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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Reader's Guide to "Thunder and Roses" by Theodore Sturgeon

David Drake wrote, "If you were a kid [in the Fifties] who read SF, the feeling of dread [of nuclear war] was all the more acute."

Eric Flint says that this story has "[h]eroism, which has none of the trappings of heroes, and is therefore all the more reliable."


Pete Mawser and Sonny are survivors of one-half of a nuclear war, stuck on a military base, both plagued by thoughts of suicide.  They discover a formerly hidden door that has unlocked due to the high-level of radiation.  They get spooked and leave.  Starr Anthim is a popular singer but gives a performance without being flashy.  She sings the "thunder and roses" of the title:
With thunder I smote the earth
With roses I won the right
With the sea I washed, and with clay I built
And the world was a place of light
Starr says of her song "All that is fresh and clean and strong about Mankind is in that song."  She discusses that it doesn't who bombed them, but that they ought not to retaliate.

Pete Mawser hunts down Starr to interrogate her:  Why is she spreading this message?  A nuclear key to launch the missiles remains and they are looking for it.  However, though she's dying from radiation, she doesn't want a doctor.  She wants him near.

Sonny wants to send the missiles to retaliate, though, and thinks he has found a way\.


  1. What is the significance of the characters names:  Pete (rock) Mawser (maw), Sonny (son? or sunny? yet a fighter), Starr (star) Anthim (anthem)?
  2. Reread the song's stanza.  So thunder is the sound of violence, but what of roses?  It wins the right to do what? to smite or to do what follows?  Why roses?  The outcome in the last line:  Is it good or bad?  How does one arrive at that good?
  3. After being bombed, why shouldn't they retaliate, according to Starr?
  4. Why does Bonze's cot shake?  What did you think at first?  How does the change from your first impression to the reality enhance the theme?
  5. How do Pete and Sonny represent different responses?
  6. Explain why Pete both hits and strokes Sonny's head.

Availability online:

Also available here:
  1. Astounding Nov 1947
  2. Strange Ports of Call, ed. August Derleth, Pellegrini Cudahy 1948
  3. My Best Science Fiction Story, ed. Leo Margulies & Oscar J. Friend, Merlin Press 1949
  4. The Astounding Science Fiction Anthology, ed. John W. Campbell, Jr., Simon & Schuster 1952
  5. The First Astounding Science Fiction Anthology, ed. John W. Campbell, Jr., Grayson 1954
  6. A Way Home, Funk & Wagnalls 1955
  7. A Way Home, Pyramid 1956
  8. Thunder and Roses, Michael Joseph 1957
  9. Astounding Tales of Space and Time, ed. John W. Campbell, Jr., Berkley 1957
  10. The Second Astounding Science Fiction Anthology, ed. John W. Campbell, Jr., Four Square Books 1965
  11. Mind in Chains, ed. Christopher Evans, St. Albans: Panther 1970
  12. The Astounding-Analog Reader, Volume Two, ed. Harry Harrison & Brian W. Aldiss, Doubleday 1973
  13. The Best of Astounding, ed. Anthony R. Lewis, Baronet 1978
  14. The Road to Science Fiction #3, ed. James E. Gunn, Mentor 1979
  15. Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories: 9 (1947), ed. Isaac Asimov & Martin H. Greenberg, DAW 1983
  16. War and Peace (Anthology #6), ed. Stanley Schmidt, Davis 1983
  17. Countdown to Midnight, ed. H. Bruce Franklin, DAW 1984
  18. The Golden Years of Science Fiction: Fifth Series, ed. Isaac Asimov & Martin H. Greenberg, Bonanza 1985
  19. Science Fiction, ed. Patricia S. Warrick, Charles G. Waugh & Martin H. Greenberg, Harper & Row 1988
  20. Nuclear War, ed. Gregory Benford & Martin H. Greenberg, Ace 1988
  21. Thunder and Roses: The Complete Short Stories of Theodore Sturgeon, Vol. 4, North Atlantic Books 1997

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