Published in 1963, this cover is from a later paperback edition.
Evelyn Cyril "E.C." Gordon has been recently discharged from a war in Southeast Asia. He is considering what to do with his life when he spots a strange advertisement in a newpaper that offers a job for a "hero." He answers the ad and discovers that his employer will be an incredibly beautiful woman who enlists him for an adventure on alien worlds.
The novel was originally serialized in "The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction" (July - September 1963). The cover, as seen here, is by prolific science fiction illustrator Ed Emshwiller.
Early in the story, the hero (called Oscar through a misunderstanding), is equipping himself with weapons from a large selection brought along on the expedition-- "...and [I] 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 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." (continued in next caption)
"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 like an extension of your body. The grip was honest sharkskin, molded to my hand. There was a motto chased on to the blade but it was so buried in curlicues that I did not take time to study it out. This girl was mine, we fitted! I returned it and buckled belt and scabbard to my bare waist, wanting the touch of it and feeling like Captain John Carter, and the Gascon and his three friends all in one."
Among the tasks that must be performed by Oscar is the slaying of a fire breathing dragon. Heinlein provides a scientifically plausible explanation for how such a creature comes to be. This illustration is by Clyde Caldwell.
A little later, Oscar is showing the sword to Star --"I drew my sword and glanced along it, feeling its exquisite balance while noting again the faint ripples left by the feather-soft hammerblows of some master swordsmith. I tossed it and caught it by the forte. "Read the motto, Star." She traced it out. "Dum vivimus, vivamus! -- 'While we live, let us live!' " Oscar named his sword "Lady Vivamus."
A dozen years ago or so a company called Albion Swords started producing a beautiful version of Lady Vivamus (http://www.albion-swords.com/swords/albion/late/sword-lady-vivamus.htm). Their sword is "endorsed" by the Heinlein Prize Trust. And it is very expensive. I would love to have had one of Albion's Lady Viviamus swords but could never rationalize the $3,000 price. I had originally posted here that the Albion sword was no longer available but that turns out to not be true. I recently contacted Albion and they are still making the sword, still at a very high price that doesn't include the scabbard.
The Albion Lady Vivamus is given to the winner of the Heinlein Prize. The first winner was Peter Diamandis.
In 2002, this letter was made public by the addressee. In it, Heinlein says that Lady Vivamus is actually just his Navy dress sword. This does explain why he lavished so much description on the sword in the novel. Heinlein was a brilliant writer and one thing he did not do was waste many words describing hardware. In novels like "Citizen of the Galaxy" and "Rocket Ship Galileo" where space ships are central to the story we get not a word of physical description of those ships beyond a vague reference to their size. But in "Glory Road" we get a long, detailed description of a sword.
It is also obvious that Albion designed their version of Lady Vivamus without this letter for reference. Their sword is a work of art but it is also a large and heavy weapon compared to a Navy dress sword. They took Heinlein's description of the sword as a "meat-axe" and bone chopper seriously.
Navy dress swords have changed over the years but it seems likely from the evidence in Heinlein's letter that his sword was on the pattern of this 1872 sword. Swords of this style could still have been in use when his older brother was a mishipman. The 1872 sword does have a slight curve to the blade and a rapier point. Navy dress swords after this were very similar except that they have somewhat lighter blades that are completely straight.
However, despite Heinlein's written statement that Lady Vivamus is his dress sword the actuality is that the description in the novel does not match the Navy dress sword exactly. The primary discrepancy is his description of the guard as a "bell guard". The Navy sword clearly does not have a bell guard, not even a very shallow bell guard such as those found on Civil War swords. Also, the blade is light to "chop bone" though possibly it could if it were absolutely necessary, risking damage. Modern dress swords are not sharp at all, though one of this vintage might be.
This 1852 model Navy dress sword is a better model for Lady Vivamus. It is nearly identical to the sword Heinlein probably owned except that it has a substantial blade that was designed for combat, not ceremony. This model sword was used by both the Union and the Confederacy through the Civil War.
I collect swords and that interest can be traced back, in large part, to "Glory Road." It was the first story for me in which the sword was so integral to the hero's journey. It made an impression and I wanted to have a Lady Vivamus to honor that impact. I couldn't afford Albion's sword but when a friend suggested that I make my own, I realized it might be possible. I began an extensive internet search for a sword that could be made into Lady Vivamus. I looked at many hundreds, maybe thousands of different swords. The obvious candidate, a Navy dress sword, is impractical both because the ones with curved blades are valuable antiques and because they all have engraved blades. There are a number of military dress swords and Civil War swords that are available as inexpensive replicas but they all have engraved blades.
I bought several swords that I thought could be converted, including the one pictured above, but they all proved unsuitable.
The Lady Vivamus project has taken years to complete. Several years ago, I got an idea that, instead of me making a replica sword just for myself, I should try to convince a company to produce replicas at a reasonable price so that any Heinlein fan who wanted a Lady Vivamus could have one. I knew that Windlass Steelcrafts, an Indian company that is a large producer of good quality replica swords and ceremonial dress military swords, also produced licensed replicas. They had even produced several from books (Jordan's "Wheel of Time" series) rather than the usual movie source, as I'd seen in the catalog of their US retail distributor, Museum Replicas. So, I wrote to Windlass, described Lady Vivamus and Heinlein's importance to the SF community, and proposed that they make and sell them. Somewhat to my surprise, they agreed that it was a project with potential and I started working with them to see if it could be done.
One of the first things I did was go through their catalog and choose the sword that could most easily serve as a base for a Lady Vivamus replica. I finally settled on their reproduction of a Confederate Staff & Field Officer's Sword (as seen above). It is very similar in design to the 1852 Navy dress sword and it has a 31 inch long blade, as Heinlein specified in his letter. It seemed to me that only minor changes were needed to turn this into a very faithful reproduction of Lady Vivamus.
Unfortunately, Windlass decided that because of licensing issues and the admittedly small market of Heinlein fans, producing a Lady Vivamus replica was not a viable project at this time. I could not really argue with their reasoning but it was a major disappointment. However, the licensing VP with whom I'd been working had ordered a sword with a plain blade from their factory in India that I was going to turn into a prototype for them. When they canceled the project, they sold me that sword at a discount.
I expected that getting the motto "Dum vivimus, vivamus!" onto the blade would be the most difficult part of the project and that proved to be true. I created artwork with the motto imbedded in "curlicues". Heinlein says the motto is "chased" on the blade. That could be any of several techniques. Traditionally, the decorations and markings on sword blades are acid etched into the steel. Most modern military dress swords are actually etched with a laser. Engraving, by hand or machine, is another technique that could be used. I looked into all of these and found them to be either too expensive or technically difficult.
The majority of "engravers" that do things like trophies and promotional items use computer controlled machines that are too small to accept a sword. I was fortunate to find an engraver who does a lot of industrial work and was willing to tackle the job. He succeeded, as can be seen in this photo, but only by realizing that he could get the sword into the machine's cabinet by turning it to the diagonal. This meant he had to rotate the artwork exactly right to get it to line up, and he succeeded in that, too. The marking technique used is called "laser bonding" and is neither etching or engraving. I did some research on laser bonding since I wondered about its durability. It turns out I had nothing to worry about. It is a well established industrial process and is very durable.
This is the finished replica of Lady Vivamus. I made minor modifications to a Japanese sword display stand to show both the sword and its scabbard.
The sword that Windlass delivered to me was actually better than the picture in their catalog. The blade is more gracefully tapered and and has a sharper rapier point than seen in the catalog photo.
The cast brass guard has a small "CS" molded as part of the decoration. That is the only thing on the sword that suggests that it was originally a Civil War era sword. I covered the CS with a small jewel cabachon epoxied in place.
The one thing I was not able to change as I would have liked is the leather covering of the grip. In the novel, Heinlein says the grip is wrapped in shark skin. Shark skin is the traditional covering for the grip of Navy dress swords. Modern Navy swords use a hard plastic grip that has a molded surface that simulates shark skin.
Even before I got the sword, I suspected that it would be impossible to disassemble the hilt to allow the grip to be recovered without damaging it, and this proved to be true. I next considered recoloring the leather to make it white, but a test of white dye on black leather showed this to be unsatisfactory. So, I decided to leave it as is and and assume that it represents black ray skin, such as Albion used on their Lady Vivamus.
This is the artwork I made for the inscription. Heinlein's description says the words are so entangled with the curlicues that it is hard to read. I wanted it to be read more easily but it still takes a moment to pick out the words.
If you would like to make your own Lady Vivamus and want to use a Navy dress sword as a model for Lady Vivamus, this is the best candidate I've found. It is a Model 1850 Foot Officer's Sword. This sword and the Navy swords of the same period were very similar. The main difference was that the Navy sword would have had a nautical theme in its decoration. The sword has a substantial blade suitable for "bone chopping." The blade is 31 inches long, as specified in Heinlein's letter. The reason I'm suggesting this sword instead of a Navy sword is because the Navy sword replicas have etched blades. That is usually true of Foot Officer swords, too, but Legendary Arms offers a model without markings. It can be ordered (at a very reasonable price) here: http://www.legendaryarms.com/m1footofswor.html . Unfortunately, the Windlass Steelcrafts sword I used is not available. I asked and they don't care to sell any more unmarked swords.