Job: A Comedy of Justice

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

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Reader's Thoughts


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.


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.

Curtis Butturff

I really don't read a lot of fiction but I first read this book as a young man when I was reading all of Heinlein's work. As I recall this was around the time the man died so that probably will date me a bit for some of you.In his later books he seemed to be sticking with more of a formula than in the early books and this book seemed to kick off his alternate universe and history section. I think it was also probably one of his best works overall but I'll get into that.It follows the adventures of a man (a preacher as I recall) who suddenly finds the world is changing and he is shifting through variations on the reality he had grown up in. He finds himself in a world where Zeppelins are the primary air transport not jetliners, and in another he finds himself in Hell and it's whole lot like Arizona with the Devil a retired businessman. I think it's the irreverent side of the book that always liked and why i actually read it twice which is rare for me.For instance without giving too much away there is a scene where two demons who are tasked with catching sinners as they are cast out of Heaven with what amounts to large butterfly nets are in an argument of sorts. One of them says basically "well if that's true then I'll be a flying pink ape" or words that effect and as they are between Heaven and Hell God hears this and having a bit of a sense of humor (as the whole book suggests) there is a sudden flash of lightening from on high accompanied with the smell of burnt pink monkey fur. God has struck the demon with a lightening bolt and turned him from a fearsome demon bat like wings into a little pink monkey with feathery wings. As I recall this occurs just as Job plummets pass on his way to Arizona but the pink monkey is pissed at his buddy who is laughing at him and they forget to catch him in the net.Generally speaking I always liked Mr. Heinlein's earlier works but like any literary study you should read them all to get a picture of the guy over the course of his life. He lived to be around 90 as I recall and some of the later works were a bit formulaic but I always thought this one stood out along with many of his best early titles. In no small part because it was in fact pretty funny with the hero apt to show up in unfortunate spots completely nude as he shifts through universes but also because in some sense it also speaks to a deeper meaning.He takes the title from the biblical book of Job which is about a contest between God and the Devil to see if the later can tempt a righteous man to renounce the former. That's essentially the premise here as well but in Heinlein's work he throws in a decidedly modern cast to the story. As bad as things get there is usually a silver lining or at least a punchline to be had.Along with Stranger In A Strange Land I recommend this title for the casual reader looking for a new author who has not read any of his works. I would suspect that Stranger In A Strange Land is easier to find among the used paperbacks than this one but if you find you like Heinlein I'd recommend you keep an eye out and give it a read if you can.

Leroy Seat

This is the first book by Heinlein that I have read, and it will probably be the only one of his that I read.Even though I found the book quite interesting and containing a surprising lot of theology as well as a Bible verse at the top of each chapter, still I am not inclined to recommend it to others. I guess my positive thoughts about the book turned negative with the Rapture and all that happened after that.Still, I don't regret having read this book, and others with religious / theological backgrounds would no doubt find it quite interesting.

Jude Malta

** spoiler alert ** The first 200 pages were tedious to read as Heinlen's throws the main character and his mistress into an adventure through parallel universes. Throughout these adventures, religion is continually addressed which later surprisingly serves a purpose to the story. It's somewhat refreshing, yet tiresome, to see Heinlen's female roles reappear in Margrathe and Katie Farnsworth. Heinlen obviously has a clear view of women; he favors women and desires his women to have strong sex appeal, be intelligent, be caring, be independent and strong, have patience, and not have a jealous bone in their bodies and still bow down to the male dominant figure of his books. He clearly shows his disapproval of "nagging" women by Alex/Alec's close-minded legally wedded wife of Abigail. Surprisingly, I inferred a possible racially prejudiced viewpoint in this book by his references to the "crooked" Mexicans and "blackamoors" serving as subservient roles in the kitchen. I will admit these references were slight and not pronounced. After the "Rapture", the story is finally captivating. Alexander/Alec travels to Heaven, Hell, and back literally for the woman he loves, Margrathe. Heinlen creatively portrays heaven as a bureaucratic caste system of angels, saints and "creatures" which I found refreshing/unique/hilarious. He clearly shows this R.H.I.P. (Rank Hath Its Privileges) by setting a scene on a bus with the Angels up front, saints in the middle, and "creatures" in the rear; similar to the pre-Civil Rights era. Heinlen adds humor to Saint Peter by having him comfort our protagonist by saying "I could talk with any One of the Trinity [Father, Son and Holy Ghost:].. but reminded me that, in consulting the Holy Ghost we had consulted all of Them." Obviously Alexander wasn't getting any answers from this bureaucratic system. After a literal fall from Grace, Alex finds himself in Hell in search for Margrathe. Might I add that Heinlen's view of Hell has BEER and alcohol!! Awesome! And hilariously enough, it is run by a City Manager. "Hell isn't very organized. It's an anarchy except for a touch of absolute monarchy on some points." (Readers: I would like to add that I worked in a municipal government for 5 years, and I compared it to Hell most of the time. Apparently, I wasn't too far off the marker.) Satan is a Texan, that has Wagner-like compositions as his own background music (which I have always disliked, so it's quite appropriate). I found the book witty towards the end. If only the first half of the book was as interesting and different as the latter part.


After consuming several Spider Robinson books, I felt it was necessary to explore some of Heinlein's work finally. I decided upon Job: a comedy of Justice because it was recommended by a friend. I loved it. I can totaly see where Spider Robinson has been influenced greatly by this writer.I will be going into some more of his work soon.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

Misha Lipatov

Warning!!! The following review contains some spoilers.In 1967, a military doctor in Soviet Union wrote a story about a man and the love of his life. The story was not about just those two, but also about Jesus, Satan, and all kinds of mystical events and fantastical characters. I am talking about The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. Seventeen years later, a retired naval officer, physicist and mathematician in the United States of America wrote a book that is the mirror image of Bulgakov’s novel, reflected in the icy mirror of the Cold War. This is Robert Heinlein’s “JOB: a Comedy of Justice.” It is fascinating to note the similarities and differences between the two books. My first clue to the connection between them was the fact that the name of the main heroine of the latter book is Margrethe – the Danish version of the Russian Margarita. Jesus and Satan play an important role in this book as well, and the author’s attitude towards all the main characters has a remarkably similar feel to that of Bulgakov in his novel.On the other hand, there are differences, caused by the different environments in which the authors grew and wrote their books. For example, Bulgakov’s book is written as a third person narrative, in which the main character (the Master) is not an obvious focus of the book in the least. On the other hand, The Master’s equivalent in Heinlein’s story, Alexander Hergensheimer, tells the whole story from his point of view and is, without question, the obvious focus of the entire novel.The two authors both do an excellent job expressing a beautiful attitude towards religion, relationships between men and women, societal ideologies, political structures and life in general – an attitude that reflects a deep and simple compassion of men who traveled and worked in the service of humanity, men whose views were educated but simple and who didn’t let the superficialities of their respective societies hide the basic goodness and simplicity of human nature.

Kevin Catarino

This book is awful. I never liked Heinlein, but I found this on Junk Day and decided to give it a try. My god, does it suck. The prose is around a third-grade level and the plot couldn't be any less interesting. The thing that totally ruined it for me was that, if he's supposed to be Job, why is he given the girl of his dreams to accompany him on his interdimensional jaunts? And if washing dishes in Mexico is your idea of Hell, you are an extremely sheltered human being. I didn't even finish this shitheap, and I blame it for my lapse in reading over the past few weeks. It was my nightstand book, and instead of read it, I opted for insomnia. That's how bad this is.

John Defrog

Christian fundamentalist Alex Hergensheimer finds himself unexpectedly shifting between various alternate Earths. On the bright side, he meets the woman of his dreams. On the downside, it’s all leading to Armageddon, and she’s a pagan worshipper, and his main concern is how to get her to accept Christ as her savior before the rapture. If that puts you off, it may help to know that this is all meant to be satire. Heinlein does a great job with the notion of how to deal with world shifts that rob you of yr identity and cash, and while his version of Heaven and Hell may seem old hat these days, it was a fresher idea when he wrote the book in the early 80s. And it’s almost as if Heinlein saw the rise of the Christian Coalition coming a mile away. On the downside, Alex’s first-person narration plays it so straight that it’s hard to believe he’s that oblivious to his own hypocrisy (though he’d hardly be the first fundamentalist to be so described, and that may actually be the point). The only really hard part to take is the romance between Alex and Margrethe, which is so loaded with cornball dialogue that I knocked a whole star off my Goodreads rating as a result.


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."

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