Glory Road

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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...

Glory Road (1963) is a fantasy novel by Robert A. Heinlein, originally serialized in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (July - September 1963) and published as a book later the same year. It tells of the adventures of E. C. Gordon, (aka Oscar) and Star (aka Empress of the Twenty Universes) in their attempt to re-capture the "Egg of the Phoenix."

Glory Road[edit]

  • I was twenty-one but couldn’t figure out which party to vote against.
    • Ch. 1
  • I object to conscription the way a lobster objects to boiling water: it may be his finest hour but it's not his choice.
    • Ch. 1
  • 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.
    • Ch. 1
  • It wasn’t a war — not even a “Police Action.” We were “Military Advisers.” But a Military Adviser who has been dead four days in that heat smells the same way a corpse does in a real war.
    • Ch. 1
  • Regardless of T.O., all military bureaucracies consist of a Surprise Party Department, a Practical Joke Department, and a Fairy Godmother Department.
    • Ch. 1
Military policy is like cancer: Nobody knows where it comes from but it can't be ignored.
  • Military policy is like cancer: Nobody knows where it comes from but it can't be ignored.
    • Ch. 1
  • 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.
    • Ch. 2
I wanted Prester John, and Excalibur held by a moon-white arm out of a silent lake...
  • I no longer gave a damn about three-car garages and swimming pools, nor any other status symbol or "security." 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...
    • Ch. 3
  • I wanted the hurtling moons of Barsoom. I wanted Storisende and Poictesme, and Holmes 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 had had one chance — for ten minutes yesterday afternoon. Helen of Troy, whatever your true name may be — And I had known it ... and I had let it slip away.
    Maybe one chance is all you ever get.
    • Ch. 3
I picked up and balanced them all... and found there the blade that suited me the way Excalibur suited Arthur.
  • 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...
    • Words of an advertisement E. C. Gordon (later known as Oscar) keeps encountering. Ch. 3
  • I picked up and balanced them all... and found there the blade that suited me the way Excalibur suited Arthur.
    I've never seen one quite like it so I don't know what to call it. A saber, I suppose, as the blade was faintly curved and razor sharp on the edge and sharp rather far back on the back. But it had a point as deadly as a rapier and the curve was not enough to keep it from being used for thrust and counter quite as well as chopping away meat-axe style. The guard was a bell curved back around the knuckles into a semi-basket but cut away enough to permit full moulinet from any guard.
    It balanced in the forte less than two inches from the guard, yet the blade was heavy enough to chop bone. It was the sort of sword that feels as if it were an extension of your body.
    • Ch. 5
  • 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.
    • Ch. 5
  • A man who always obeys the law is even stupider than one who breaks it every chance.
    • Ch. 6
Magic is not science, it is a collection of ways to do things — ways that work but often we don't know why.
  • 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.
    • Ch. 8
  • I learned, first time out on patrol, that nothing hikes up that old biological urge like being shot at and living through it.
    • Ch. 8
  • “This is a crazy sort of country, you must admit. Utterly insane.”
    “Mmmm...” he answered. “Have you ever been in Washington, D. C.?”
    “Well—” I grinned wryly. “Touché!”
    • Ch. 9
  • 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.
    • Star, Empress of the Twenty Universes, to Oscar. Ch. 10
  • 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.
    • Star, Ch. 10
  • Natural law never takes a holiday. The invariability of natural law is the cornerstone of science.
    • Oscar, Ch. 10
  • An insult is like a drink; it affects one only if accepted. And pride is too heavy baggage for my journey; I have none.
    • Ch. 10
  • 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.
    • Ch. 10
  • "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."
    • Ch. 11
  • Disturbing the ecological balance is the worst mistake any government can make.
    • Ch. 12
  • No evolutionary quirk can be considered odd if you use the way octopi make love as a comparison.
    • Ch. 12
  • There are things which cannot be taught in ten easy lessons, nor popularized for the masses; they take years of skull sweat. This be treason in an age when ignorance has come into its own and one man’s opinion is as good as another’s. But there it is. As Star says, the world is what it is—and doesn’t forgive ignorance.
    • Ch. 13
  • Magic is not science, it is a collection of ways to do things — ways that work but often we don't know why.
    • Ch. 13
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.
  • She drew the true paths in glowing red, false ones in green — and there was a lot more green than red. The critter who designed that tower had a twisty mind. What appeared to be the main entrance went in, up, branched and converged, passed close to the Chamber of the Egg — then went back down by a devious route and dumped you out, like P. T. Barnum's "This Way to the Egress."
    • Ch. 13
  • These Gates are not true gates; there is always a matter of timing. This one will be ready to open, for a few minutes, about seven hours from now, then cannot be opened again for several weeks.
    • Ch. 13
  • 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.
    • Ch. 14
  • 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.
    • Ch. 15
Swordplay is an odd thing; you don't really use your mind, it is much too fast for that. Your wrist thinks and tells your feet and body what to do, bypassing your brain...
  • I did the only really brave thing I have ever done in my life: I inched forward. 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 was fairly certain what those two faint lights were and the closer I got the more certain I was — I could smell the damned thing and place its outlines.
    A rat. Not the common rat that lives in city dumps and sometimes gnaws babies, but a giant rat, big enough to block that rat hole but enough smaller than I am to have room to maneuver in attacking me — room I didn't have at all. The best I could do was to wriggle forward with my sword in front of me and try to Keep the point aimed so that I would catch him with it, make him eat steel—because if he dodged past that point I would have nothing but bare hands and no room to use them.
    • Ch. 15
  • There is a go-for-broke tactic, "the target," taught by the best swordmasters, which consists in headlong advance with arm, wrist, and blade in full extension — all attack and no attempt to parry. But it works only by perfect timing when you see your opponent slacken up momentarily. Otherwise it is suicide.
    • Ch. 15
Nobody knows how many universes there are. Theory places no limit: any and all possibilities in unlimited number of combinations of "natural" laws, each sheaf appropriate to its own universe.
  • I knew in three seconds that I was up against a better swordsman than myself, with a wrist like steel yet supple as a striking snake. He was the only swordsman I have ever met who used prime and octave — used them, I mean, as readily as sixte and carte. Everyone learns them and my own master made me practice them as much as the other six — but most fencers don't use them; they simply may be forced into them, awkwardly and just before losing a point.
    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.
    • Ch. 15
  • Sword-play is an odd thing; you don't really use your mind, it is much too fast for that. Your wrist thinks and tells your feet and body what to do, bypassing your brain...
    • Ch. 15
  • He smiled at his own wit. The old bastard always had thought he was a wit. He was half right.
    • Ch. 15
  • Don't worry, customs are simple here. Primitive societies are always more complex than civilized ones — and this one isn't primitive.
    • Ch. 17
  • Center is the capital planet of the Twenty Universes. But Star was not "Empress" and it is not an empire.
    I'll go on calling her "Star" as hundreds of names were hers and I'll call it an "empire" because no other word is close, and I'll refer to "emperors" and "empresses" — and to the Empress, my wife.
    Nobody knows how many universes there are. Theory places no limit: any and all possibilities in unlimited number of combinations of "natural" laws, each sheaf appropriate to its own universe. But this is just theory and Occam's Razor is much too dull. All that is known in Twenty Universes is that twenty have been discovered, that each has its own laws, and that most of them have planets, or sometimes "places," where human beings live. I won't try to say what lives elsewhere.
    The Twenty Universes include many real empires. Our Galaxy in our universe has its stellar empires — yet so huge is our Galaxy that our human race may never meet another, save through the Gates that link the universes. Some planets have no known Gates. Earth has many and that is its single importance; otherwise it rates as a backward slum.
    • Ch. 17
This non-system holds together by having no togetherness, no uniformity, never seeking perfection, no Utopias — just answers good enough to get by, with lots of looseness and room for many ways and attitudes.
  • 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.
    Always King Log, never King Stork — "Live and let live." "Let well enough alone." "Time is the best physician." "Let sleeping dogs lie." "Leave them alone and they'll come home, wagging their tails behind them."
    Even positive edicts of the Imperium were usually negative in form: Thou Shalt Not Blow Up Thy Neighbors' Planet. (Blow your own if you wish.) Hands off the guardians of the Gates. Don't demand justice, you too will be judged.
    Above all, don't put serious problems to a popular vote.
    • Ch. 17
  • Rufo told me that every human race tries every political form and that democracy is used in many primitive societies ... but he didn’t know of any civilized planet using it, as Vox Populi, Vox Dei translates as: “My God! How did we get in this mess!”
    • Ch. 17, Vox Populi, Vox Dei is usually translated The voice of the people is the voice of God.
  • I asked him how advanced societies ran things.
    His brow wrinkled. “Mostly they don’t.”
    • Ch. 17
I may have seen what my mind could accept rather than exactly what happened.
  • The Emperor is sole source of Imperial law, sole judge, sole executive — and does very little and has no way to enforce his rulings. What he or she does have is enormous prestige from a system that has worked for seven millennia. This non-system holds together by having no togetherness, no uniformity, never seeking perfection, no Utopias — just answers good enough to get by, with lots of looseness and room for many ways and attitudes.
    Local affairs are local. Infanticide? — they're your babies, your planet. PTAs, movie censorship, disaster relief — the Empire is ponderously unhelpful.
    • Ch. 17
  • Why should anybody want power? I can’t understand it. But some do, and they did.
    • Ch. 17
  • I may have seen what my mind could accept rather than exactly what happened. I mean "magic." How many times have savages concluded "magic" when a "civilized" man came along with something the savage couldn't understand? How often is some tag, such as "television," accepted by cultural savages (who nevertheless twist dials) when "magic" would be the honest word?
    Still, Star never insisted on that word. She accepted it when I insisted on it.
    But I would be disappointed if everything I saw turned out to be something Western Electric will build once Bell Labs works the bugs out. There ought to be some magic, somewhere, just for flavor.
    • Ch. 17
  • She believed that a woman’s costume was a failure unless it made men want to tear it off.
    • Ch. 18
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.
  • 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.
    • Ch. 18
Your country has a system free enough to let its heroes work at their trade. It should last a long time — unless its looseness is destroyed from inside.
  • I know, as the prime lesson of my profession, that good intentions are the source of more folly than all other causes put together.
    • Ch. 19
  • What does a champion owe his lady when the quest is done?
    • Ch. 20
  • I was speaking of the amusing notion of chatter rule. ‘Democracy.’ A curious delusion—as if adding zeros could produce a sum.
    • Ch. 20
  • 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.
    • Rufo to Oscar, Ch. 20
  • Your country has a system free enough to let its heroes work at their trade. It should last a long time — unless its looseness is destroyed from inside.
    • Rufo to Oscar, Ch. 20
So tomorrow we are heading up that Glory Road, rocks and all! Got any dragons you need killed?
  • Wherever you go, you will make yourself felt, you won't be one of the herd. I respect you, and I don't respect many. Never people as a whole, I could never be a democrat at heart. To claim to 'respect' and even to 'love' the great mass with their yaps at one end and smelly feet at the other requires the fatuous, uncritical, saccharine, blind, sentimental slobbishness found in some nursery supervisors, most spaniel dogs, and all missionaries. It isn't a political system, it's a disease.
    • Rufo to Oscar, Ch. 20
  • Scoundrels are predictable, but you’re a man of honor and that frightens me.
    • Ch. 20
  • Would you force me to buy a new rug? I never keep one I’ve killed a friend on; the stains make me gloomy.
    • Ch. 20
  • You’re not a fool, you’re merely young.
    • Ch. 20
  • You were the key, first to be found, then ground to fit. You yourself act, you're never a puppet, or you could never have won. She was the only one who could nudge and wheedle such a man and place him where he would act; no lesser person than She could handle the scale of hero She needed. So She searched until She found him ... and honed him fine. Tell me, why did you take up the sword? It's not common in America.
    • Rufo to Oscar, Ch. 20
  • “Oscar, when you get home, don’t expect too much of your feminine compatriots. You’re sure to be disappointed and the poor dears aren’t to blame. American women, having been conditioned out of their sex instincts, compensate by compulsive interest in rituals over the dead husk of sex...and each one is sure she knows ‘intuitively’ the right ritual for conjuring the corpse. She knows and nobody can tell her any different...especially a man unlucky enough to be in bed with her. So don’t try. You will either make her furious or crush her spirit. You’ll be attacking that most Sacred of Cows: the myth that women know all about sex, just from being women.”
    Rufo had frowned. “The typical American female is sure that she has genius as a couturière, as an interior decorator, as a gourmet cook, and, always, as a courtesan. Usually she is wrong on four counts. But don’t try to tell her so.
    ...But don’t misunderstand me; it evens out. The American male is convinced that he is a great warrior, a great statesman, and a great lover. Spot checks prove that he is as deluded as she is.”
    • Ch. 21
  • I explained the improvement and that I had done the drawing a better way to—
    He cut me off. “We don’t want it done a better way, we want it done our way.”
    “Your privilege,” I agreed and resigned by walking out.
    • Ch. 22
  • "I cannot rest from travel; I will drink life to the lees." A long road, a trail, a "Tramp Royal," with no certainty of what you'll eat or where or if, nor where you'll sleep, nor with whom. But somewhere is Helen of Troy and all her many sisters and there is still noble work to be done.
    • Ch. 22
  • Does anyone ever get two chances? Is the Door in the Wall always gone when next you look? Where do you catch the boat for Brigadoon?
    • Ch. 22
  • Rufo might steal your cigarettes and certainly your wench but things aren't dull around him — and he would die defending your rear.
    So tomorrow we are heading up that Glory Road, rocks and all!
    Got any dragons you need killed?
    • Ch. 22

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