Job: A Comedy of Justice

ISBN: 0345316509
ISBN 13: 9780345316509
By: Robert A. Heinlein

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Reader's Thoughts

Matteo Pellegrini

Escursionisti inter-dimensionali, attenzione: basta imboccare una volta sola il bivio sbagliato del tempo, e la Terra si trasforma in un vero e proprio pianeta-miraggio, sempre elusivo, anche se apparentemente a portata di mano. Alex Hergensheimer, durante una crociera in Polinesia, comincia ad avere il sospetto che qualcosa non quadri: la sua austera motonave è diventata un’allegra Love Boat, gli ultimi novant’anni di storia sono cambiati, e lui stesso ha ora un altro nome, Graham e in tasca un milione di dollari di dubbia provenienza. Che cosa mi è successo? si chiede l’imbarazzatissimo Alex. E’ finito in un altro universo? Si è spezzato qualcosa nella trama della realtà e il mondo è prossimo alla fine? Qual è il mondo “giusto” e come arrivarci?

Mark Schlatter

An odd duck.I loved this book back when I bought it (the early 80's), but this reread has me pondering. At the time, I think I enjoyed the transgressive nature of the book (a Heinlein take on fundamentalist Christianity), but this reading left me wanting a deeper examination. While the plot lifts loosely from the plot of the book of Job, the book as a whole does not refer to the dialogues of Job. And really, the bulk of Job is the discussion between Job, his friends, and (finally) God. The plot is a stepping off point for the discussion. But Heinlein's version is mostly plot. The questions of unfairness are - for the most part - simply answered by pointing out that God is a manipulator with little compassion for his creation.Second, our main character is a fundamentalist Christian with some frightening views on race, gender, and society in general. But, he is also a Heinlein protagonist with the flexibility and openness of mind one would expect. It's a strange confluence. It's as if the character has the correct attitudes and beliefs for his role, but a very different temperament. The emphasis on moving through parallel worlds (this book's version of the torture of Job) highlights that perhaps the beliefs and attitude are simply environment, that if you were plunged into a libertine world, you would be a libertine. But even at the end of the book, that point isn't clear.It's fun, and the parallel worlds are interesting, but it left me thinking that so much more could be said.

John Dalton

Heinlein is acknowledged as one of the greats of science fiction, and yet I think this is the first book of his that I� ve read. I saw it on the shelf in a second-hand book store, and picked it up purely because I recognised his name.[return][return]First, a note on the title: it� s � Job� as in the biblical book of Job (rhymes with � robe� , or at least it did when I was doing bible study).[return][return]The story is about a man, Alexander Hergensheimer, who participates in a fire walk and comes out the other side into a world that is different to his own. In this world people recognise him as Alec Graham, but he has no idea who this man is or what has happened to him. In the end it doesn� t matter, because the phenomenon of shifting into different worlds continues and Alex (accompanied by his new lover Margrethe, the stewardess) doesn� t stay in any one place long enough that his lack of identity is a problem.[return][return]One of the side-effects of this world shifting process is that it usually renders his money worthless. When the world shifts the global political landscape changes, and notes marked � United States of America� are useless if that part of the world is known as the � North American Union� in this universe. As a consequence Alex and Margrethe are always broke, and have to work for their meals and lodging. The only job he can get (quickly, with no recognised qualifications) is as a dishwasher - and somehow it seems that dishwashers are needed everywhere they go.[return][return]As the title hints, religion is a strong theme throughout this book. Alexander was an ordained minister in his own universe, a universe dominated by extremely right-wing fundamentalist Christians. No, even worse than our universe.[return][return]Alex� s views on morality and religion are obviously coloured by his past, but his exposure to worlds with much more liberal views on many issues causes him to question whether all that he� s been taught to believe is true.[return][return]In the end he learns something of the value of love and tolerance over strict adherence to inflexible dogma.[return][return]Possibly this was not the best introduction to Heinlein� s work. It� s science fiction only in the broadest sense, in that it uses parallel universes as a plot device. There� s no science involved at all though, and I usually prefer SF with some basis in reality.[return][return]The religious element of the story is really the central theme, and this book is at heart a satire critical of fundamentalist Christian churches. Heinlein has either done a lot of research, or was brought up with a strong religious background - I� m not sure which - but I wonder how much of the book is accessible to those without a reasonable level of familiarity with the Bible.[return][return]I felt that the ending of the book was rushed, and a copout. There� s a real deus ex machina thing going on, and while the ending is much more clearly (and unsubtly) satire than the rest of the book, I found it unconvincing and unsatisfying.[return][return]All in all, I� d only recommend this book to Heinlein fans or those with enough familiarity with the Bible to appreciate the many biblical references. I� ll have to try one of Heinlein� s better known works next time.[return][return](Originally posted at )


The key to understanding this book lies in the subtitle, "A Comedy of Justice." It exactly mirrors the subtitle of James Branch Cabell's breakthrough best seller, "Jurgen." And the plot is similar. Dig deeper, and you will discover that Cabell was Heinlein's favorite author, and that all of Heinlein's later works, from "Stranger in a Strange Land" onward, were attempts to mimic Cabell"s 18-volume "Biography of the Life of Manuel," of which "Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice" was not the best, merely the best-known.So how did Heinlein do? Well, Cabell repeatedly insisted that he wrote only for his own pleasure. Heinlein, in these later books, seemed to be indulging in a similar private obsession. If that is the case, he wouldn't have cared much what we think.That being said, "Jurgen" is a far, far better book than "Job: A Comedy of Justice." Cabellian irony fit his mythic cosmos-building and droll story constructs. Heinlein may have aimed for irony, but his personal philosophy rubbed against the grain of that emprise. He was, in the end, a pretty straight-forward guy, if a nudist and all-around crank. This book is one of those very odd failures that may haunt unwary readers for reasons hard to grasp. The haunting, I think, is due entirely to the strange and unlikely presence of the shade of James Branch Cabell.

Richard Palmer

** spoiler alert ** This book went in directions and places I did not expect. It took quite a while until I really did realize that it was a retelling of the biblical story of Job. There were quite some departures, and after a while, the fantasies got a little tiring. How many times was there going to be a world change, and why are all these details necessary? The pace picked up once Alec went to heaven. All the humorous sketches of the administration of the city of New Jerusalem were rather funny. This continued down into hell, but then things slowed down a bit. I kept wondering, "Where are we going with all of this?" In the end, Heinlein came back to the story and wrapped things up. I would rate it high for imagination and creativity, but a little low for the repetition and distracting details. My favorite line was from Alec, in chapter 20: "I had hoped for time enough for love, but no..." How artful of Heinlein to bury that reference to his other novel in a little unimportant dialog!


I really tried to like this book, but I just didn't get it. The characters were flat and the scenarios they found themselves in seemed so episodic and inconsequential that, by about halfway through the book, I grew bored and apathetic. It was recommended to me by someone whose taste I admire, but the book wasn't for me.

Michele Brenton

Yet another of my perennial favourites. I regularly pick this one up and re-read it.Each time I find something new to enjoy.One of the things I'm enjoying this time is the character of Margarethe as I have got to know some people of her nationality and now the dialogue involving her has suddenly become more amusing.This is a work that leads to a great deal of pondering on the part of the reader as Heinlein's main character Alex Hergensheimer is a philosopher extraordinaire and a Christian minister who finds himself head over heels in love with a person who worships the Norse gods and together they are plunged into what seem to be parallel universes with no warning time and time again.Hardline Christians may take umbrage with this book - but people with open minds and a sense of humour will enjoy the twists and turns. For folk like me who have had an interesting path through a life that sometimes feels as though somebody up there is having a joke at our expense - this book can be a crumb of comfort if viewed from the right angle.

Jeff Yoak

** spoiler alert ** Job is a mix of the flavor of early Heinlein with a gritty hero and his girl slugging it out against a hostile world for about the first 17 chapters. From there, we learn that an essentially Christian view of the world is correct and we witness apocalypse and see heaven and hell... Heinlein style. His view of heaven with arrogant angels running a massive bureaucracy is a page-turning delight.

Bernie Gourley

In "Job: A Comedy of Justice" the protagonist, Alexander Hergensheimer, finds himself randomly drifting from one alternative universe to another. After his initial shift, he's joined by a lover, Margrethe, who knows him from her world as Alec Graham. The couple stay together through many other ill-timed world shifts, and are only separated when Hergensheimer finds himself in heaven. When faced with the question of what he's willing to do to be reunified with the woman he loves, the novel really gets interesting. As you might have expected, the name of the book is the Biblical name "Job" (i.e. rhymes with lobe)and not "job" as in an occupation.Each time the couple shifts, they are poor anew. That is, while geography remains the same, history and money are different from one world to the next. Hergenshiemer washes dishes because he can't engage in his trade by training, preacher, in these worlds.Just as Dante inadvertently convinces us that the first circle of hell is preferable to heaven (who wouldn't prefer the company of Socrates and Virgil over that of Jerry Falwell and Jimmy Swaggart,) Heinlein creates an afterlife that is a good deal more complex but also more just than the Biblical version.I recommend this lesser known Heinlein book. It's both humorous and thought-provoking.


A modern-day (well, set in 1994, written in 1984) retelling of the story of Job from the Biblical Old Testament, with quite the sci-fi twist. Alexander Hergensheimer is a pious church fundraiser who is experiencing something very weird. He participated in a native fire walking during a cruise ship vacation and regains consciousness in a world not his own. It looks very much like Earth, but everything is different: culture, values, technology, even his name! He falls for his stewardess and thereafter together they are flipped into world after world. Why is this happening to him? Who is doing it? The answers to those questions are highly entertaining and thought-provoking.Although I didn't care for Alec's constant preaching and proselytizing, I understand the necessity of it as regards to the plot and was able to deal with it better after I finished than while I was reading it. I very much enjoy Heinlein's take on religion, and wonder if this is the budding of his World as Myth theories.

Liam Proven

An odd novel; Heinlein, the doyen of doyens of golden-age SF, writes what is essentially a theological novel, although buried in there is a many-worlds, universe-hopping SFnal tale. If it's not all just a hallucination anyway.It's very odd to read a new-to-me Heinlein now, in the C21, some thirty to thirty-five years after I devoured all the Heinlein I could get. This contains some vintage themes and in some ways feels like it was a dry run for /Stranger in a Strange Land/ - it is, essentially, Heinlein forcibly blowing open the mind of a small-minded, moralistic, religious bigot and impressing upon him something of Heinlein's own libertarian, sex-positive, amoral views.But then again, despite how unpopular many of Heinlein's views are in the modern liberal world, myself, I am largely in agreement with them, so I rather enjoyed it. A neglected RAH, well worth a read if you like his more adult stuff and are able to put yourself into his mindset or at least suspend judgement. If you feel he's dreadfully non-PC and a hoary crusty old letch, then you're not going to like this one - but then again, you might find yourself having *your* mind stretched open a bit yourself.

Eliza Hirsch

This book is like distilled Heinlein. Women who are generally intelligent sex objects and the men who love them, slightly awkward but nonetheless charming dialogue, and a healthy smattering of really thought provoking lines.Not a spoiler: "On reflection I realized that I was in exactly the same predicament as every other human being alive. We don't know who we are, or where we came from, or why we are here. My dilemma was merely fresher, not different. "One thing (possibly the only thing) I learned in seminary was to face calmly the ancient mystery of life, untroubled by my inability to solve it. Honest priests and preachers are denied the comforts of religion; instead they must live with the austere rewards of philosophy."This is why I love Heinlein. I have to admit, though, this book feels kind of dated.


It's strange. I did not enjoy this book as much as the last time I read it about 20-25 years ago. I am guessing that part of it is because I listened to the audiobook this time and I did NOT enjoy the reader. His voice seemed out if place for much of it, at least in my opinion, and other than occasionally adding a southern drawl, many of the characters sounded alike. His reading also makes me think of someone whining continually.Also, when I read this last, I think I was more of a religious rebel than I am today, and thus the book spoke more to me. Today, I see some of the underlying points of the story, but I think they get muddied in the narrative or even contradict themselves at times.As to the structure of the story itself, I must admit that it really takes too long to get to the final act. We got the point on all the changes and how the protagonists have had to suffer, why make the reader suffer as well. And the final climax was almost too silly, again in my opinion. Thus overall, an ok book, but one I probably won't read again. It did not live up to my memory of the book.


In someways I think my journey to this book will always outlast the book itself. When I was seventeen I told my boss I would read this book, that had been so influential to his young catholic school life. It was one of only two gallon sized bags worth of objects prized from my worst car wreck in my early twenties. It has been the lasting joke of a decade. Whether I had finally read it. And this late winter, in the year I will turn 29, he sent me a second copy. It is pristine, and not as tender warming as the one that slowly is trying to die, but its very much still in this house with me. (And both copies likely find it queer, I read it on my Kindle instead of through either of them.)I am not sure I liked this novel. It is slow and plodding, and it does not do details and relationships the way my favorite books do. But it was quite compelling, and I was involved with the point of the novel by about the one-third mark. I can see very much why it changed his life when it did, though at 29, I can see why it seems for granted to me, with all my life has had in it. I'm not sure I'd rec it to others, but I'm certain I would still love to talk about it with people. And thus I will leave you the quote that will stay with me forever, too: "Is this Texas, then, or Hell?" "Well. That's all really a matter of opinion."


To start, it is the year 1994, and in Alexander Hergensheimer's world, there are no airplanes, television, computers or traffic lights. Their only form of aeronautic transportation comes in the form of dirigibles. The world is incredibly moralistic, with abortion now termed a capital offense. A "federal law making the manufacture, sale, possession, importation, transportation, and/or use of any contraceptive drug or device a felony carrying a mandatory prison sentence of not less than a year and a day". Swearing is a crime liable with punishment in the stocks in the form of public nudity and ends with wrongdoer voluntarily leaving the community. Dresses cover all the skin and Women Do Not Have The Vote.However, on a cruise ship trip, he finds it all gone awry as one unfortuznate tourist tour to the Polynesian islands finds him walking through fire...and into another universe. He is no longer Alexander Hergensheimer. He is now Alec L. Graham, a man with questionable associates, who has an affair with his stewardess, Margrethre, and one million dollars in his safety deposit box on the ship. Amazingly enough, he learns to cope pretty well with everything. That is, until, for some ridiculous reason, the ship hits an iceberg, in the middle of the Southern seas at that, and he ends up in another universe...again, but this time, with Margrethe at his side.And from there, Alex and Margrethe experience one world change after another, until they grow faster and faster in frequency. In the midst of all this, Alex is convinced the End of Days has come, and that God is showing the beginning signs of His Apocalypse. As Alex struggles to try to save Margrethe from her heathen ways, their time runs out, and the problem is taken out of his hands. In Heaven, Alex finds that it's not all it's cracked up to be. And that, horribly, Margrethe is nowhere to be found. From Heaven to Hell, he struggles to find her. And as he begins to realize that maybe all is lost, Satan comes to his rescue, with insights that his mind yearns to disbelieve. As they go to a Higher Power, higher even than God, Alex struggle to make sense of it all, and to put into context what is really important to him, his faith...or Margrethe.-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------The title of this book is apt, and ironic. It parallels the tale of Job in the Bible, wherein he suffers many trials, before finally finding happiness. I always found it, extremely offensive in the end, that it was nothing but a game between God and Satan. God trying to prove the loyalty of Job, and Satan saying otherwise. In short, Job was a tale of how God plays with our lives. And in this book, God plays with Everything. He plays with a man's reality, his beliefs, and even his faith. And Satan becomes the sympathetic one, a trickster who possesses something God does not have, the ability to understand human emotion. Because at some point, the trickster knows when to stop, but the deity does not. This book encourages questions. Such as, how can people worship a God who is so far apart from the human experience, that he does not understand their pain, pleasure, or love? God is the Alien. And Satan, though he may be evil, but through his countless centuries of human interaction, has in some small part of him, the knowing of a Human.It was amusing to read through all the different versions of Earth, and see how many ways people span the spectrum from extreme fanaticism, to extreme liberalism, and how machines range from antique technology, to the advanced. It was also interesting to see how a man, Alex, from a very religious background, would react to such changes. Would he waver in his faith, or be true to it? And would Margrethe, the woman in this tale, be able to cope with the changes brought on by her relationship with this man? They are both very different people. Alex was at times, a bigot, a chauvinist, and no doubt if he had had the opportunity, he would have denounced homosexuals and feminists as well. However, even he could not escape the changes these constant peeks into a different dimension, have wrought on his character. The title of this book is truly apt, as it really is a fun ride through the different versions of Earth, and eventually, Heaven and Hell. In the midst of it all, Alex is a believable character truly epitomizing the behavior of his original worlds. Alex, with his supremely moralistic upbringing, sometimes borders on bigotry and chauvinism in his thinking. The only fact which saves him from being a revolting character, is his minds ability to adapt and keep his mouth closed. I guess what saves him from behaving abominably, was that no parts were written were he was ablt to meet homosexuals and feminists. If he did, I'd be interested to see what behavior he'd show. Both he and Margrethe were blessed with hardworking and pleasing characters which enabled them to survive in the many different worlds they dwelt in for a time. Alex would preach, but it was inoffensive. His, somewhat bumbling behavior endeared him to people. Margrethe was beautiful, as well as a good soul. As Lazarus Long would say, "she was innocent in her lechery." The most delightful surprise in this book, was the Rapture. I admit, I was expecting something more along the lines of wormhole opening in space. I guess, I really should have clued in on all the hints dropped (especially the title). I was irritated at first, the way a little kid expects a basketball for X-mas, but he gets a football instead. Well, I guess I'll just have to admit to myself that I can't always predict the twists in a story. Sometimes, we just get things wrong.In the aftermath of the Rapture, I was treated to a picture of Heaven and Hell, that I never expected to see. Heaven, is as place of strict rules, and a permanent hierarchy. It's revolt to any liberal thinker and burgeoning activist, because I'm sure, in this type of place, you can't instigate a revolt and change the status-quo. I, myself, believe that democracy is a myth, however, I do enjoy the illusion of it. However, the Heaven being shown, strips you of all your illusions. The rule in Heaven is RHIP, "Rank Hath It's Privileges." There is no Golden Rule. Instead, there's a three-level ranking system. Angels on top, Saints in the middle, and Humans at the bottom. Again, I doubt God would stand for a reenactment of the French Revolution in his stratospheric territory.Hell, is as bureaucratic as any Earthian government. You increase or decrease in rank according to your wits, cunning, and manipulative talent. People compete for their place. Of course, you've got those who suffer, and those who enjoy. It's no different from Earth, except you in this place, you can actually see the demons when they talk to you. This book reminds me a lot of Heinlein's Time Enough for Love, in the way that he incorporates several settings and plots into one story. I also like the irreverence he has for religion, although my own Catholic upbringing hardwired into my head, has made me uneasy at some parts in the story. It's social conditioning though, so I can't quite help it. In the end, again, the story of Job is paralleled. After the many trials and tribulations, Alex and Margrethe are given new beginnings, not to mention new memories. The lives they lost as they journeyed, were replace with new ones. Just as Job's daughters and sons were replaced with new children. However, of these two parallel stories, I prefer Heinlein's. Alex came out of the experience, dispelling his naivety and blind faith, and was reborn, a more discerning and open-minded man. Job, on the other hand, came out of his experience, minus twelve children. (It doesn't matter to me that they were replaced. They're not goldfish you can flush down the toilet, then go to the pet store to buy new ones.)

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