by Robert Heinlein
1963, G.P. Putnam, 288pp
This is classic Heinlein; not quite a juvenile but innocent enough to cross that line. Footloose Scar Gordon is aimlessly wandering the world, looking for purpose in his life. What Gordon really, really wants is….adventure a good rousing quest that would stir his blood. Whiling away the time on the French Riviera, he sees the most “stare-able’ women he’s ever met. She seems to have a strange interest in him but she disappears. Gordon can’t spend any more time waiting for her; he has only a small nest egg from his recently severed relationship with Uncle Sam and he’ll have to leave for the States soon. While sitting in a café, he picks up a newspaper that has an ad for a hero. Despite the fact that the ad almost describes him to a “T”, he ignores it until he opens his mail and finds a copy of the same ad personally addressed to him. Answering that ad embarks him on a quest with that same beautiful woman, his own ‘Excalibur,’ and his own “Sancho Panza.” No self-respecting Hero could’ve wanted for more.
The quest includes traveling to strange worlds with incredibly strange creatures, and customs that often get Gordon into trouble. But it seems a twisted road to their final destination which makes Gordon mistrust his “princess’” intentions. But once at the final destination, it‘s clear that the glory road was intended to prepare him for that task. Once the task is complete, he and his beloved wife retire to the most luxurious planet in existence where it proves impossible to want for anything….except a purpose. Gordon finds it unsatisfying to be the kept man of the most powerful woman in the universe and reluctantly leaves her. After all, could there be anything more useless than a Hero without a quest?
As I said: classic Heinlein. He has the usual rhetoric about governments, religion, and both romantic and physical love. The adventures were just plain great fun. The deepening relationship between him and the warrior princess was romantic and charming. And the deeper realizations of the true nature of his bride and his squire made him aware of the effort to actually groom him from birth for his role. The plot was a path of one man’s understanding of his own true nature. I think Heinlein always had a longing for a clear road to a ‘true man.’ The problem both Heinlein and many of his characters had was one of societal evolution. I think what would have made Heinlein happy was the best of the ‘noble savage’ and the best of the modern man. But I don’t know where such a man could survive except on a frontier. Fortunately, Heinlein was able to find his own frontiers; whether on other worlds like this story or out in space. ~~ Catherine Book