Robert A. Heinlein, |
(Putnam, 1963; Berkley, 1983)
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.