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Literature / Glory Road

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That cover is both entirely accurate and grossly misleading.
ARE YOU A COWARD? This is not for you. We badly need a brave man. He must be 23 to 25 years old, in perfect health, at least six feet tall, weigh about 190 pounds, fluent English with some French, proficient with all weapons, some knowledge of engineering and mathematics essential, willing to travel, no family or emotional ties, indomitably courageous and handsome of face and figure. Permanent employment, very high pay, glorious adventure, great danger. You must apply in person...

Glory Road is a Science Fiction novel written by Robert A. Heinlein and published in 1963, originally in serial form. It is a Reconstruction of the standard pulp adventure novels of the era.

The Hero, Oscar Gordon, is a dashing ne'er-do-well who gets through life mainly by figuring out creative ways to avoid any real responsibility, while practicing such esoteric arts as swordsmanship. The Damsel in Distress, Star, is in reality an Empress, who is seeking out Oscar because a very sophisticated computer analysis determined him to have precisely those qualities needed to rescue the Egg of the Phoenix, a device containing all the accumulated wisdom of millennia of Emperors and vital to ruling the Twenty Universes. She is accompanied by a shifty fellow by the name of Rufo who seemingly embodies all the dirty fighting tricks known to mankind.


Together they embark on a swashbuckling romp to confront the thief, in which all of Oscar's qualities come into play. After an exceedingly narrow victory, the triumphant hero travels to Star's planet where he marries her and becomes her consort, with all the riches and knowledge of the Twenty Universes at his command. Then he discovers that he's completely unsuited to this life and is far happier out on the Glory Road having adventures.

Not to be confused with another science fiction novel, Alan Dean Foster's Glory Lane.


This novel provides examples of:

  • Achievements in Ignorance: Oscar, knowing nothing of hypergeometry, somehow manages to feed Igli to himself, thereby killing the unkillable construct. He is complimented on this by Star and Rufo.
  • The Ageless: Star is described in this fashion when Oscar first sees her and finds it difficult to place her exact age. It turns out to be a pretty accurate assessment of her age and that of others from her culture.
  • Amazonian Beauty: Star is constantly described as a giantess, but Oscar still finds her beautiful.
  • Author Appeal: Casual nudism, a strong female protagonist, multiversal travel, a Free-Love Future, and a Libertarian utopia — all trademarks of Heinlein's writing.
  • Author Avatar: When asked by a fan which of his many characters was intended to represent himself, Heinlein jokingly claimed it was Igli.
  • Author Tract: The broader setting seems to exist largely to praise Heinlein's favored views of society, particularly in the political and sexual realms. Large portions of the novel are devoted to long speeches on the subjects.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Count Cagliostro, an adventurer/con artist who claimed to be immortal is explained as being one of Star's relatives who underwent the same longevity treatment.
  • Big Labyrinthine Building: The Mile-High Tower, where the bad guys hid the Egg. It's so elaborate that hundreds of Star's spies died figuring out the route to its hiding place.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Star is shocked to find out that sex is a salable commodity in Oscar's reality. In her world, a woman's sexuality is considered an integral part of her spiritual existence and it can not be bought and sold, only partaken of as a gift of the woman. She's also unpleasantly surprised to find out that Oscar turned down the sexual advances of their host's wife and daughters the night before. While he was perfectly willing to bed the wife, Oscar deflated at the thought of bedding the youngest daughter; she triggered his age taboo. Their host is so insulted that Oscar turned down their gift that he expels them from his home at first light. After the problem is explained, however, Oscar ends up with the host's wife and older daughter.
  • Bothering by the Book/Obstructive Bureaucrat: Oscar remarks, "Regardless of T.O., all military bureaucracies consist of a Surprise Party Department, a Practical Joke Department, and a Fairy Godmother department. The first two process most matters, as the third is very small; the Fairy Godmother Department is one elderly female GS-5 clerk usually out on sick leave."
  • Brain Uploading: The Egg contains the recorded memories of thousands of years of Emperors/Empresses. Part of each Emperor's job is to use the Egg to imprint himself with the memories of all their predecessors, and leave their own memories in turn.
  • The Call Left a Message: After giving him a glancing over on Île du Levant, Star recruits Oscar by printing a classified ad specifically tailored to be irresistible to him.
  • Clark's Third Law: Oscar reflects that the technology in use by Star's folks is so advanced that it might as well be magic.
  • Congruent Memory: Rufo learned to shave by doing it on corpses, so he can only shave Oscar while he's lying down. He claims to have learned this from his time as an undertaker. Star says she can't remember him ever being an undertaker, but since both of them lie as easily as they breathe, it's hard to tell who's being honest there.
  • Covers Always Lie: Just like Tunnel in the Sky and The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, this book features an African-American protagonist in the book but a Caucasian protagonist on the cover.
  • Dagwood Sandwich: Oscar offers to create one for a girl he meets at a party on Center, primitive Earth culture having at least this novelty to offer.
  • Dangerously Close Shave: After their conversation about the source of Rufo's shaving skills, he and Oscar start a semi-serious Running Gag with the Deadly Euphemism, "shaving a corpse."
  • Death World: Karth-Hokesh. Humans can survive there for only a few hours. It may also count as Mordor, since the novel hasn't dropped all pretense of being a fantasy story by that point.
  • Democracy Is Flawed: A doctor of sociology of a highly advanced civilization mentions to the hero (who is from present day Earth) that Democracy is, "a good system for beginners", while stating that advanced civilizations have far better ways of government.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: Oscar; nothing on Earth seems to properly suit him.
  • Dinosaurs Are Dragons: The "dragons" that the party fights on one world are dinosaur-like in appearance but breathe fire. Oscar proceeds to hang a lampshade on this trope.
    • In that Oscar heroically slays the dragon, then has to put up with a baby dragon mewing around their cave all night. Rufo tell Oscar the dragon he killed was probably its mother. "It's a hell of a thing when you can't even kill a dragon and feel good about it."
  • Doing In the Wizard: Up to and including the Mile-High Tower, the book is a fairly straightforward fantasy novel. Afterward, most of the "magic" is revealed as advanced technology from elsewhere in the Twenty Universes.
  • Draft Dodging: Oscar tries very hard to avoid getting into the unnamed conflict in Southeast Asia, but eventually resigns himself to it as there are no other viable options. Interestingly, the conflict seems to be in Vietnam, although the book was published in 1963, well before the period of major U.S. combat involvement there began.
  • Dueling Scar: Oscar considers attending Heidelberg so he can earn dueling scars. He thinks they'll be worth extra pay from a defense industry job.
  • Dying Truce: After Oscar Gordon manages to mortally wound the Never-Born (AKA The Eater of Souls), he and it talk for a while before it dies.
  • Earth Is the Center of the Universe: Embarrassingly averted; Earth is such a backwater that Star's civilization doesn't even have an embassy there. It's just very convenient as a major hub in the Portal Network.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Oscar was born "Evelyn Cyril". His nickname, "E. C.", or "Easy", isn't much better. He's quite pleased when Star dubs him Oscar.
  • Flynning: Discussed and averted — Oscar's final duel with the Eater of Souls is decidedly not play fighting.
  • Free-Love Future: Marriage in Star's society comes in infinite varieties and with infinite customs; the one rule she makes about it is that everyone has to respect everyone else's rules. In Center, the heart of the Empire, they work on a "toss your shoes" rule. Marriage is as simple as moving in, and if she wants you out, you'll find your shoes on the doorstep.
  • Giant Flyer: The blood hawks.
  • Good Bad Girl: Star is this by the standards of Oscar's reality; see Blue-and-Orange Morality.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Oscar is named by Star for the scar on his face, earned during a bayonet fight with an enemy soldier.
  • Heroes Prefer Swords: By Vietnam-era Earth history, swordsmanship is an obsolete art; the fact that Oscar knows it is one of the things that makes him attractive to Star as a potential Hero, and it turns out to be absolutely vital. Oscar remarks that all true heroes should have one.
  • Hideous Hangover Cure: Star knows one, and the mnemonic for it is a Shout-Out to Macbeth: "Eye of newt and toe of frog..." Amusingly enough, Star claimes that Shakespeare got the mnemonic from her, not the other way around.
  • Hyperspace Arsenal: Literally. The trunk that Rufo and Star bring with them is collapsible down to the size of a small pack but opens up into a massive armory. In a rare realistic treatment, the amount of energy required to accomplish this causes the thing to explode like a bomb when it's accidentally dropped into a swamp.
  • I Have Many Names: Star has truckloads. It comes with being the monarch of Twenty Universes.
  • In Harm's Way: Oscar's primary occupation. He calls it "being a Hero".
  • I Shall Taunt You: Used on the indestructible construct Igli to get him mad enough to disregard common sense tactics.
  • Kinky Spanking: Typically for a Heinlein novel, originally as a threat by Oscar following the Blue-and-Orange Morality incident mentioned above, and later as foreplay.
  • Longevity Treatment: Longevity therapy is standard in Star's culture (very similar in principle to that discussed in Time Enough for Love). She herself has lived several centuries and has Oscar treated the same way, unknowingly.
  • Magitek: From Oscar's point of view, all of Star's gadgetry and "witchcraft". From her point of view, it's just science.
  • Metaphorical Marriage: When Star and Oscar Gordon decide to get married, they take part in a private unofficial ceremony based on an old Earth custom: the bride and groom saying a poem and jumping over a sword together.
  • The Milky Way Is the Only Way: Although Star rules the Twenty Universes, it is unclear whether any of them managed to get out of their local version of the Milky Way — if they even have one, as the laws of physics are different in each one.
  • The Multiverse: Inter-universal as well as interstellar travel is part of Star's technology. At times the lines blur between whether a planet is in a different universe or merely a different solar system.
  • Mummies at the Dinner Table: Star relates a tale of a woman who had her deceased husbands stuffed and mounted and kept them in her house.
  • Mysterious Past: Star and Rufo both make references to bizarre adventures they've had (Star was close friends with William Shakespeare and Rufo fought for the allies during the Invasion of Normandy, among other things) but neither one has much of their back stories elaborated on.
  • Naked First Impression: Oscar first meets Star on Île du Levant, a Mediterranean island where casual nudity is accepted and indeed required.
  • Named Weapons: Oscar's sword, "Lady Vivamus". He named it from the motto etched onto it, "Dum vivimus, vivamus!" (While we live, let us live.)
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The Eater of Souls, a witty, Faux Affably Evil construct set at the heart of the Tower of the Egg who waits for The Hero to come so he can dissect his character, shortly before dissecting his body.
  • Portal Network: The basis of interstellar and intergalactic travel; Earth is important mainly as it's a major hub.
  • Really Gets Around: Star, partly as a result of the Free-Love Future but also as an acknowledged relief valve for the enormous stress of running the Twenty Universes.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Star's age is never nailed down; Oscar says she looks somewhere between 18 and 25, depending on what she's doing. After the Egg is recovered, she's revealed to be Rufo's grandmother. She admits that she deliberately makes herself look the age where "a woman has just stopped growing and started aging."
  • Science Fantasy: Up until the Mile-High Tower, the book reads like a fairly standard fantasy adventure novel. After the Tower, enough of the technological nuts and bolts are revealed that the story becomes much more strongly science fiction.
  • Shout-Out: Numerous shout outs to myth, legend and the few fantasy novels in existence in 1963, including references to Norse Mythology, Macbeth, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Hobbit and Cyrano de Bergerac (the Never-Born).
  • So What Do We Do Now?: What does a Hero do after beating the bad guy, saving the Twenty Universes, and marrying the Empress? Oscar finds himself asking this exact question.
  • Standard Hero Reward: Oscar's reward for adventuring and monster killing is marrying Star and living a life of luxury. He is so uncomfortable in such a life that he goes back to adventuring.
  • Stellar Name: Star, of course.
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: When Oscar returns to Earth, he discovers that it's lost any appeal for him.
  • The Strength of Ten Men: Oscar quotes, "My strength is as the strength of ten, because my heart is pure," sarcastically.
  • Supernaturally Young Parent: Star is Rufo's grandmother, but looks much younger, due to the way their society's Longevity Treatment permits the recipient to choose their desired physical age. Star wants to look youthful and Rufo wants to look like an old curmudgeon.
  • Vertebrate with Extra Limbs: Horses with eight legs (which are a Shout-Out to Sleipnir, Odin's horse in Norse Mythology).
  • Waterfall Shower: Oscar and Star bathe under several waterfalls in the area called the Singing Waters (so named for the sounds the water makes falling over them).
  • What You Are in the Dark: Occurs almost literally to Oscar in the Mile-High Tower — crawling through a lightless tunnel with rats for company. The fact that it may have been an illusion created by the Eater of Souls makes him no less brave for overcoming it.
  • Whatever Happened to the Mouse?: The baby dragon that imprints on the group vanishes from the plot a few moments after Oscar take a second to feel sorry for it.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Oscar's father bestowed "Evelyn Cyril" on him out of respect for a deceased ancestor, but he remarks that it caused him to learn to fight before he learned to read.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Oscar has a terrible fear of rats. Naturally this comes into play at the climax of the quest.
  • Will Not Tell a Lie: Star. She is, however, a master of partial truths and leading you to believe what you want to.