Job: A Comedy of Justice

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

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Reader's Thoughts


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."

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.

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 )

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.

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.


I put off reading this for a long time because the title made me think I knew what was going to happen. I was so wrong. This is a really enthralling and different kind of story. If you take the Bible very seriously and are really offended and the very idea that God and the universe are not what you thought they were, then this is not for you. If you enjoyed Lamb by Christopher Moore then you should be okay. P.S. God is the bad guy.

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.

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.

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.


A comedy of justice, true in every sense of the word. Job is the riveting tale of dimensional travel and exciting circumstance to test the limit of your imagination and perception of our world. Knowing that the book is set in a non-standard universe from the very beginning helps in clearing up your thoughts for the thought provoking look at a human’s spirituality. The book itself is beautifully written, every page being exciting as well as moving the plot along.Job could be considered one of the best novels from Heinlein for its look at the cosmos and organization of the divine. “Nobody's ever been this far up before” sums up one of the few unique looks on religious endeavors. The only considerably bad parts of this book would be the preachy nature the characters can draw into at times. But other than that, this novel is worth reading for anybody who can question their own divine entities.


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.


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.


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.)

Jay Daze

I didn't absolutely hate this on my re-read (re-listen on audio?) at least I didn't hate it as much as the first time I read it as a teen who had little interest in religious satire. Not that I'd recommend the book to anyone who was interested in Heinlein for the first time. Heinlein should be experienced as a science fiction author - not a fantasy hack. I really hated Heinlein's other fantasy book Glory Road and didn't actually finish the meandering wank-fest. In comparison this book ticks along, though the deus-deus ex machina at the end was pretty disappointing. I suppose Alex's multi-world journey from religious bigot to religious moderate was gonna have to have lots of intervention, but in the end he gets turned into a lucky pet dog who gets his bone. Heinlein gives full vent to his horny ways, he is really invested in having his main character have lots of guilt free sex, which is fine, if predictable. You can see why many sf authors shy away from exploring sexual mores and arrangements for fear of falling into just such an embarrassing trap. But there is also a real WTF moment where a wife suggests that her husband have sex with their daughter, continuing Heinlein's disturbing habit of making light of incest and pedophilia. (Oh, there is an explanation for who exactly these people are later in the book, but I just take that as authorial hand waving).Funnily enough the main problem that I have with the book is that Heinlein never really convinces me that the main character Alex is the bigot, racist, and misogynist he is supposed to be at the start of the book. (Heinlein makes a point of springing all this upon the reader a good ways into the narrative, probably so he doesn't immediately alienate readers.) But the problem is that Alex sounds exactly like all Heinlein heroes (including Friday) far too reasonable, level headed and logical to be a religious nut. Heinlein has a distinctive voice which you either love or hate, but his weakness as a writer is that he can rarely vary that voice. So let me end with my earlier review before the re-read:Late period Heinlein. You've been warned.

***Dave Hill

As noted below, each time I re-read this, I enjoy it all the more. The narrator, Alex, is a tough nut to crack -- and, ultimately, the story is less about him (and Margrethe) than the metastory (just as in the Biblical book of Job). It's simply a bit of sacrilegious fun, and worth the periodic re-read.----------(Oct 2011)Most recent re-read, and, each time, I enjoy this book more. Yeah, it's full of standard Heinleinian philosophizing, yeah it suffers from a multitude of (literal) deus ex machina ... but Alec Graham is a fun character, a diamond in the rough, culturally prejudiced while remaining pure at heart and fiercely dedicated to love: an appropriate saint. Having read more Twain since my original review, I also see far more parallels to Twain's works ("Letters from Earth" in particular).The book is, in short, a philosophical romp, using parallel Earths as a framework, and Mid-western Christianity as a backdrop. And it's fun.----(Original review, 4/2003, with ratings scale 1-3)Summary [2]: This 1984 novel is one of Heinlein’s lesser-known works, and one of his few non-sf fantasies, but it remains delightful for all of that. Alex, the protagonist, finds himself being shifted maliciously between different parallel Earths, accompanied by his paramour Margrethe, all the time worried that the signs point to the Judgment Day — an event that minister Alex longs for, but which he fears will mean Margrethe’s damnation.And then Judgment Day actually arrives …There’s little “science” in this Heinlein work; it’s much more a religious fantasy, which could as easily have been penned by Mark Twain. Like Twain, Heinlein enjoys tweaking his characters for their vanity and self-righteousness, though Heinlein seems willing to pick here on bigger targets than Twain would have dared. There’s a bit too much meandering of the plot at times; Heinlein gets a bit lost at the struggle by Alex and Margrethe to keep anything of worth with them as they are shifted from world to world. He also seems to be both nostalgically fond of revivalist Christianity while scornful of the theology behind itEntertainment [3]: Like most Heinlein works, it’s good fun and occasionally thought-provoking. Who could ask for much more?Profundity [2]: Thinking you have all the answers is hubris that’s waiting to be taken down a peg. Roll with life’s punches. Don’t sweat the little things. Hard work won’t kill you. Love without respect isn’t love. The universe is run with a lot less justice than one would like to think. Piety does not imply horse sense. Love is more important than material things; it’s more important than a lot of immaterial things, too.Re-readability [3]: I pull this one off the shelf every few years.

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