Sandy's Reviews > Glory Road

Glory Road by Robert A. Heinlein
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So what does an author do, after writing one of the most beloved science fiction novels of all time and in the process picking up his third out of an eventual four Hugo awards? That was precisely the conundrum that future sci-fi Grand Master Robert Heinlein faced in 1962, after winning the award for "Stranger in a Strange Land," and he responded to the problem by switching gears a bit. His follow-up novel, "Glory Road," was not precisely Heinlein's first fantasy piece--his 1959 novella "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag" had contained a large dollop of very strange fantasy mixed in with its central mystery--but, as far as I can tell, it was his earliest full-length creation in the fantasy vein; one that was itself nominated for a Hugo award, ultimately losing to Clifford D. Simak's charming "Way Station." Initially appearing as a serial in the July - September 1963 issues of "The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction" (which itself copped a Hugo for best magazine in 1963), it was released in hardcover later that year. A lighthearted blend of hard fantasy (the book features 20 different universes, fire-breathing dragons, assorted monsters, giant rats and boars, the use of magic and spells and so on) and rational science (much of the fantastic elements are given pseudoplausible explanations), the book is a pleasing creation that most readers deem a sort of dividing line in the author's work. After this novel, and beginning with 1964's "Farnham's Freehold," Heinlein's right-wing libertarian voice began to obtrude ever more shrilly, in a tone that most people seemingly cannot describe without using the word "hectoring." "Glory Road" does find its author grumbling about the state of the world, in what British sci-fi critic David Pringle has called a "grouchy but amusing auctorial tone," but more restrainedly than later on, and lightened with a good deal of mordant humor.

The novel is told in the first person by a virile young man in his early 20s with the decidedly unmacho handle of Evelyn Cyril Gordon (he understandably prefers the nicknames E.C. and Easy). After being struck in the face with a bolo during the early phases of what the reader presumes to be the Vietnam War, Gordon is discharged and decides to spend some time in Europe before returning to college in the States. On a nudist beach on the Ile du Levant (that's by the French Riviera), he espies a beautiful, naked blonde woman, whom he speaks to briefly. The next day, in Nice, Gordon responds to an ad in "The Herald Tribune" looking for "a brave man...indomitably courageous," for "very high pay, glorious adventure, great danger." He is surprised to learn that the ad had been placed by that very same blonde Amazon, whose name is Star, as it turns out. And before Gordon can even think twice, he and Star's assistant, the diminutive but able-bodied Rufo, are being whisked along with the sorceress to another world, in another universe, as they begin their valiant quest on the "glory road"....

Surprisingly, the actual quest that Gordon engages in is of secondary concern as the tale proceeds. Yes, Gordon must fight the Igli monster and the Horned Ghosts and those dragons and a master swordsman (Heinlein, who had been an accomplished fencer at Annapolis, describes this sword fight brilliantly) and an entity known as the Soul Eater en route to the attainment of his goal--and wisely, we are kept in the dark as the tale proceeds as to just what that goal is (I'll only say that it involves something called the Egg of the Phoenix), ratcheting up curiosity and suspense. But the book's initial section, in which Gordon gives us the mundane details of his history, and the book's entire final third, after the quest is finished and Gordon ponders the fate of the retired hero beside his lady love, might be even more compelling. Along the way, the young man takes the time to rail against modern Earth society as compared to some of the idyllic worlds that he visits. Heinlein, thus, is able to take some digs at the military, the selective service, the economy, taxes, sexual mores, prostitution, nudity, marriage (the book is probably not a good recommendation for the prudish, as the author does not seem to be overly fond of the concept of monogamy), alimony, cocktail parties, street traffic, and on and on. As previously mentioned, though, he leavens this grousing with a good deal of humor, bantering conversations and saucy badinage (I love it when he uses the word "fiddlewinking" instead of, uh, another F word), and the results are quite winning. How amusing it is when Heinlein reveals that he thinks the Irish are the most logical people, and when he tells us the sources of the incubus legend and the "Eye of newt and toe of frog..." recipe in "Macbeth." (There's also the occasional groaner, such as when Gordon puns "Just don't make a hobbit of it.") And speaking of "Macbeth," Heinlein's novel is filled with literary references, from Tennyson and Longfellow quotes to passing comments on Conan the Barbarian, L. Frank Baum, H. Rider Haggard's Umbopa, Sherlock Holmes, and Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom. Despite the fact that he tells us that books put him to sleep, Gordon seems to have consumed an awful lot of fantasy literature for such a young athlete (a possible boo-boo on the author's part). Still, the book is enormously entertaining, a genuine lark, with big laughs to be had amidst the numerous action set pieces. The three central characters are extremely likable, and it is fascinating to discover just who Star is, as we learn about her detailed background. Without giving away too much, let me just say that the woman, gorgeous and athletic blonde that she is, has yet absorbed the knowledge of over 190 deceased men...including, thus, the in-depth knowledge of what men like and desire sexually. Now that's what I call a REAL fantasy!
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Started Reading
September 1, 2013 – Finished Reading
September 25, 2013 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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message 1: by Henry (new)

Henry Avila Terrific review,Sandy.Looks like a very interesting book!Put on my TBR list(To be read).Haven't read the writers books ,for years.Yes, I remember you didn't know what that meant.

Sandy Thanks as always for the kind words, Henry. And, oh...I think my "TBR list" must contain almost 1,000 items at this point!

message 3: by Henry (new)

Henry Avila Wow! I have just 150,,,

Kelly Flanagan great review Sandy. And a hell of a book IMHO.
Glad to see it going on your TBR shelf Henry, it's definitely a book every sci-fi fan should read at least once.

Sandy And thanks to you, too, Kelly, for the kind words! I agree that it is a must-read for all sci-fi AND fantasy fans alike....

Kelly Flanagan True enough! It has to be one of the best cross-genre books I've read, especially from 1964.

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