A Rose for Ecclesiastes

"A Rose for Ecclesiastes" is a science fiction short story by American author Roger Zelazny, first published in the November 1963 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction with a special wraparound cover painting by Hannes Bok. It was nominated for the 1964 Hugo Award for Short Fiction.[1]

Plot summary

The story is narrated by a gifted human linguist and poet named Gallinger, who is part of a mission studying Mars. He becomes the first human to learn the "high language" of the intelligent Martians, and to be allowed to read their sacred texts. He comes to believe that Martian culture is essentially fatalistic, following an event in the distant past that left the long-lived Martians sterile.

The Martian high priestess regards Gallinger highly, and over the course of months, his theological and poetical discussion elevate him to a status something like a prophet. Ultimately, he is seduced by a Martian temple dancer and impregnates her, the first such pregnancy on the planet in hundreds of years. The Martians appear not to take this well, as it contradicts their religion's expectation of extinction.

Gallinger sets out to do two things: he translates the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes, which he finds thematically similar to their religious texts, into the High Tongue. As part of the cultural exchange he engages in with the High Priestess, he promises to bring her a rose, since the Martians have never seen one. The ship's biologist grows a rose and gives it to Gallinger.

In anger at Martian religious fatalism and impassioned by his love for the dancer and his child-to-be, Gallinger breaks into the temple during a closed service and reads to the Martians from his translation of Ecclesiastes. He mocks it as he reads it, stating:

He was right! It is vanity it is pride! It is the hubris of rationalism to always attack the prophet, the mystic, the god. It is our blasphemy which has made us great, and will sustain us, and which the gods secretly admire in us.--All the truly sacred names of God are blasphemous things to speak!

He discovers that the Martian religion is more complicated than he had originally realized, as is his role in fulfilling prophecy. It has been prophesied that a stranger will "go shod in the temple", breaking in without removing all unclean items, restoring life to the Martian race and bringing something new. His actions have brought life, and the High Priestess takes the rose vowing to learn how to grow the flower.

The story ends well for the Martians, though perhaps less so for Gallinger, who discovers his dancer was only fulfilling her religious duty by seducing him, not caring for him otherwise. He attempts suicide, but, when he wakes up, he is in the infirmary, and he sees Mars through a port, growing farther away as the ship leaves Mars to return to Earth.

Reception and reprinting

"A Rose for Ecclesiastes" has been anthologized several times, including in Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories #25 (edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg), The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth, and Other Stories, and Science Fiction: The Science Fiction Research Association Anthology (edited by Patricia S. Warrick, Charles Waugh, and Martin H. Greenberg). It is regarded as one of Zelazny's best early stories and was included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One, 1929-1964, an anthology of the greatest science fiction short stories prior to 1965, as judged by the Science Fiction Writers of America.

R. D. Mullen termed the story "perhaps the best story ever on Mars as a dying world".[2] Judith Merril praised it as "incomparable".[3] Samuel R. Delany characterized "Rose" as a "wonderful and magical tale".[4] The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-century Literature in English declares the story "rewrote the cliches of science fiction into augurs of renewal".[5] Theodore Sturgeon called the story "one of the most beautifully written, skillfully composed and passionately expressed works of art to appear anywhere, ever."[6]

"A Rose for Ecclesiastes" was included in Visions of Mars: First Library on Mars, a silica glass mini-DVD taken to Mars by the Phoenix Mars Lander in 2008.[7]


  1. ^ The LOCUS Index to SF Awards Archived January 18, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ "Reviews: November 1975", Science Fiction Studies, November 1975
  3. ^ "Books", F&SF, August 1967, p. 36
  4. ^ Silent Interviews: On Language, Race, Sex, Science Fiction, and Some Comics…, Wesleyan University Press, 2011, p. 80
  5. ^ Jenny Stringer, ed., The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-century Literature in English, Oxford University Press, 1996, p.744
  6. ^ "Notes to 'A Rose for Ecclesiastes,'" The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, Volume 1: Threshold, NESFA Press, 2009, page 65.
  7. ^ "Notes to 'A Rose for Ecclesiastes,'" The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, Volume 1: Threshold, NESFA Press, 2009, page 65.

External links

A Rose for Iconoclastes

A Rose for Iconoclastes is a folk album by drummer Steven Brust, an author of fantasy and science fiction novels and a member of the Minneapolis-based band Cats Laughing.

It is Brust's only solo album, released in 1993. The album was produced by Adam Stemple, a fellow fantasy writer and member of Cats Laughing. Twelve of the album's fourteen songs were written or co-written by Brust.

The album's title is a reference to "A Rose for Ecclesiastes", a short story by Brust's literary hero and mentor Roger Zelazny.Two songs from this album, "I Was Born About Ten Million Songs Ago" and "Backward Message," were featured by Doctor Demento on his syndicated program, receiving radio airplay on shows from 1994 through 2009. "I Was Born About Ten Million Songs Ago" also appeared on an anthology, Dr. Demento's Basement Tapes #3, later part of a limited-edition CD boxed set.


Ecclesiastes (; Greek: Ἐκκλησιαστής, Ekklēsiastēs, Hebrew: קֹהֶלֶת‬, qōheleṯ) is one of 24 books of the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible, where it is classified as one of the Ketuvim (or "Writings"). Originally written c. 450–200 BCE, it is also among the canonical Wisdom Books in the Old Testament of most denominations of Christianity. The title Ecclesiastes is a Latin transliteration of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Kohelet, the pseudonym used by the author of the book.

In traditional Jewish texts, King Solomon is named as the author, although modern scholars reject this. Textually, the book is the musings of a King of Jerusalem as he relates his experiences and draws lessons from them, often self-critical. The author, who is not named anywhere in the book, or in the whole of the Bible, introduces a "Kohelet" whom he identifies as the son of David (1:1). The author does not use his own "voice" throughout the book again until the final verses (12:9–14), where he gives his own thoughts and summarises what "the Kohelet" has spoken.

The Kohelet discusses the meaning of life and the best way to live. He proclaims all the actions of man to be inherently hevel, meaning "vain" or "futile", ("mere breath"), as both the wise and the foolish end their lives in death. Kohelet clearly endorses wisdom as a means for a well-lived earthly life. In light of this senselessness, one should enjoy the simple pleasures of daily life, such as eating, drinking, and taking enjoyment in one's work, which are gifts from the hand of God. The book concludes with the injunction: "Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone" (12:13).

Ecclesiastes has had a deep influence on Western literature. It contains several phrases that have resonated in British and American culture, and was quoted by Abraham Lincoln addressing Congress in 1862. American novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote:

"[O]f all I have ever seen or learned, that book seems to me the noblest, the wisest, and the most powerful expression of man's life upon this earth—and also the highest flower of poetry, eloquence, and truth. I am not given to dogmatic judgments in the matter of literary creation, but if I had to make one I could say that Ecclesiastes is the greatest single piece of writing I have ever known, and the wisdom expressed in it the most lasting and profound."

Four for Tomorrow

Four for Tomorrow is the first story collection by Roger Zelazny, published in paperback by Ace Books in 1967. British hardcover and paperback editions followed in 1969, under the title A Rose for Ecclesiastes. The first American hardcover was issued in the Garland Library of Science Fiction in 1975. A French translation appeared in 1980 (as Une rose pour l'Ecclésiaste). Paperback reissues continued from Ace and later from Baen Books into the 1990s.

Hannes Bok

Hannes Bok, pseudonym for Wayne Francis Woodard (July 2, 1914 – April 11, 1964), was an American artist and illustrator, as well as an amateur astrologer and writer of fantasy fiction and poetry. He painted nearly 150 covers for various science fiction, fantasy, and detective fiction magazines, as well as contributing hundreds of black and white interior illustrations. Bok's work graced the pages of calendars and early fanzines, as well as dust jackets from specialty book publishers like Arkham House, Llewellyn, Shasta Publishers, and Fantasy Press. His paintings achieved a luminous quality through the use of an arduous glazing process, which was learned from his mentor, Maxfield Parrish. Bok shared one of the inaugural 1953 Hugo Awards for science fiction achievement (best Cover Artist).Today, Bok is best known for his cover art which appeared on various pulp and science fiction magazines, such as Weird Tales, Famous Fantastic Mysteries, Other Worlds, Super Science Stories, Imagination, Fantasy Fiction, Planet Stories, If, Castle of Frankenstein and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

Hugo Award for Best Short Story

The Hugo Award for Best Short Story is one of the Hugo Awards given each year for science fiction or fantasy stories published or translated into English during the previous calendar year. The short story award is available for works of fiction of fewer than 7,500 words; awards are also given out for pieces of longer lengths in the novelette, novella, and novel categories. The Hugo Awards have been described as "a fine showcase for speculative fiction" and "the best known literary award for science fiction writing".The Hugo Award for Best Short Story has been awarded annually since 1955, except in 1957. The award was titled "Best Short Fiction" rather than "Best Short Story" in 1960–1966. During this time no Novelette category was awarded and the Novella category had not yet been established; the award was defined only as a work "of less than novel length" that was not published as a stand-alone book. In addition to the regular Hugo awards, beginning in 1996 Retrospective Hugo Awards, or "Retro Hugos", have been available to be awarded for 50, 75, or 100 years prior. Retro Hugos may only be awarded for years in which a World Science Fiction Convention, or Worldcon, was hosted, but no awards were originally given. To date, Retro Hugo awards have been given for short stories for 1939, 1941, 1943, 1946, 1951, and 1954.Hugo Award nominees and winners are chosen by supporting or attending members of the annual Worldcon, and the presentation evening constitutes its central event. The selection process is defined in the World Science Fiction Society Constitution as instant-runoff voting with six nominees, except in the case of a tie. The short stories on the ballot are the six most-nominated by members that year, with no limit on the number of stories that can be nominated. The 1955 and 1958 awards did not include any recognition of runner-up stories, but since 1959 all six candidates have been recorded. Initial nominations are made by members in January through March, while voting on the ballot of six nominations is performed roughly in April through July, subject to change depending on when that year's Worldcon is held. Prior to 2017, the final ballot was five works; it was changed that year to six, with each initial nominator limited to five nominations. Worldcons are generally held near Labor Day, and are held in a different city around the world each year. Members are permitted to vote "no award", if they feel that none of the nominees is deserving of the award that year, and in the case that "no award" takes the majority the Hugo is not given in that category. This happened in the Best Short Story category in 2015.During the 69 nomination years, 191 authors have had works nominated; 52 of these have won, including co-authors and Retro Hugos. Harlan Ellison has received the most Hugos for Best Short Story at four, Arthur C. Clarke, Larry Niven, Mike Resnick, Michael Swanwick, and Connie Willis have each won three times, and Poul Anderson, Joe Haldeman, and Ken Liu have won twice, the only other authors to win more than once. Resnick has received the most nominations at 18, while Swanwick has received 14; no other author has gotten more than 7. Michael A. Burstein, with 7, has the highest number of nominations without winning.

Isaac Asimov Presents The Great SF Stories 25 (1963)

Isaac Asimov Presents The Great SF Stories 25 (1963) is an American collection of science fiction stories, the last regular volume of the Isaac Asimov Presents The Great SF Stories series of short story collections, edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg, which attempts to list the great science fiction stories from the Golden Age of Science Fiction. They date the Golden Age as beginning in 1939 and lasting until 1963. This volume was originally published by DAW books in July 1992.

Roger Zelazny

Roger Joseph Zelazny (May 13, 1937 – June 14, 1995) was an American poet and writer of fantasy and science fiction short stories and novels, best known for The Chronicles of Amber. He won the Nebula award three times (out of 14 nominations) and the Hugo award six times (also out of 14 nominations), including two Hugos for novels: the serialized novel ...And Call Me Conrad (1965), subsequently published under the title This Immortal (1966) and then the novel Lord of Light (1967).

Roger Zelazny bibliography

This is a partial bibliography of American science fiction and fantasy author Roger Zelazny (missing several individual short stories published in collections).

Steven Brust

Steven Karl Zoltán Brust (born November 23, 1955) is an American fantasy and science fiction author of Hungarian descent. He is best known for his series of novels about the assassin Vlad Taltos, one of a disdained minority group of humans living on a world called Dragaera. His recent novels also include The Incrementalists (2013) and its sequel The Skill of Our Hands (2017), with co-author Skyler White.

As a drummer and singer-songwriter, Brust has recorded one solo album and two albums as a member of Cats Laughing. Brust also co-wrote songs on two albums recorded in the mid-1990s by the band Boiled in Lead.

The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth

"The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth" is a science fiction novelette by Roger Zelazny. Originally published in the March 1965 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, it won the 1966 Nebula Award for Best Novelette, and was nominated for the 1966 Hugo Award for Best Short Fiction.Writing in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, John Clute found that Zelazny's story "intoxicatingly dashes together myth and literary assonances—in this case Herman Melville's Moby-Dick—and sex". Gardner Dozois opined that "Doors of His Face" was inspired by "a loving nostalgia for the era of the pulp adventure story that was then widely supposed to be ending".In the introduction to the novelette in Nebula Award Stories 1965, editor Damon Knight noted that not only did the story receive more votes than the other nominees in its category, but that it received more votes than all of the others combined.

The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth, and Other Stories

The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth is a collection of science fiction short stories by American writer Roger Zelazny, and the title of the first story in the collection. It was published in 1971 by Doubleday.

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One, 1929–1964

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One, 1929–1964 is a 1970 anthology of English language science fiction short stories, edited by Robert Silverberg. Author Lester del Rey said that "it even lives up to its subtitle", referring to the volume's boast of containing "The Greatest Science-Fiction Stories of All Time".

It was first published by Doubleday and subsequently reprinted by Avon Books in July 1971 (Library of Congress Card Catalog Number: 70-97691; ISBN 0-380-00795-9), and later by Orb.

The book was first published in the UK in 1971 by Victor Gollancz Ltd and in paperback by First Sphere Books in 1972 (in two volumes, split after "First Contact").The content of the book was decided by a vote of the members of the Science Fiction Writers of America, choosing among short stories (up to 15,000 words long) that predated the Nebula Awards. Among the top 15 vote-getters, one (Arthur C. Clarke's "The Star") was disqualified in order to prevent any writer from being represented twice; it was replaced by the 16th-place finisher ("Arena"), and the resulting list of 15 stories was included in the collection. Silverberg then used his judgment, rather than the strict vote count, in selecting 11 of the next 15, for a total of 26 stories.

In 1973, it was followed by The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two: The Greatest Science Fiction Novellas of All Time. Further volumes were published, consisting of early Nebula winners, thus straying outside the original "pre-Nebula" concept.

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