© Estate of Robert Heinlein, cover art by Paul Lehr.
“Glory Road” was the first novel of Heinlein’s I read that was not aimed at younger readers (his “Juvenile” series, which is anything but juvenile). I actually read it serialized in “Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, where it was graced with two wonderful covers by Ed Emshwiller, both miles better than the one above. Here they are:
I was twelve when I read it, and though I was already a Heinlein fan, this book enshrined the man as one of my favorite authors, and he remains so. It had many elements that appealed to me, not the least of which was a sexy woman who first appears without clothes, and continues to be uninhibited throughout. Though it would take me a few years to get to it, Heinlein was, I think, taking a break from the heavier works like “Stranger in a Strange Land,” one of his most important books, and having some fun with this lighter work that is more of a fantasy adventure story harkening back to pulp novels like those written by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Of course, Heinlein uses that framework to expound on his philosophical ideas, as always, but the main thread of the book is adventure, romance, and action.
E. C. Gordon has just come off a tough Army stint in Southeast Asia, and has managed to get discharged in Europe, where he soon gravitates to the French Riviera, specifically an island where clothing is optional. There he is approached by a stunning beauty who calls him “beautiful,” but leaves without giving a name or abode. E.C. is distracted by the fact that he may have an Irish Sweepstakes ticket worth a lot of money, but soon an advertisement grabs his attention, one that begins, “Are You A Coward?” and promises danger, adventure and rich rewards for the right man. The ad seems almost written for E.C., so he applies, and finds his mystery woman, who E.C. calls Star, is behind it. She whisks him off to a distant planet, along with her assistant Rufo. The three soon embark on a dangerous quest to find an artifact called “The Egg of the Phoenix.” E.C., now calling himself Oscar, is in charge of combat operations, a role he finds he’s pretty good at, though he’s not so good at dealing with the locals on this planet, and his homegrown morals keep getting the three of them in trouble. Together they face many physical threats, from fire-breathing dragons to a being called the “Eater of Souls,” before reaching the object of their quest. What happens afterwards puts the entire adventure into a whole new light, and turns things around in a way that only a master like Heinlein could.
Great book, and I think one that will appeal to anyone who likes adventure stories. This is just at the point in Heinlein’s career before his personal philosophies began to take such a strong role in his work that it puts off some readers who might not like or agree with them. There are plenty of things to provoke thought, but it’s done lightly, and with humor, and doesn’t get in the way of the fun.