Glory Road
Robert A. Heinlein

Robert A. Heinlein

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Glory Road


Science Fiction

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I’ve met many people who listed this as their favorite Heinlein novel. Personally, I prefer The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.

But judging from the number and variety of quotes I’ve collected here, the ones who prefer Glory Road have pretty good taste, too.

Glory Road

Copyright © 1963 by Robert A. Heinlein

Note (Hal’s):
In preface, Heinlein quotes this exchange from George Bernard Shaw’s Cæsar and Cleopatra.

— end note


I object to conscription the way a lobster objects to boiling water: it may be his finest hour but it’s not his choice.



Sure, they had Hitler and the Depression ahead of them. But they didn’t know that. We had Khruschev and the H-bomb and we certainly did know.

But we were not a “Lost Generation.” We were worse; we were the “Safe Generation.” Not beatniks. The Beats were never more than a few hundred out of millions. Oh, we talked beatnik jive and dug cool sounds in stereo and disagreed with Playboy’s poll of jazz musicians just as earnestly as if it mattered. We read Salinger and Kerouac and used language that shocked our parents and dressed (sometimes) in beatnik fashion. But we didn’t think that bongo drums and a beard compared with money in the bank. We weren’t rebels. We were as conformist as army worms. “Security” was our unspoken watchword.

There is an old picture of a people traveling by sleigh through deep woods—pursued by wolves. Every now and then they grab one of their number and toss him to the wolves. That’s conscription even if you call it “selective service” and pretty it up with USOs and “veterans’ benefits”—it’s tossing a minority to the wolves while the rest go on with that single-minded pursuit of the three-car garage, the swimming pool, and the safe & secure retirement benefits.

Major Ian Hay, back in the “War to End War,” described the structure of military organizations: 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.

Note (Hal’s):
The source is Ian Hay’s The First Hundred Thousand, a serialized account of military life during World War I.

— end note



Military policy is like cancer: Nobody knows where it comes from but it can’t be ignored.

He was a Hindu; I said to him, “Do you speak English?”

“Certainly. And I understand American.”


American English

II There are wonderful night clubs in Nice but you need not patronize them as the floor show at the beaches is as good . . . and free. I never appreciated what a high art the fan dance can be until the first time I watched a French girl get out of her clothes and into her bikini in plain sight of citizens, tourists, gendarmes, dogs—and me—all without quite violating the lenient French mores concerning “indecent exposure.” Or only momentarily.

There was no security in this world and only damn fools and mice thought there could be.

Somewhere back in the jungle I had shucked off all ambition of that sort. I had been shot at too many times and had lost interest in supermarkets and exurban subdivisions and tonight is the PTA supper don’t forget dear you promised.

Oh, I wasn’t about to hole up in a monastery. I still wanted—

What did I want?

I wanted a Roc’s egg. I wanted a harem loaded with lovely odalisques less than the dust beneath my chariot wheels, the rust that never stained my sword. I wanted raw red gold in nuggets the size of your fist and feed that lousy claim jumper to the huskies! I wanted to get up feeling brisk and go out and break some lances, then pick a likely wench for my droit du seigneur—I wanted to stand up to the Baron and dare him to touch my wench! I wanted to hear the purple water chuckling against the skin of the Nancy Lee in the cool of the morning watch and not another sound, nor any movement save the slow tilting of the wings of the albatross that had been pacing us the last thousand miles.

I wanted the hurtling moons of Barsoom. I wanted Storisende and Poictesme, and Homes shaking me awake to tell me, “The game’s afoot!” I wanted to float down the Mississippi on a raft and elude a mob in company with the Duke of Bilgewater and the Lost Dauphin.

I wanted Prester John, and Excalibur held by a moon-white arm out of a silent lake. I wanted to sail with Ulysses and with Tros of Samothrace and eat the lotus in a land that seemed always afternoon. I wanted the feeling of romance and the sense of wonder I had known as a kid. I wanted the world to be what they had promised me it was going to be—instead of the tawdry, lousy fouled-up mess it is.



I was not as depressed as I thought I should be. I felt relaxed, almost relieved. For a while I had had the wonderful sensation of being rich—and I had had its complement, the worries of being rich—and both sensations were interesting and I didn’t care to repeat them, not right away.




I knew, logically, that everything that had happened since I read that silly ad had been impossible.

So I chucked logic.

Logic is a feeble reed, friend. “Logic” proved that airplanes can’t fly and that H-bombs won’t work and that stones don’t fall out of the sky. Logic is a way of saying that anything which didn’t happen yesterday won’t happen tomorrow.



The truth is, I’ve got a monkey on my back, a habit worse than marijuana though not as expensive as heroin. [...]

The fact is I am a compulsive reader. Thirty-five cents’ worth of Gold Medal Original will put me right to sleep. Or Perry Mason. But I’ll read the ads in an old Paris-Match that has been used to wrap herring before I’ll do without.


Books (general)

VI Coffee comes in five descending stages: Coffee, Java, Jamoke, Joe, and Carbon Remover. This stuff was no better than grade four.



VIII The person who says smugly that good manners are the same everywhere and people are just people hasn’t been farther out of Podunk than the next whistle stop.



X “Oscar, so far as I know, your culture is the only semicivilized one in which love is not recognized as the highest art and given the serious study it deserves.”

Why should “love” be classed as an “instinct”?

Certainly the appetite for sex is an instinct—but did another appetite make every glutton a gourmet, every fry cook a Cordon Bleu? Hell, you had to learn even to be a fry cook.

“Milord, Rufo has many faults. But telling the truth is not one of them.”



So I brought to bear the sturdy common sense of ignorance and prejudice. “Look, Star, I’m not going to believe the impossible simply because I was there. A natural law is a natural law. You have to admit that.”

We rode a few rods before she answered, “May it please milord Hero, the world is not what we wish it to be. It is what it is. No, I have over-assumed. Perhaps it is indeed what we wish it to be. Either way, it is what it is. Le voilâ! Behold it, self-demonstrating. Das Ding an sich. Bite it. It is. Ai-je raison? Do I speak truly?”

“That’s what I was saying! The universe is what it is and can’t be changed by jiggery-pokery. It works by exact rules, like a machine.” (I hesitated, remembering a car we had had that was a hypochondriac. It would “fall sick,” then “get well” as soon as a mechanic tried to touch it.) I went on firmly, “Natural law never takes a holiday. The invariability of natural law is the cornerstone of science.”

“So it is.”

“Well?” I demanded.

“So much the worse for science.”



“An insult is like a drink; it affects one only if accepted. And pride is too heavy baggage for my journey; I have none.”



“Any commodity is certain to be sold—bought, sold, leased, rented, bartered, traded, discounted, price-stabilized, inflated, bootlegged, and legislated—and a woman’s ‘commodity’ as it was called on Earth in franker days is no exception. The only wonder is the wild notion of thinking of it as a commodity.”




“Sin is cruelty and injustice, all else is peccadillo. Oh, a sense of sin comes from violating the customs of your tribe. But breaking custom is not sin even when it feels so; sin is wronging another person.”



XI “An old family recipe:

‘Eye of newt and toe of frog,

‘Wool of bat and tongue of dog,

‘Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,

‘Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing—’ ”

“Shakespeare!” I said. “Macbeth.”

“ ‘Cool it with a baboon’s blood—’ No, Will got it from me, milord love. That’s the way with writers; they’ll steal anything, file off the serial numbers, and claim it for their own.”



“All this modern bundling and canoodling and scuttling without even three cheers or a by-your-leave sends taxes up and profits down that’s logic. I only wish I had time to get married myself as I’ve told my wife many’s the time.”




This sounds like mother love, if dragons go in for mother love—I wouldn’t know.

But it’s a hell of a note when you can’t even kill a dragon and feel lighthearted afterwards.



“Magic is not science, it is a collection of ways to do things—ways that work but often we don’t know why.”

“Much like engineering. Design by theory, then beef it up anyhow.”



XIV Karate and many serious forms of combat (boxing isn’t serious, nor anything with rules)—all these work that same way: go-for-broke, all-out attack with no wind up. These are not so much skills as an attitude.

A properly balanced sword is the most versatile weapon for close quarters ever devised. Pistols and guns are all offense, no defense; close on him fast and a man with a gun can’t shoot, he has to stop you before you reach him. Close on a man carrying a blade and you’ll be spitted like a roast pigeon—unless you have a blade and can use it better than he can.

A sword never jams, never has to be reloaded, is always ready. Its worst shortcoming is that it takes great skill and patient, loving practice to gain that skill; it can’t be taught to raw recruits in weeks, nor even months.



Bravery is going on anyhow when you are so terrified your sphincters won’t hold and you can’t breathe and your heart threatens to stop, and that is an exact description for that moment of E. C. Gordon, ex-Pfc. and hero by trade.



I would lose, not a point, but my life—and I knew, long before the end of that first long phrase, that my life was what I was about to lose, by all odds.

Yet at first clash the idiot began to sing!

“Lunge and counter and thrust,

“Sing me the logic of steel!

“Tell me, sir, how do you feel?

“Riposte and remise if you must

“In logic long known to be just.

“Shall we argue, rebut and refute

“In enthymeme clear as your eye?

“Tell me, sir, why do you sigh?

“Tu es fatigué, sans doute?

“Then sleep while I’m counting the loot.”

Note (Hal’s):
Oscar (the narrator) never learns the name of this brilliant French swordsman, who makes up songs while he fights.

— end note

Cyrano de Bergerac

“Item: Friar Guillaume’s razor ne’er shaved the barber, it is much too dull.”


Occam’s Razor


“But, look, I don’t know the streets in this neighborhood, I’ll need some hints. Remember the mistake I made with old Jocko just from not knowing local customs.”

“Yes, dear, I will. But don’t worry, customs are simple here. Primitive societies are always more complex than civilized ones—and this one isn’t primitive.”



“Mistakes are the only certain way to learn.”



For the one thing that stood out as this empirical way of running an empire grew up was that the answer to most problems was: Don’t do anything.

[...] Vox Populi, Vox Dei translates as: “My God! How did we get in this mess!”

Culturologists state a “law” of religious freedom which they say is invariant: Religious freedom in a cultural complex is inversely proportional to the strength of the strongest religion. This is supposed to be one case of a general invariant, that all freedoms arise from cultural conflicts because a custom which is not opposed by its negative is mandatory and always regarded as a “law of nature.”

Rufo didn’t agree; he said his colleagues stated as equations things which are not mensurate and not definable—holes in their heads!—and that freedom was never more than a happy accident because the common jerk, all human races, hates and fears all freedom, not only for his neighbors but for himself, and stamps it out wherever possible.



Contracts could be as complex as a corporate merger, specifying duration, purposes, duties, responsibilities, number and sex of children, genetic selection methods, whether host mothers were to be hired, conditions for canceling and options for extension—anything but “marital fidelity.” It is axiomatic there that this is unenforceable and therefore not contractual.

But marital fidelity is commoner there than it is on Earth; it simply is not legislated.




“But my intentions were good. However, I know, as the prime lesson of my profession, that good intentions are the source of more folly than all other causes put together.”

“Star, what are you prattling about? Women are the source of all folly.”

“Yes, dearest. Because they always have good intentions—and can prove it. Men sometimes act from rational self-interest, which is safer. But not often.”

“That’s because half their ancestors are female.”


Women and Men


“Democracy can’t work. Mathematicians, peasants, and animals, that’s all there is—so democracy, a theory based on the assumption that mathematicians and peasants are equal, can never work. Wisdom is not additive; its maximum is that of the wisest man in a given group.

“But a democratic form of government is okay, as long as it doesn’t work. Any social organization does well enough if it isn’t rigid. The framework doesn’t matter as long as there is enough looseness to permit that one man in a multitude to display his genius. Most so-called social scientists seem to think that organization is everything. It is almost nothing—except when it is a straitjacket. It is the incidence of heroes that counts, not the pattern of zeros.”



“You know I would never draw against you.

“I know no such thing,” he said querulously. “There’s always that first time. Scoundrels are predictable, but you’re a man of honor and that frightens me.”



Two kinds

text checked (see note) Feb 2005

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Background graphic copyright © 2003 by Hal Keen