A Rose for Ecclesiastes
by Roger Zelazny
• Word count: 12431
• Page count: 29
“A Rose for Ecclesiastes” is a 1963 science fiction novelette written by Roger Zelazny. It is about a gifted linguist who is the first human allowed to read sacred Martian texts.
“A Rose for Ecclesiastes” follows the story of Gallinger, and extremely gifted linguist and poet who is part of a human mission studying Mars. Gallinger’s hard work studying the Martian “high language” pays off when he is invited to study their sacred texts in the temple at the Citadel of Tirellian. A true scholar, Gallinger makes the most of his time and documents everything while studying with one of the Martian Matriarchs. That is until he meets Braxa, a beautiful Martian woman who has learned thousands of the ancient ritual dances. Then his brain turns to mush, he gets all emotional and, well… things get “complicated.”
I have dabbled a bit in linguistics and even learned the “high language” on a small island in the Pacific, so I thoroughly enjoyed Zelazny’s descriptions of Gallinger’s language talents. But the coolest part of this story is how the author alludes to widely varied religions and classical literature to make his points and paint a picture of what Gallinger is feeling. Absolutely amazing! This is a great classic SciFi story in and of itself, but if you think culture and language are beautiful subjects that can be molded to create truly amazing works of art, then you’ll definitely want to read this one.
“A Rose for Ecclesiastes” was nominated for the 1964 Hugo Award for Short Fiction. It was also listed at #5 on the 1971 Astounding/Analog All-Time Poll for Short Fiction, and #3 on the 1999 Locus All-Time Poll for novelette.
Braxa was a statue, both hands raised to her face, elbows high and outspread.
The music became a metaphor for fire.
_Crackle, purr, snap…_
She did not move.
The hissing altered to splashes. The cadence slowed. It was water now, the most precious thing in the world, gurgling clear then green over mossy rocks.
Still she did not move.
Glissandos. A pause.
Then, so faint I could hardly be sure at first, the tremble of winds began. Softly, gently, sighing and halting, uncertain. A pause, a sob, then a repetition of the first statement, only louder,
Were my eyes completely bugged from my reading, or was Braxa actually trembling, all over, head to foot?
Where you can find “A Rose for Ecclesiastes”:
• Originally appeared in the November 1963 edition of Fantasy & Science Fiction.
• “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” is included in Roger Zelazny’s book of collected short stories The Doors of His Face, The Lamp of His Mouth.
• It was included in Robert Silverberg’s 1970 anthology The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One: The Greatest Science Fiction Stories of All Time.
• You can read a free online version of “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” at the web site for one of MSU’s students.
You can find a complete list of the publishing history of “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” at the Author Wars website.
Did you know that Roger Zelazny, the author of the popular The Chronicles of Amber series won six Hugo Awards and three Nebula awards? Yep, you can learn more about this science fiction author at Wikipedia.
If you liked this story you may also enjoy The 43 Antarean Dynasties, the Hugo award winning story about an alien tour guide by Mike Resnick.