Tag Archives: robert a heinlein

Glory Road

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Glory Road by Robert A Heinlein.

Heinlein Glory Road

Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) was certainly his most read and most influential novel. The one that followed next, Glory Road (1963), was perhaps his least. In terms of basic literary substance and quality, it represented no slackening on his part, but it fell afoul of a genre-oriented readership that expected Science Fiction from a writer who had done as much as anyone to define the form in the mid-20th century. Instead, Glory Road most nearly approximates heroic fantasy, albeit in a subversive manner consistent with the Cabellesque, satirical inclinations already on display in Stranger in a Strange Land.

If it were to be given a Cabell-style subtitle, Glory Road might well have been called “A Comedy of Vocation.” Heinlein’s not-thoroughly-sympathetic protagonist “Easy” Gordon is a young US army veteran of the “police action” in Southeast Asia. As he is trying to sort out his future, it seems as if he might have a winning sweepstakes ticket that will put him through college. It turns out that he himself is a winning ticket (a.k.a. “hero”) for a sorceress from another dimension who needs his help to reclaim an invaluable artifact from a hostile world. So roughly the first two thirds of the book is the gradual disclosure and accomplishment of this quest for the “Egg of the Phoenix.”

But the final third of the book is far too much for a “happily ever after,” and even exceeds what might be classed as a denouement. In this structural respect, as in several others, the book reminded me of Fleming’s Casino Royale from about a decade earlier. (Substitute fencing for baccarat in this case.) Gordon discovers that being a “retired hero” does not suit him, and that having achieved greater rewards and higher luxury than he could have possibly imagined, he is dissatisfied without work to suit his character. The resolution of this dilemma, complicated through personal relationships and extradimensional migration, is the concern of the final arc of the story.

Like Stranger, Glory Road is sure to offend some 21st-century shallow readers who want to collapse the sexual prejudices of its protagonist onto its author–despite the protagonist overcoming some of those prejudices, and despite the story upending a variety of gender preconceptions within both the ‘fairy tale’ and ‘fantasy adventure’ paradigms. A few of Heinlein’s personal fetishes (sexual or otherwise) are likely on display, but these are gestures I wouldn’t begrudge any author. An epigram from George Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra is the first instance of a leitmotif regarding cultural difference and moral relativism that is sounded throughout the book, not just in the later sections that portray the social commerce of a multiverse.

But “cultural pluralism” (as it is called in the Samuel Delany essay about the book appended to my 2004 Tor edition) is not the central conundrum of the book. As noted before, it is about the necessity of finding and cleaving to a calling, despite convention, cowardice, and any sort of distracting appetite. Gordon discovers what is needful in order to do that one thing which is the true purpose of his sojourn, and that makes him a hero.

Stranger in a Strange Land

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein.

Heinlein Stranger in a Strange Land uncut

This review is of the extended second edition (“Original Uncut”) of Heinlein’s seminal cultural satire Stranger in a Strange Land. Avoid it. It is inferior to the first edition, having been subjected to reversion of all of the author’s edits that had tightened up the original manuscript without losing any significant content. (In fact, a few items were added in that edit, and these are consequently missing from the longer edition.) The editorial apparatus of this posthumous reissue falsely suggests that integral content was removed from the manuscript for its first publication, in deference to public mores. The longer book is in fact a crass commercial ploy, intended to get readers of the author’s most popular work to buy it a second time, after it had already stayed in print continuously for thirty years.

Robert A Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century Volume 1

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Volume 1: Learning Curve 1907-1948 by William H. Patterson.

Patterson Robert A Heinlein In Dialogue with His Century Volume 1

The first volume of William H. Patterson’s magisterial authorized biography of science fiction patriarch Robert A. Heinlein covers an immense amount of ground, including all of Heinlein’s life prior to his work as a writer, work that he came to out of need as a third career. He had previously retired from the US Navy and worked as a political campaigner, primarily with the socialist EPIC movement in California associated with Upton Sinclair. This book spans all three of Heinlein’s marriages, his complete writing career in the pulps, his Manana Literary Society, his engineering work for the military in World War II, and his entry into the “slicks” and book authorship.

In a very minor point, I was amused at Patterson’s being stumped by a private Heinlein manuscript that mentions “Bljdf” (57), which is to my mind certainly “Alice” (a simple substitution cipher with the second letter evading encryption), i.e. Alice Catherine McBee (45).

The chief nugget I was seeking in the deep mine of this hefty tome is on page 374, where Patterson recounts Heinlein’s attendance at an Agape Lodge (Pasadena) O.T.O. Gnostic Mass in December 1945. There is a little sloppiness of detail here–Patterson characterizes the Gnostic Mass uncharitably as “a theatrical piece, rather than a true religious rite” and manages to botch every one of his three direct quotes from Liber Legis in a long explanatory endnote (569-70). But his access to Heinlein’s archives inspires confidence in his un-sourced remark that Heinlein kept “for research” the congregational missal sheet and copy of The Book of the Law he had received from the lodge.

I’m honestly feeling a fair amount of relief at having finished both hefty volumes of this work. I wish they were in my local public library for the convenience of my ongoing research, but now that I’ve read them and taken my notes, they’ve both been returned to the interlibrary system that furnished them to me. They were not quite so compelling or obviously useful that I’ll want to acquire them for my own durable collection. [via]

Grumbles from the Grave

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Grumbles from the Grave by Robert A. Heinlein, edited by Virginia Heinlein.

Heinlein Grumbles from the Grave

In 1973 the eminent science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein wrote to his literary agent contemplating “a memoirs-autobiography job to be published posthumously” (198) as an opportunity to vent some spleen and to benefit his anticipated widow. It was to be entitled Grumbles from the Grave, but Virginia Heinlein’s editorial note indicates that the work in question never progressed beyond the notes stage. Instead, she lifted the title for the use of this correspondence memoir, consisting in the main of letters written by Heinlein to his pulp-era publisher John W. Campbell and to his subsequent agent Lurton Blassingame. These are contextualized with bridging memoir text by Virginia Heinlein, who selected and edited the letters for publication.

The arrangement is not strictly chronological. After the first five chapters progressing through the early stages of Heinlein’s writing career, there are ten chapters divided by topic, and the letters are not all arranged by date even within the topics. There are no letters here from the 1980s — a decade in which he wrote four major books. During this period he also divested himself of other interactions with his reading public, ceasing to give public appearances, answer fan mail, or otherwise play the role of an author other than simply to write books (249).

Many letters illustrate Heinlein’s love of cats, frustration with editors, health troubles, household moves, and world travel. With respect to this last, reference is made to a full MS drafted by Heinlein of a travel book detailing his global circumnavigation in 1953-4. It was unpublished when first written, and declared to be “outdated” by Virginia Heinlein in 1989, but I wonder if it wouldn’t read as interesting history today (186-7). (Edited to add: I’ve found out that it was given a later 1992 posthumous publication, under the title Tramp Royale.) Appendices include material expurgated from the published versions of the juvenile-market novels Red Planet and Podkayne of Mars: a little gun rights discussion and the death of Podkayne, respectively.

I enjoyed this book, but I can’t help suspecting that it omitted most of the Heinlein correspondence that would have been of greatest interest to me, by focusing on the author’s accomplishments and circumstances rather than his ideas. I appreciated the letters reflecting on his authorial process (43, 107 e.g.), and the best letter by far was one to “a Reader” regarding Stranger in a Strange Land (242-7). The biographical elements are as full as a reader of my interests would like. [via]

Revolt in 2100

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Revolt in 2100 by Robert A Heinlein:

Robert A Heinlein's Revolt in 2100


This science fiction book, packaged as the third volume of Heinlein’s “Future History,” includes a novel, a novelette, and a short story. The novel, “If This Goes On…” is the principal feature, from which the title Revolt in 2100 is derived; it is also of great interest to Freemasons.

“If This Goes On…,” first published in 1954, is set in a not-too-distant future where the U.S. is governed by a theocratic tyranny. The hero of the story finds himself falling afoul of the authorities, and ends up getting involved with an underground resistance movement that champions individual rights and religious liberty. That “Cabal” is clearly modeled on Masonry, in both its ideals and its techniques.

The story shows elements of the libertarian philosophy that Heinlein refined throughout his career, but the pacing is fast and action-oriented. It can be read in a very few sittings, and makes good light fare. [via]



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