There’s a wonderful quote by Heinlein from his book ‘Glory Road’ that’s captured my imagination lately. Some of it is in that picture I threw together above, but the full quote is quite a bit longer and much more evocative:
“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 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 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 to 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 the way 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.”
Many of these stories and characters mentioned are familiar ones. Excalibur, Huckleberry Finn, Sherlock Holmes. I’m familiar enough with them, and I assume most of those reading this are as well.
Some are a little more obscure but still most true geeks would at least be aware of them. A roc’s egg, Barsoom, Ulysses, the Nancy Lee, Prester John, Lord Tennyson’s Lotos Eaters. Obscure but knowable.
Some are completely unknown to me. What is Storisende? Where is Poictesme? Who is Tros of Samothrace?
One phrase I must admit I had to look up. “Pick a likely wench for my droit du seigneur” – Mr. Heinlein that’s a very politically incorrect sentiment these days. Still slightly politically incorrect is the rejoinder, “I wanted to stand up to the Baron and dare him to touch my wench!”
This is akin to finding the holy grail, in a way. Heinlein is one of the masters of science fiction and someone who has created stories that have filled me with magic and wonder and a sense of what a real man and woman are supposed to be like. This is almost like a genetic map of his own geekdom. It’s like being a guitarist and finding a list of all the musicians who influenced your favorite band. These are the things that filled Heinlein with that same sense of wonder and romance. It’s a treasure trove to be sorted and studied very carefully.
I’m very interested in exploring more about this quote and the many wonderful stories I’ll find along my journey into geekdom past. I’m sure I’ll break a few lances and hearts along the way. The game is afoot!