelazny do with the one critical bit of science that actually underpins the story?

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skeletondragon

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Reply #39 on: March 29, 2014, 04:10:23 AM
Well, one of my complaints was that the story didn't focus on xenolinguistics nearly as much as I hoped. Thinking back on it, I remember a few comments about the Martians having high and low forms of language, no word for a kind of flowering plant, and similarity between the Martian books and Ecclesiastes. Only the latter really got expanded on, but it ended up focusing more on the general philosophy. It seemed like the story kept skirting around the subject before going back to the melodrama.

I feel like I should comment on this idea of walking out of the restaurant / putting down the book. Sure, I've done that. But I do believe that sometimes value can be found even in stories that make me uncomfortable. I'm a big fan of lots of other old scifi stories, despite annoying sexist undertones. I appreciate it a lot more when authors use scifi as a way to discuss and subvert contemporary gender norms, but I can deal with it if the science or the story are strong enough to make me stay. So sometimes I do stay, in the hope of finding something redeeming. But if I get to the end of the story and it hasn't given me a new perspective on xenolinguistics, or made me laugh, or made me think, or anything redeeming, AND it had significant elements of sexism? I'm going to criticize it for all of its failures. This doesn't limit anyone's free speech in any way. In fact, by criticizing I am exercising my right to free speech. Freedom of speech is not freedom from criticism, and if we don't think critically about the past then we risk repeating it. So I think this story was a bust. Other people thought it was a brilliantly written subversion. What would a forum be if people didn't have different viewpoints?



hardware

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Reply #40 on: June 25, 2014, 02:22:46 PM
It's an interesting conundrum, reading the classics today. Because yes, it is one thing to understand that the norms were different, but another to enjoy what is a blatantly insensitive narrative to modern eyes. For me that can appreciate it, but I cannot truly enjoy it, although other qualities might go a long way to alleviate. My loss?

In this case, it didn't go that far, it's well written but the story didn't really surprise me or feel in any way subversive. Perhaps because I never read much adventure novels.

I didn't mind the length by the way, if I want a story split up I use my pause button. 



Fenrix

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Reply #41 on: June 25, 2014, 03:36:47 PM

It's an interesting conundrum, reading the classics today. Because yes, it is one thing to understand that the norms were different, but another to enjoy what is a blatantly insensitive narrative to modern eyes. For me that can appreciate it, but I cannot truly enjoy it, although other qualities might go a long way to alleviate. My loss?


I've been reading a lot of Zelazny short fiction recently, and I'm pretty confident in saying that the insensitivity is an artifact of the character not the author. It's told from his skewed egocentric POV, and I don't think you're supposed to finish up liking the character.

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CryptoMe

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Reply #42 on: August 20, 2014, 06:10:10 AM
I'm with those who were somewhat ambivalent about this story. The "subversive" notes some have mentioned on the forums didn't ring for me and as a result, the story left me flat.

In terms of the length, I am completely flummoxed by comments that a long story is problematic. Don't people listen to full audiobooks? How do people handle those lengths if they can't handle 1.5 hours?



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Reply #43 on: August 20, 2014, 03:16:35 PM
In terms of the length, I am completely flummoxed by comments that a long story is problematic. Don't people listen to full audiobooks? How do people handle those lengths if they can't handle 1.5 hours?

It's a matter of personal taste, I'm sure.  I have never listened to an audio book.  Most novels are, IMO, bloated monstrosities and I generally prefer the short form because the size constraint forces the story to get to the point. 

Also, because many episodes are around 30 minutes, I think that a lot of people are also accustomed to listening to a story on each commute for a medium size commute--if a story is 1.5 hours, then instead of hearing the story in 30 minute trip, it's stretched out over more than 24 hours and important details from early in the story may be forgotten because of the gaps in listening.




davidthygod

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Reply #44 on: September 26, 2014, 05:40:17 PM
This was a good read for perspective  --   http://www.salon.com/2011/06/07/bad_people_great_books/

The man is clear in his mind, but his soul is mad.


dSlacker

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Reply #45 on: October 25, 2014, 04:02:28 PM
Agreed with @Warren and @Varda.

One element that I didn't see discussed, although I might have missed it, is that his love transforms Gallagher from an arrogant ass to someone a bit more human.