Glory Road

by Robert A. Heinlein

Cover image

Publisher: Avon
Copyright: 1963
Printing: March 1966
Format: Mass market
Pages: 288

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Pfc. Gordon, the first-person narrator who later picks the name Oscar, is a Vietnam vet given his discharge after being wounded. He heads for Europe, deciding to try for a degree from a European university paid for by some lottery tickets he won in a poker game. But while living cheaply (and mostly nude, Heinlein's regular obsessions showing in the background) on an island, waiting for lottery drawings, he meets a rather remarkable woman. And after discovering his lottery ticket is a fake, he answers an ad in the paper that seems targetted at him, meets her again, and ends up in a very different world.

The first part of this book is somewhat enjoyable. It doesn't have much of a plot, and it's full of Heinlein's typical off-hand political and social commentary, but it has a breezy, conversational tone that's quite readable. It helps that Oscar is self-deprecating and has a good sense of humor about his life.

Unfortunately, this only lasts until Oscar is taken into another dimension by the horribly attractive female, who he calls Star. He is hired to be a hero, for a great reward at the end of a dangerous mission. He gets led by the nose into various dangers, which he overcomes. Star manages to stay vague about exactly what that mission is, while bantering with Oscar in that annoying Heinlein fashion that reads like some combination of slang, excessive chivalry, jaw-dropping sexism, weird politeness, and exaggerated teasing.

And that's most of the book.

Oh, things happen. Oscar finds ways of defeating various monsters through quick thinking and ingenuity. He runs afoul of local customs by being unwilling to sleep with naked women who are parading themselves in front of him, in a pointed commentary on how dumb it is that Earth customs do not match Heinlein's sexual fantasies. And there is a great deal of annoying love story as Oscar falls for Star (he can't help it; she's declared to be irresistable by the author), subjects her to constant exaggerated compliments, threatens to spank her and treat her like a child, puts her firmly in her place a few times, and otherwise behaves like the typical sexist Heinlein hero. All of which is apparently horribly charming in her culture; either that, or she's so smitten with authorial fiat that she can't figure out he's acting like an abusive twit. As is sadly typical for these sorts of things, any real mutual understanding apparently pales in importance next to being the sort of hero and heroine who fall in love with each other.

But all of that is the standard sort of thing that happens around the plot, and there's basically no plot. They're on a quest to do something, about which Star is excessively coy but which eventually turns out to be stealing the Foozle from the Guarded Tower. (I think it was called something other than Foozle, but it was hard to care.) To the shock of absolutely no one, Oscar succeeds, with sufficient help from Star and her weird servant that one has to wonder what they needed him for. Indeed, it's so painfully obvious that Oscar is the least useful member of this party that even Oscar has to wonder what they needed him for. Upon asking that, he's given a remarkably silly response that doesn't actually answer the question.

After they find the Foozle, the book takes a sharp turn towards interesting for the last eighty pages or so. We finally find out what the hell is behind this adventure and why Star cares about the Foozle (although by "find out" I mean "are smacked upside the head with the Wet Trout of Exposition"). We get a bit more of Heinlein utopian government, which while remarkably impractical does manage to be sarcastic commentary on the governments we have. And we finally get a bit of character development as Oscar discovers some problems with life as an ex-hero. Unfortunately, that character development is rooted heavily in the relationship between Oscar and Star, and realistic relationship turmoil is not one of Heinlein's strong points; it's a battle between interesting and painful and painful mostly wins. But to give him credit, Heinlein does go for a somewhat non-traditional denouement and clumsily pokes at the happily-ever-after ending to see if it holds up.

The beginning and the ending both have the seeds of a good book. But, alas, the middle of Glory Road is page after page of this sort of thing:

"Oscar, by your standards — the way you have been raised — I am a bitch."

"Oh, never! A princess."

"A bitch. But I am not of your country and I was reared by another code. By my standards, and they seem good to me, I am a moral woman. Now... am I still 'your darling?'"

"My darling!"

"My darling Hero. My champion. Lean close and kiss me. If we die, I would my mouth be warm with your lips. The entrance is just around this bend."

"I know."

A few moments later we rode, swords sheathed and bows unstrung, proudly into the target area.

Best used for a drinking game in double entendre; within pages, you'll be blissfully unaware of just how bad the writing is. If you want to read 288 pages of that, by all means, have at it. I have a copy you can have.

Rating: 3 out of 10

Reviewed: 2007-08-05

Last spun 2022-02-06 from thread modified 2013-01-04