on March 25, 2004
This one's kind of an odd entry in the Heinlein catalogue, but it's less odd if we recall that he wrote some fantasy/horror stuff in the early 1940s.
Ostensibly it's a sword-and-sorcery adventure/fantasy. But since it was written by Heinlein, it overturns and undoes quite a few of the usual fairy-tale cliches. The ending, for example, exemplifies Heinlein's own non-fairy-tale take on what really constitutes living 'happily ever after'.
The Hero is one Evelyn Cyril 'E.C.' (and eventually 'Oscar') Gordon, a veteran of a long and unpopular war in Vietnam. (Major prognostication success here: remember, Heinlein published this in _1962_. And the Heinlein who had devoted _Starship Troopers_ to exploring 'why men fight' manages to deal pretty sympathetically here with the corollary question of why some don't.) Gordon hooks up with a Heroine -- Star, Empress of the Twenty Universes, who needs some help recovering the Egg of the Phoenix.
Heinlein gets to show off his swordsmanship a bit (like David Lamb, 'The Man Who Was Too Lazy to Fail', he was a champion swordsman at the naval academy). He also gets to have a little fun with a monster or two.
And -- it wouldn't be Heinlein without this part -- he takes the reader on a guided tour of some cultures whose mores differ from those of Middle America, by way of illustrating that (most) morals are _customs_ relative to time, place, and social milieu.
Well, it's a pretty enjoyable romp through a world of fantasy, and there's enough of Heinlein's signature on it to keep it interesting even for those of us who aren't into the dungeons-and-dragons stuff. But _Lord of the Rings_ it ain't, and this sort of thing is definitely not Heinlein's strength.
Readable, pleasant, diverting, and fun, and it's right on the money in its exploration of the _sense of adventure_. Nothing really groundbreaking, though, and it's interesting mainly because it's Heinlein.
on September 4, 2003
Glory Road is quite different from what you might expect of a novel by Robert Heinlein. More of a fantasy adventure than science fiction, it seems to me that Heinlein was very much in a transitional phase while writing this book. Well, this experiment can be considered a great success and Glory Road is a fascinating adventure well worth your time.
The story is told in first-person narrative by Evelyn Cyril(E.C.)Gordon, a recently discharged American soldier. Since his discharge(which he considers to be an opportunity to see the rest of the world) E.C. has been bumming around Europe and enjoying a nice laid-back and easy lifestyle. Only one problem: money is starting to run low. One morning while drinking a café in Nice, he spots an ad in the classifieds for a job that he feels fits him to a tee. Once he goes to the interview, he realizes the job entails much more than he bargains for.
Basically, his mission is to travel to a distant planet, capture a lost egg that was stolen from the planet "central" and return it safely to its rightful owners. Along the way, E.C. and his two travel mates encounter swordsmen, Tyrannasauruses, giants, sea creatures and a wide range of other obstacles.
One thing I found took that took getting used to is Heinlein's writing style. I found it to be very short-phrased and all over the place. I came pretty close to putting the book down and dismissing it as experimental garbage after the first chapter but I'm glad I stuck it through. Heinlein also injects a huge amount of his philosophies on politics, capitalism, society that are often amusing if somewhat questionable. I got the impression reading this book and Starship Troopers that Heinlein veers waaaay, waaaay to the right.
This is a very wild and very unique adventure that Heinlein gives us. It reads fast and is always entertaining(except for the first chapter that is). Glory Road is definitely a road worth taking.
Glory Road followed closely on the heels of Stranger in a Strange Land, but it is a much different book. Written in 1962, this is Heinlein’s only full-fledged fantasy novel, and that in itself makes it an interesting read. Heinlein was definitely writing for an adult audience by this point in his career, and he boasted that this novel had enough sex in it to cause heart failure among those who had complained about Stranger. By today’s standards, the adult relationships included here are barely noticeable, implied certainly but never described at all.
E.C. Gordon is hanging around Europe, having received both a medical discharge and facial scar from fighting in a “non-war” in Southeast Asia, when he encounters a stunning young woman on the beaches of France. Thinking he has won a sweepstakes he reluctantly rushes out of town, fearing that in doing so he has blown his one and only chance with the girl of his dreams. His winning ticket proves a forgery, and he decides to answer a personal ad asking “Are you a coward?” To his surprise, he encounters his lady from the beach and soon finds himself transported to another universe. Dubbed “Oscar” by “the princess” Star, he assumes the role of hero, aiding the mysterious woman on an extremely urgent quest that promises lots of adventure and even more danger. With Star’s assistant Rufo, the group journeys through the portals of several universes, killing dangerous beasts that get in their way, in a quest to claim the Egg of the Phoenix. Oscar settles in to his new role, and the adventure proves to be most interesting, especially when he finally learns what the whole thing is all about.
Somewhat to my surprise, the novel could almost be said to end two-thirds of the way through, but fortunately it does not (despite the request of at least one editor that it do so). The rest of the novel is much different but is no less satisfying. In these pages, Heinlein incorporates some of his normal philosophizing about life, society, politics, etc. More importantly, it is only here that the real story of what has gone on before is brought to light, and the depth added to the characters in these concluding chapters makes Glory Road much more satisfying than it would be had the story stopped at the end of the adventure itself. This is not the Heinlein most readers will expect, and some fans will doubtless count this novel among Heinlein’s least enjoyable works. I personally found it stimulating and great fun. Heinlein sort of shows us another side of his personality in this atypical offering, and with it he offers even more proof, unnecessary as it is, that he is an amazingly gifted writer.
on November 6, 2002
I read this book simply because it was by Robert Heinlein, and based on many of the reviews here I was expecting a lighthearted adventure tale with some romance thrown in. I got more than I expected. Heinlein is a master of the human mind, and the inner strugles of his charachters are the real story in this book, the unusual settings simply give a better way to portray these inner struggles, and demonstrate better the differences in interaction between cultures. This is a book about love, finding yourself, then dealing with love and your true self without sacrificing either. It's about friends, culture, and social constraints.
Not to say the adventure in the story is weak, of course not! This is a fun adventure, starting light-hearted, but quickly becoming intense when Oscar, Star, and Rufo are on thier way.
This book also breaks the norm of finishing the book off quickly after the danger has been averted, the damsel no longer distressed. In real life you don't have 'happily ever after' endings, and this book filled a gap I almost always feel after reading a good book..."What happens now?"...for some reason, the typical ending just doesn't cut it for me. This book left on an unexpected, but good note. A different, and very good book.
on June 13, 2002
I wish that I could have given "Glory Road" a better rating but to tell you the truth, I thought that it was terrible. I felt that the whole book in general had no purpose and it did not entertain on any level. The story is a bout Vietnam veteran Oscar who meets a gorgeous woman on a French island. He finds an ad in the paper and goes in to see if he can get the job that is being offered. It ends up that the woman that he met put out the ad and she wants him. He is hired as a hero to go on an adventure to find the Egg of the Phoenix. Sure, the plot sounds promising, but put simply, it's not.
This book has many flaws. You have no clue about the adventure and why Oscar is being dragged to other planets until you are around halfway through the novel. Sure, you want to know what everything's about, but Robert Heinlein just lest everything drag on for way too long and you will become very bored with the book. Less than 100 pages into the book I wanted to stop right there but I kept going thinking that it would get much better. It didn't. As the book moved on, the plot got even more pointless and it got to a point where you wonder why you are reading this piece of drivel.
The characters are one-sided and you won't even care about them. The characters are boring and not even worth reading about. The quest that Oscar, Star, and Rufo (you'll learn about him after the quest is done) seems so pointless. All the characters do is fight monsters and dragons and get in trouble with a lord. This could have been a lot of fun but Heinlein just was not writing as to keep you interested. You do not even find out what the whole plot is about until you are over 100 pages into the book and then after the quest you find out about the signifigance of the egg.
I guess that I am going to have to read more Heinlein to really enjoy his works. "Glory Road" does have it's rare, good moments and that's why I gave the book 2 stars. This novel is flawed and has no depth, making for a painful and boring read. I really do not recommend this book to any reader; there's a lot better stuff out there.
on June 7, 2002
Heinlein did not write very many fantasy works, but when he did, the result was usually a rather different and fun romp. Glory Road is probably his best work in this genre, and it makes most other sword-and-sorcery stories pale in comparison.
Oscar, our hero, is a Vietnam veteran idling away his time on the Isle du Levant, a small island off the coast of France known for its lack of haute couture (or clothing of any style), when his eye is caught by the most beautiful woman he has ever seen, sleekly muscled and with regal bearing. When she offers him a job with 'great adventure and great risk' he blindly accepts, little realizing just what an incredible jaunt he has let himself in for. A journey that will travel through some of the 20 universes that Star is Empress of, on a quest to retrieve the stolen Great Egg. Along the way you will be treated to a sword/bow and arrow fight with a very real set of dragons (with a rather amusing fight strategy), a hand to hand fight with a very dirty (and smelly) giant, pentagrams and spells for magical flight. All of the incidents along this trip are treated with a fair dollop of humor and satire (and at least a partial parody of other sword & sorcery epics such as Conan the Barbarian), while at the same time Heinlein manages to present some pseudo-scientific explanations for the 'magical' incidents, something he did in just about all of his fantasy works, so that it is somewhat problematic to call this a 'fantasy'.
The climatic sword battle with the 'Eater of Souls' is very different from the standard hack-and-slash portrayal of sword fights in all too many movies and novels. Heinlein was a member of the fencing team during his time at Annapolis (for some possible reasons for why he took up this sport, see the "Lazy Man" portion of Time Enough for Love), and this experience and knowledge is directly transposed to the battle descriptions of this book, making for a very fascinating and exciting read.
But there is more to this book than just a fun trip down the yellow brick road of swash-buckling heroes and dragons. Oscar is not your typical mighty-thewed simple-minded adventurer, but is rather a man who thinks about his actions, who has a strong sense of moral responsibility, who can (at least intellectually) comprehend that customs change with different cultures, a true hero who understands the need for noblesse oblige. Nor is Star a simpering damsel-in-distress, but rather a hard, practical, self-reliant, intelligent and rather commanding woman. The interaction between these two strong characters forms the starting point for Heinlein's exploration of how relations between the sexes is defined by cultural biases and expectations, the individual's own sense of self-worth, the ability to communicate and compromise, and the problems that married couples face. This philosophical type of discourse occupies a good portion of the last third of the novel, and may not seem at first glance to be well integrated with the first two-third's emphasis on action. But on reflection, the last third forms the completion of the thematic structure of the work, whose groundwork is well laid in the first portion, and provides a level of meaning that is not common in fantasy works.
Of course, this being a Heinlein novel, expect to find some sharp remarks about the IRS and taxes, how to fight (and not fight) a war, status symbols, horse racing and lotteries, laws about carrying greater than six inch blades in public, veteran's benefits, Congressional methods of making laws, the bizarre workings of military organizations, the relative strengths and weaknesses of democracy versus monarchies and feudal structures, and under-the-table tactics for motivating an individual. As always, Heinlein will make you think about and question your own opinions and assumptions on these things, even if you don't agree with his expressed viewpoint, as he always makes his viewpoint at least sound logical and correct.
Read this one for the fun and humor. Then let it soak in and expand your sense of the possible, the correct, the moral, and the reason for living.
on February 25, 2002
This book is Heinlein's fantasy novel, and on the level of pure adventure, it works. Oscar, the hero, is a Vietnam (?) vet who meets a woman, Star, on a beach in France. It turns out Star is on a quest throughout the "20 universes" to get the "Egg of the Phoenix" from the baddies who stole it from her. The treasure item is a McGuffin, of course; the point of the story is the journey and the adventure that develops. Our heroes have to make this journey across a few different planets, linked by stargates, and must battle monsters and foreign social customs along the way.
As a pure adventure, the story works. Some plot devices are contrived (they must use bows and arrows on one world because firearms are illegal, but if they are killing all the creatures they meet, why does it matter?), but the sword and bow-play is fun and exciting. Unfortunately, the dialogue is so clumsy that if spoken, it would cause the listener to cringe. In addition, pages at a time are devoted to pointless dialogue or illogical explanations. Especially bad is the interaction between the hero and the woman - without divulging any secrets, she has a high position in her planet's hierarchy, yet she meekly submits herself to the hero, apparently because he's the man (this is only noteworthy because Heinlein seems to go out of the way to be "feminist"). Finally, the last 80 pages or so drag out rather pointlessly and should have been cut in favour of "and they lived happily ever after."
Overall, the problem is that this is one of Heinlein's juvenile novels in plot and dialogue, but can't be marketed as such because there's too much talk about sex. The author goes off on tangents in social commentary, but they are shallow and severely dated, without the same insightfulness of Starship Troopers or Stranger in a Strange Land. Therefore, as a juvenile novel, packaged as a pure adventure story, the book would have rated 4/5. As an adult novel with the clumsy social commentary thrown in, it drops to 2/5.
on January 10, 2002
I've read a handful of Heinlein's novels, and I'll probably read a couple more. They're pretty easily identified -- his distinctive voice is usually detectable by the second sentence, no matter whether the point of view is that of a 14-year-old Boy Scout colonizing a Jovian moon, or that of a veteran courier for an intergalactic intelligence agency. Here, that voice seems to have found an interesting, and unusually appropriate, speaker in the form of a twenty-something American soldier coming off a nasty bayonet wound that ended his tour of duty in Vietnam.
Finding himself wandered into France, our man is recruited by a stunning nudist for some light mercenary work. Transported to a fantastic locale, our hero is rechristened "Oscar" while his new employer accepts the name "Star." Suddenly, the light mercenary work is morphed into an intergalactic treasure quest.
The consequence of Heinlein throwing his voice so clearly into his protagonists is that they often end up seeming like slightly distorted versions of himself. It doesn't always work so well, making certain characters unbelievable, but it's almost perfect for Oscar, giving the character the right attitude as he takes on increasingly grueling physical, mental and emotional challenges as the book progresses. Star's a pretty good creation, a puzzlebox of a woman with so many layers and secrets that it will take more than Oscar's adaptability to handle her.
Not surprisingly, the Quest is just a sideshow, giving Heinlein a chance to explore sexual mores, the relationship between power and knowledge, and, of course, the absurdities of the American tax code. The novel drifts a bit at the end, but Heinlein uses the space to make few final satisfying points about the value of an adventurous personality. Clearly, this is a good novel to introduce yourself to a most unique writer.
on August 11, 2001
The cover proclaims this as one of "The best SF novels of all time!" and well they're very much entitled to their opinion I think they're way off the mark here. Not only is this far from Heinlein's best book, it doesn't even have a prayer of cracking the top ten. Is it bad? No, it's far from his worst, the master is clearly trying here and when he starts it's very promising. Told in the typical first person of a slightly jaded soldier looking for some meaning and purpose to his life, he answers a random personals ad and winds up getting whisked away by a gorgeous woman and her servant. At first Heinlein seems to be setting up a parody of heroic fantasy from a skewed SF perspective, the narration seems almost tongue in cheek and the events are so absurd that it's great fun. Unfortunately he forgot to provide any depth. Other than the main character, he mostly stumbles from situation to situation like a blind man, everyone else is about as thin as the paper the book is printed on. The "Amazon" Star uses the word "darling" at least once every sentence and is so one note that it she must represent someone's fantasy (maybe not Heinlein's) since her unwavering devotion gets tedious real early on and then doesn't let up. The quest is just as bad, with no apparent goal it's three people walking through a random forest and killing things without any reason to it. At least the quest ends before the book is over but then any momentum that has been garnered now dissolves as the true nature of Star is revealed and Heinlein switches to Preacher mode, turning the already cardboard characters into mouthpieces for a glorified libertarian lecture (which can be done in an entertaining fashion, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress being a good example) . . . it also nicely showcases another fantasy, where women can throw themselves at a man and your wife not only doesn't care that you were tempted but tells you to basically go ahead and maybe even yells at you for not taking the poor girl up on the offer (while vowing to remain forever true to you . . .). If you can get past all of this (and I did, after a fashion) you'll have a good time just enjoying the ride, the narration is swift and very funny, it alone probably saves the book when Heinlein exhausts his ideas early on. Needless to say not the first, the third or the fifth choice to start with but once you've gotten used to Heinlein, it's not so bad, really. But I had to get that off my chest. It's also my last Heinlein review, so whoo-ho! It's been fun and at least try all his books, just about every one offers something for your time. Just remember to not take it all too seriously.
on May 5, 2001
This book came at a time in Heinlien's career where he was probably frustrated and at least fed up with haggling with editors and censors over his previous two books (Stranger In A Strange Land and Podkayne of Mars) and he probably wrote this entertaining romp just for fun. Although this book IS fantasy, it's not of the usual Tolkien or sword-and-sorcery variety, it is definately done in RAH's style, with his usual witty first-person commentary and hobby horses. However, this book is obviously different in various ways. It is very fast-paced (except for some slowdown towards the end) and is enjoyable to read. Unlike previous books such as, say, Starship Troopers and Stranger, or future books like The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, Heinlein wasn't really writing this book with a message, it does what books are supposed to do: entertain. Thus, it doesn't leave as profound an impression on you or have you start questioning your ways like some of his more complex works, but Glory Road is nevertheless a very good and enjoyable read.