Warning: May Contain Spoilers
A Rose for Ecclesiastes is a short story written by Roger Zelazny and published in the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in November 1963. Although Sci-Fi fans may already be aware that Zelazny is noted more for his Chronicles of Amber series, Ecclesiastes was nominated for the prestigious Hugo Award in 1964.
Ecclesiastes details the story of Gallinger, who is part of a mission from Earth studying the Martian “high language.” Gallinger is regarded by his boss and co-workers as self-absorbed & arrogant, but nevertheless, sufficiently impresses the Martian Matriarch M’Cwyie to earn an invitation to study the sacred scrolls of Locar located in the Citadel of Tirellian. This is considered an honor as no other human being has been privy to the Martians only written history before because no one else has ever been considered sharp enough to master their high language.
After a few weeks of intense tutelage under M’Cwyie, Gallinger is treated to a sacred dance performed by a young, Martian female named Braxa. Gallinger is so aroused by Braxa that after the performance, he retires to his quarters and immediately writes a poem about her. Zelazny’s continued usage of metaphor & simile as a vehicle for the visualizations of the storyline kicks into high gear at this point–
In a land of wind and red,
where the icy evening of Time
freezes milk in the breasts of Life,
as two moons overhead–
cat and dog in alleyways of dream–
scratch and scramble agelessly my flight . . .
This final flower turns a burning head.
When he shows M’Cwyie his poem the next day, she doesn’t understand the references to the flower because Mars is an arid planet devoid of flora & fauna, so Gallinger asks the Expedition’s hydroponics man to grow a red rose to better demonstrate his bewitchment with Braxa’s performance.
Gallinger eventually concludes his study of the language and is then given access to the sacred texts. He is also given a room in the Temple, as well, where he can study the scrolls day or night. During the course of a late night translation session, he finds an intriguing passage that alludes to a sort of apocalypse among the Martians.
Gallinger is just about to turn in for the night when Braxa shows up in his room wanting to hear the poem he wrote about her. He is a little taken aback given the lateness of the hour and the appearance of impropriety with the young woman, but reads the poem to her anyway.
Braxa is confused as to Gallinger’s reservations and explains to him in not so many words that such morality is no longer necessary as the plague mentioned in the texts has rendered the population sterile so the people aren’t having sex anymore. Gallinger finishes reading the poem and then lights up a “tube of fire,” offering it to her. One thing leads to another (apparently) and Gallinger the sixty-six year old poet ends up banging Braxa the under-aged, erotic dancer/whore.
As an aside note, this has to the be the lone occurrence in the history of cigarettes where a couple smokes one before they get down to business, as opposed to afterwards.
Long story short– Braxa disappears the next day, much to Gallinger”s chagrin, and then he goes looking for her among the desert dunes. After two days search, he finds her, and not only does she not want to see him, but she also tells him that she is pregnant, and, that the Matriarchs have decided not to allow the pregnancy to progress. In the meantime, the rose Gallinger had asked for has bloomed and he brings it and Braxa with him back to the Temple where he then self-righteously demands to see M’Cwyie to set her straight.
Gallinger somehow manages to overcome the gatekeeper –a seven feet tall, muscular mutant named Ontro- before he can gain access to M’Cwyie & the Matriarchs of Martian society. Once inside the chamber, he launches into a heartfelt tirade against the dis-allowance of Braxa’s pregnancy given that Martian men can no longer reproduce. As evidence of the wrong-headedness, Gallinger cites Earth’s very own Book of Ecclesiastes. Suffice it to say, Gallinger is having none of the whole vanity & vexation of spirit meme.
Whoa –This is probably the strongest argument for statutory rape/forced pregnancy that I’ve ever seen, but stay with me here–
Gallinger concludes his argument and thinks the Matriarchs have voted against him when M’Cwyie informs him that he was successful in persuading them to his side. She then goes on to inform him of the prophecy that spoke of a holy man from the heavens that would come to save the Martians in their last hours if all the Dances of Locar were completed. He would also defeat the Fist of Malann (Ontro) and bring them life.
Hmm…Megalomaniacal much, Roger?
But Gallinger’s victory is abruptly cut short when M’Cwyie tells him that Braxa ran away to the desert because she feared the prophecy was coming true. When he clobbered Ontro and the Matriarchs voted, she knew it was unavoidable. But nontheless, Braxa does not love Gallinger– She was merely playing a part in a prophecy.
Gasp! Shock! You mean the hero doesn’t get the girl and live happily ever after?!
Completely deflated and elated at the same time, Gallinger returns to the ship and downs forty-four sleeping pills (random number or significant?) only to be resuscitated long enough later to witness through the port hole window the Aspic leaving Mars behind forever in a vapor trail–B Oh Oh H Oh Oh–
Probably not as dramatic as Gallinger thinks. I mean, c’mon, guy, what’s a friendly squirt of casual splooge shared between a prototype version of Captain Kirk and a promiscuous, but emotionally unavailable, extraterrestrial floozy? These inter-species couplings don’t ever work out anyway. Be glad you didn’t get a bad case of dick drip, fer crissake!
The full text of Ecclesiastes is found here.
If you enjoyed this review please see also The-End-of-the-World Cafe review written previously.
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