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Glory Road
Robert A. Heinlein
Tor, 319 pages

Glory Road
Robert A. Heinlein
Robert Anson Heinlein was born in 1907 in Butler, Missouri, moving shortly thereafter to Kansas City, Missouri. He grew up there and spent summers in Butler. He graduated from Central High School in Kansas City in 1924 and attended a year of college at Kansas City Community College. Heinlein entered the Naval Academy in 1925 and was commissioned in 1929, serving on a variety of ships. He studied advanced engineering and mathematics at UCLA as well as architecture. In April 1939, he wrote "Life-Line" in 4 days and sent it to John W. Campbell at Astounding Science Fiction. In late 1948, he married Virginia Doris Gerstenfeld, who remained his assistant and close companion until his death in 1988 due to a combination of emphysema and related health problems that had plagued him during the last years of his life.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: For Us, the Living
SF Site Review: The Door Into Summer
SF Site Review: Orphans of the Sky

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Peter D. Tillman

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Glory Road has long been one of my two favorite Robert A. Heinlein novels. I cheerfully volunteered to review this new edition. Well, there's always a risk in revisiting an old favorite, especially for a critical reading....

I did enjoy Samuel R. Delany's graceful and affectionate afterword. (Caution: possible SPOILERS. Regisration or Amazon account required). Delany's plot-summary is masterful:

"Young Galahad (aka EC Gordon) is pricking o'er the plaine of life when, on the Ile du Levant, he runs into She Who Must Be Obeyed and her grandson, Alberich cum Sancho Panza, all three of whom then journey down the Yellow Brick Road until, after a bit of hedonistic horseplay and a variety of dragon slaying, they are to the Dark Tower come..."
Delany even figures out that the Mystery Swordsman was none other than Cyrano de Bergerac! Cool.

And Heinlein is careful to give sfnal explanations1 for all these magical shenanigans. What's more, he continues the story after the Quest is Won, to see what happens to a Hero whose dreams have all come true.... Hint: it ain't pretty. Heinlein's prose in Glory Road is as clear as crystal, a joy to read. So there's still a lot to like here.

What I didn't like, this time, were the dumb, outdated sex-role attitudes of the characters -- I mean, here's Her Wisdom, Empress of the Twenty Universes, endlessly simpering over 'Scar' Gordon, hick from the sticks. He is a Hero, and a hunk, but give me a break. And the constant condescension of the Galactics for us poor old Earth humans is both silly and wearing.

So I just didn't have that much fun rereading Glory Road this time, guys. The book felt dated, and silly, and tired. There's a lot more windy pontificating on Heinlein's hobby horses than I remembered, and the whole novel has a makeshift, ramshackle feel to it. Sigh.

Anyway, I'm kinda sorry I signed up to do this review. Another hazy golden memory of youth, slain by critical rereading.

So -- should you read Glory Road, if you never have? I may not be the best one to ask. The problem is, I've read the book at least a half-dozen times in the 40 years since it was published. I used to love this book. It's been a reliable comfort-read for decades, but I'd never read it in analytical, review-writer mode. And it just didn't hold up to that.

Glory Road has been accumulating praise -- and brickbats -- since it was first published, forty years ago. And it can still stir up controversy. I posted an early draft of this (mildly negative, in my opinion) review to an online Heinlein newsgroup and was furiously attacked to the point that the President of the Heinlein Society emailed my editor at SF Site demanding that he not publish this review! "It is puerile, shows evident lack of critical analysis and knowledge of a classic work," yadda, yadda. That's right, folks -- Banned by the Heinlein Society! Question Authority! Free Speech Now!

That's a lot of heat for a 40 year old pulp-adventure novel, written (to paraphrase its author) to compete for Joe's beer money. For better or worse, Heinlein's influence on SF has been massive. For pure escapist reading, you could do a whole lot worse than Glory Road. Especially if you are a horny young male.... Older readers, however, may want to hold on to the illusions of youth, and pass up the reread.

I found three substantial critical reviews of Glory Road online -- which is three more than you'd find for 98% of the bestselling novels of 40 years ago. The most recent is an interesting review-essay by Jonathan Strahan, a sharp young Australian editor, which is spoiler-free:

"Honestly, as much as I loved it when I was young, and as much as I've admired Heinlein all these years, it's hard to see Glory Road as being anything other than one for the history books."2
Novelist and critic Alexei Panshin has an interesting, near-contemporaneous review [scroll down; possible minor SPOILERS]. He didn't much care for it (which was a pretty common reaction among fans at the time):
"[Glory Road] spends the bulk of its energy on conversation about the relativity of customs, the second-rate nature of sex as practiced on this planet (Earthmen are Lousy Lovers) [etc.]... The sword-and-sorcery fantasy merely comes as an interlude in the conversation, as though clowns were to pummel each other with bladders as an entr'acte on Meet the Press."3
Delany's 1979 afterword is the most sympathetic:
"The ease and energy about Glory Road suggest an author in a pleasant state vis-a-vis his own creative power... It is a voice that carries a high degree of joyous abandon... "Look!" it seems to say, if not sing. "This is no more serious than a feather, nor will it ever be!" Wonderfully written and insightful stuff -- though I do wonder what the present-day Delany would write, if he were to reread the book now.
Here is Prof. Delany's essay, written for an earlier reprint of Glory Road [Notes: caution: possible SPOILERS and registration required. There are mMultiple URLs because of Amazon's 3-page limit for excerpts.]

1 OK, so they aren't exactly hard-SF explanations. Sort of magical-SF, come to think of it. [grin]

2 The President of the Heinlein Society summarily rejects Mr. Strahan's opinions, because "he's barely forty years old, and wasn't even born when Glory Road was written. His undergraduate degree was in economics and history, not literature..." That's right, folks: He's not qualified to review Glory Road because he's not old enough! And he doesn't have a degree in literature!!

3 Ol' Alexei made a better prediction than he thought for early 21st-century TV news style. [grin]

I also found out that Panshin's criticism is considered beyond the pale by the Heinlein true believers. There's a reason that "fan" is short for "fanatic"....

Copyright © 2005 Peter D. Tillman

Pete Tillman has been reading SF for better than 40 years now. He reviews SF -- and other books -- for Amazon, Infinity-Plus, SF Site, and others. He's a mineral exploration geologist based in Arizona. Google "Peter D. Tillman" +review for many more of Pete's reviews.


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