Friday, November 1, 2013

A Book Review: Tramp Royale by Robert A. Heinlein

     You know me as a world traveler from reading many of these posts. I am, of course, in the process of writing about our most recent trip to Kenya and Tanzania (there will be more posts about that trip). But this post is about a book written about world travel.

     I have a fetish that I can't go anywhere without carrying some reading material with me. There just might be some down time and I would lack for something to occupy my mind so I would need a book or a magazine. I have been known to take ridicule for carrying a paperback novel to a baseball game. Though of course some non baseball fans might actually understand such a plan. Last week we went to a movie and I carried a hard cover novel that I had checked out of the library. We ran into some friends on the way out of the theatre and the gentleman said to me, "Ah, Robert Heinlein. You're reading science fiction." Then I had to explain. Yes, I was reading Robert Heinlein but no I was not reading science fiction, not in the case of this book.
    I don't recall how I found this book as its cover and its author just caught my eye. The book is entitled Tramp Royale and it was written by the famous and prolific sci fi writer that most people even those who are not sci fi fans recognize, Robert A. Heinlein. But this book is his candid tale of a trip around the world with his wife Ticky (Virginia Heinlein) taken in 1953-54. They travel by ship much of the way, but also by train and by plane. They chose the Southern Hemisphere because no war was interrupting that route, whereas difficulties with the Communists would prevent a Northern Hemisphere circumnavigation of the globe, although Heinlein says in the book that he plans to do that route once "the Communist thing calms down, if it ever does." The book was published posthumously in 1992 and unfortunately is now out of print.  It was interesting to read because we have been in many of the places he traveled, just about 50 to 60 years later. Some of the things he found true of various Latin American countries, and of Australia still apply, I think. He was very critical of society in New Zealand. I certainly agree that it is a beautiful place, but I also agree with him that the food and cooking there is absolutely awful. But I didn't pick up on the rudeness or the regimentation and rigidity. Maybe things have changed in there in the last 60 years.
     Robert Anson Heinlein was born in 1907, in Missouri, grew up in Kansas City when the family moved there. He had an early interest in astronomy and read all the science fiction he could get his hands on. He entered the Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD when he was 18 and after graduating 20th in his class, 5th academically, he served on the USS Lexington and later the USS Roper. He left the Armed Services due to pulmonary tuberculosis in 1933 and received disability payments from the Services. He attended UCLA for a time but then left and tried his hand at politics without much success. During WW II he served in the Aeronautics division where he met his second wife Virginia. the two were married in 1948, and were inseparable after that time. Ginny, as she liked to be called, helped him in his writing career, traveled the world with him, took care of him through health and illness, and probably served as a role model for the strong and independent females who starred in his fiction writing. Initially Heinlein wrote adolescent science fiction, then what is called space opera, and at times science fiction short stories. In later years of his writing he was one of the first to write social science fiction and considered such topics as racism, and feminism and was responsible for turning science fiction into a more literary genre. He won the coveted Hugo Award four times for his novels, and received 3 Retro Hugos awarded 50 years after a book's publication. He was awarded the Science Fiction Writers' Grand Master Award in 1974, later to be followed by Arthur C. Clark and Isaac Asimov. All three wrote during the so-called Golden Age of science fiction writing. He died in 1988. Heinlein published 32 novels, 59 short stories, and 16 collections during his life. Two non fiction books, one novel, 4 collections and two poems have been published posthumously. 
       There is still a Heinlein Society at the following link with all kinds of information, a concordance for his many books, a newsletter and events listed. I think this is still active, but the last newsletter and event listed were in 2012. But keep an eye on this site if you like to read about Heinlein. There is also a very thorough biography of both Robert and Virginia Heinlein.
     Getting back to Tramp Royale, Heinlein says he was influenced by Rudyard Kipling. He includes a poem at the end of Tramp Royale, written by Rudyard Kipling which I think definitely accent with which it is written. There is also a link to a gentleman reciting it with the accent.  There is no doubt that from this poem came the title of RAH's book.

Sestina of the Tramp-Royal
By Rudyard Kipling 1865–1936 Rudyard Kipling
Speakin’ in general, I ’ave tried ’em all—
The ’appy roads that take you o’er the world.   
Speakin’ in general, I ’ave found them good   
For such as cannot use one bed too long,   
But must get ’ence, the same as I ’ave done,   
An’ go observin’ matters till they die.

What do it matter where or ’ow we die,
So long as we’ve our ’ealth to watch it all—
The different ways that different things are done,   
An’ men an’ women lovin’ in this world;   
Takin’ our chances as they come along,   
An’ when they ain’t, pretendin’ they are good?

In cash or credit—no, it aren’t no good;   
You ’ave to ’ave the ’abit or you’d die,
Unless you lived your life but one day long,   
Nor didn’t prophesy nor fret at all,
But drew your tucker some’ow from the world,   
An’ never bothered what you might ha’ done.

But, Gawd, what things are they I ’aven’t done?   
I’ve turned my ’and to most, an’ turned it good,   
In various situations round the world—
For ’im that doth not work must surely die;   
But that's no reason man should labour all   
’Is life on one same shift—life’s none so long.

Therefore, from job to job I’ve moved along.   
Pay couldn’t ’old me when my time was done,   
For something in my ’ead upset it all,
Till I ’ad dropped whatever ’twas for good,   
An’, out at sea, be’eld the dock-lights die,
An’ met my mate—the wind that tramps the world!

It’s like a book, I think, this bloomin’ world,   
Which you can read and care for just so long,   
But presently you feel that you will die   
Unless you get the page you’re readin’ done,   
An’ turn another—likely not so good;   
But what you’re after is to turn ’em all.

Gawd bless this world! Whatever she ’ath done—
Excep’ when awful long I’ve found it good.   
So write, before I die, ‘’E liked it all!’
Source: A Choice of Kipling's Verse (1943)

     One of my goals in my blog has been to offer information and links to go further, to expand the exploration of some topic, to dig further and learn more, indeed even to travel further and see more in your travel of the Internet. So here is a link that delves into Rudyard Kipling's philosophy of life expressed in this poem and his goal for his life, as expressed by this Cockney narrator. Read and learn even more on travel.

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