Bradley's Reviews > Glory Road

Glory Road by Robert A. Heinlein
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Re-reading my least favorite of Heinlein's works, because who knows? Maybe an older eye can shed some light upon this most shameful of tales rife with sexism, unabashed fantastical thinking (that works because this is a fantasy), or the fact that there *might* be a good reason why Heinlein only wrote one fantasy novel.

Results of my analysis are pretty much the same as when I was a kid. Odd, that. I mean, sure, there's the fighting of dragons and lots of really cool swordplay, geometrical magical symbols and magic flying everywhere, and adventure, adventure, adventure, and while none of that is particularly noteworthy in a world literally overwhelmed with such things, there is a certain odd quirk to this novel that at once feels way out of place for a fantasy novel and later how it becomes almost the entire focus.

It's a book about relationships.

Not heroism, guts, luck, or doing one's manly duty.

It's about getting in the girl's pants, discovering that she's playing him for the same reason, marrying her because of a sense of "that's what men do", learning she's a galactic empress in a high-tech interstellar kingdom, learning he's filthy rich, and then, even though he's "wildly in love" with her, gets bored within months and drops her to go back to earth and act like a screwed-up war vet, all the while obsessing over her, the fact that he'd just given up high-tech immortality and endless wealth, and he dropped her all because she's freaking old, too, and it doesn't even matter if she looks like she's in her early 20's and she's an empress that has been ruling for a long time. He's upset because she went out to sow her wild oats, and he was the result.

Wild sexism is rampant throughout this novel. Absolutely. All on his part. He's pretty much the perfect example of "do as I say not as I do" idiocy that men tell each other about the women in their lives, and because this is a poor fantasy because it is just as fantastical to see this dipshit as a lady's man that all the chicks flock to, it IS a condemnation of such thinking, too.

I mean, I think I'd have preferred to have read the book from Star's PoV, not Scar's. After all, she's out there playing the game and even offering this dipshit not just the world but her wonderful self, endless wealth, immortality, and the respect of a whole empire for the heroic deeds that he (and she) accomplished. She played the game as only a smart and sexy woman of 1964 could play it, hamming it up for the benefit of the idiot male and giving him what he expected at every turn. All she really wanted was fun and companionship and a bit of love. She'd already had three children and 50 born ex-vitro. She has experience, she's smart, and she's bored.

It's just a shame that we had to follow along with this asshole, instead. If the novel had been written the way that Heinlein had written Maureen from Sail Beyond the Sunset, this novel would probably be a long-enduring classic. But it wasn't.

I did like the full synthesis of other-universal conditions that changed the laws where certain tech isn't feasible but magic is. This makes the novel Science-Fantasy rather than standard SF, but I have no problems with it. It was nominated for the Hugo in '64 and Way Station won instead. That was a smart move. Way Station was awesome. :)

I knocked off a star from my original review for all the reasons listed. It may be unfair to judge a work that is of its times this way, kind of like judging the men in Mad Men in the early 60's for their behavior by our standards, but it is what it is. *shrug*

Let's see how some of my better-beloved Heinleins will hold up! :)
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Reading Progress

March 25, 2013 – Shelved
March 27, 2013 – Shelved as: sci-fi
July 30, 2016 – Started Reading
July 30, 2016 – Shelved as: fantasy
July 30, 2016 – Finished Reading
December 31, 2016 – Shelved as: 2016-shelf

Comments Showing 1-31 of 31 (31 new)

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message 1: by Stuart (new)

Stuart I think Heinlein needed someone to call him out when he strayed too far into solipsistic la-la land, but he was such a genre institution by that point that nobody had the guts to do it. For me, his last tolerable book was The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, but even that one was more soapbox diatribe about his perfect world of manly men, sexy, smart and submissive women, and libertarian fantasy, but at least it had his trademark humor and snarkiness.

Bradley Oh lol without his trademark humor and snarkiness, he'd never have gotten this popular to begin with! :)

I don't really mind most of his soapbox diatribes. He's called the Dean for a reason. :) I DO sometimes get annoyed by all the civic duty stuff and the submissiveness stuff, but other than that, he's a great man for ideas and clear and interesting prose, even in his later works.. or maybe his later works are even more idea-laden, which is why he was so willing to buck social conventions, maybe? idk. There's a reason why he's so controversial. Then again, James Joyce was seriously controversial, too.

message 3: by Stuart (new)

Stuart I do respect Heinlein for always championing his ideas regardless of the times and sticking to his agenda, but the later books seem to have given up on the story-telling of his shorter, earlier books. I still prefer classics like Double Star and Door Into Summer, though I haven't read as many of his books as you.

I agree that the SF community was enriched by larger-than-life personalities like Heinlein, as well as people like Harlan Ellison. Can't all be mild-mannered scientific types, after all.

Bradley Well, he was a dirty old man in his novels, but I think most of that was all a reflection of what he felt for his wife, Virginia. :) And no, they can't all be as boring as Clarke.

Oh wait.. I didn't just go there, did I? ;) It helps that I began my lifelong love of SF because of Heinlein, I suppose, which is why I am an apologist for him. :) And I disagree about his giving up on his storytelling in the later novels. To Sail Beyond the Sunset was pretty brilliant and tear-worthy, and that wasn't just because it was published after his death. I'm not saying that ALL of his later novels are brilliant, mind you, just that he didn't give up on telling good stories. :)

message 5: by Lyn (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lyn Wild sexism! Woooooo! Ha! Another great review

message 6: by Stuart (new)

Stuart Ouch, you did go there :-) I was thinking the same thing - Heinlein had more chutzpah than the next ten writers combined. I always liked Clarke's books (but not Asimov's, which I've never been impressed by), but I'd rather spend an hour at a party with Heinlein than the other two.

message 7: by Lyn (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lyn An hour at a party with Bob, now there is a thought!

Bradley Lol an hour at a party with Bob, Yes! Of course, we'd all be listening to the pained cries of all the women that passed within bottom-slapping distance, but it would still be worth it, especially when he'd get that huge grin on his face when one of the women slapped him back. :)

He has a great sense of humor, and I think that's what the other great authors lacked. :) I also think that's what a lot of modern SF is lacking, too, while fantasy is still on fire with all it's UF Snark. Where's our Douglas Adams? Where's our Harry Harrison? Alas. :)

message 9: by Paul (new)

Paul E. Morph This is a Heinlein novel I've not read. Great review, Brad.

Bradley :) Thanks :)

message 11: by Trish (new)

Trish Ugh. *puts this on the never-to-read list*

message 12: by Lyn (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lyn Brad wrote: "Lol an hour at a party with Bob, Yes! Of course, we'd all be listening to the pained cries of all the women that passed within bottom-slapping distance, but it would still be worth it, especially w..."

Great points, Brad, you think too many modern writers take themselves too seriously? I always liked the line Heinlein was supposed to have used upon getting his first check, for his first published story Life-Line: what kind of racket is this? And that his days of doing honest work were over.

Bradley lol I loved the entire Grumbles from the Grave, too. He was an amazing man for all his faults. I still quote from him.

Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.

Writing is fine as long as you do it in private and wash your hands afterward.

Never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity.

The art of writing is staring at a blank sheet of paper until blood droplets form on your brow.

(of course, I could be mangling any or all of these or misattributing them, but fuck it, it's the idea that counts and it fits him perfectly. :)

Bradley And Trish, don't blame you. Won't recommend it. It's still my least favorite Heinlein, too. :)

message 15: by Trish (new)

Trish Well, even if you did blame me, I wouldn't care. ;P
If there's one thing I'll never stand for, it's sexism or rape-at-knifepoint or any similar stuff.

message 16: by Lyn (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lyn I'm going to try and start Grumbles this week

Bradley Trish: you must realize that Heinlein was against sexism, but he did it against the time and place he lived in, so there's a lot of "normal" sexism throughout it. Every single woman in his works was a statement against the bullshit. There was never rape in his books, at least not from the good guys, and the backlash against rape was always pretty much a firing squad, which I approve. :)

Lyn: I hope you don't mind lots and lots of personal letters to colleagues, because that's all it is, but because it's Heinlein, it's very emotional. :)

message 18: by Trish (new)

Trish Brad wrote: "...and the backlash against rape was always pretty much a firing squad, which I approve..."

Well, a firing squad is never a bad idea. ;)

Bradley I wonder how many presidents of the united states would apply for the job if the end of service ended with one, every time?

message 20: by Trish (new)

Trish Bwahahahahaha! That is one way of taking care of certain political problems. ;)

LindaJ^ Heinlein, like JFK, remains a favorite for me, despite their many gender faults. The world has changed much since their glory days. I find it hard to give up my childhood heroes, despite how I now view them or their work!

Bradley When we still lack the spark that made these guys great, we always return to them despite their faults. Or maybe we love them more and defend them stronger Because of their faults. They were very brave. :)

Rachel Karns The sexism bothered me a lot too! I am glad to not be alone in similar thought.

Bradley Nope, not alone, but to be fair, it was kinda expected back then. Like, across the board. I'm rather glad for the changes time has brought us, but unfortunately, it's far, far from universal. ; ;

Brent I would brush off the casual (and not so casual) sexism in the book at “the times”, except that
a) it is present in every book he wrote from the 1940s through the 1980s
b) it does not appear (or at least not as blatantly) in the works of many of his contemporaries in the genres (Lewis, Bradbury, Clarke, Asimov, for instance).

Brent *as

Bradley To be fair, Heinlein was also working his fiction into that same sexism discussion and he fought against it in a number of interesting ways. You can look at what he actually DID, however, and find a huge variety of solutions to our social ills. It's not just his red-headed wife repeated over and over.

Look at the culture he came from and lived through and then tell me he wasn't bucking the system. He became an icon for the sixties and seventies for BOTH militarism, social duty, AND sexual freedom and religious freedom.

It's not so easy to pigeonhole the writer unless you're just repeating what all the haters repeat. It's very easy to dismiss someone who doesn't share your current values.

When I re-read Heinlein now, I compare him to the blatant sexism rife through the 70's and 80's contemporary popular writers and he comes out downright MILD, progressive, and a lover of intelligent women above EVERYTHING else.

Those other writers you mention DID NOT bother themselves with the same topics. I've read the majority of each of them, if not everything by them. Lewis focused on religion, Bradbury on everyday life, Clarke on transcendent Big Ideas, and Asimov on Science, Mystery, and Logic. (Yes, I'm simplifying greatly.) But in each writer I saw a lot of sexism. The girls weren't allowed to fight in Lewis, Bradbury didn't have any convincing women, Clarke never much bothered with anything controversial, and Asimov has TONS of sexism that is usually buried beneath alloys or alien flesh. Just because the ideas are at one-remove doesn't mean we can't pick them out at a glance.)

At least Heinlein was brave enough to tackle them even if WE now find them weird. The man himself was very thoughtful, kind, and generous.

message 28: by Trish (new)

Trish I don't know about "every book he wrote from the 1940s through the 1980s" but I read Starship Troopers and couldn't find any sexism. *shrugs*

Bradley lol

message 30: by Trish (new)

Trish Bradley wrote: "and Asimov has TONS of sexism that is usually buried beneath alloys or alien flesh"

Oh yes, especially in the Foundation books. *sighs*
I wouldn't say "generous" because that implies a man's generosity is what allows women to have nice representation in books, which isn't what you meant, I know that, but that he was working on quite a big board, not limiting himself (neither in plot nor in characterizations).

Bradley You're right. And I meant by generous: his own expression of love in the best way he meant it. He didn't stint his love. It may not be everyone's idea of what they might want for themselves, but he was very generous in giving the best part of himself to the women in the books he wrote.

I mean, he LOVED Ginny to freaking death. So much so that 20 years of novels read like a love letter to his wife. :) She certainly didn't have a problem with A: nudity, B: being adored, C: expressing herself with blistering intelligence. And Heinlein gloried in every part of it. :) I thought it was charming as hell.

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