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JOB: A Comedy of Justice by Robert A. Heinlein (1 Viewer)

TimK

Senior Member
JOB: A Comedy of Justice
by Robert A. Heinlein
Fiction, Science Fiction, Fantasy

The good: It was a page-turner with some rich characters and a compelling study of human nature. And Heinlein as usual makes the reader feel just as his characters do. The bad: It got tiring near the middle--or is that part of the good? I'll get to that in a moment. It also got silly at the climax. Suddenly, there were so many strange things happening, and the main character just accepted it. Here was a man who had challenged his peers at every turn, just accepting that his whole conception of life was invalid. I was certain that if I just hung on 'til the last chapter, the character would wake up and discover that the entire thing was a dream or a joke. Then he would live happily ever after, paralleling the biblical story.

As it is, Heinlein's novel bears only a superficial resemblance to Job. Namely, lots of bad things happened to Job; lots of bad things happened to Alex Hergensheimer. The story begins as Alex, head of the Churches United for Decency, walks a bed of fiery coals on a stupid bet and suddenly finds himself in a different universe--or is it he that changed, not the universe--a universe in which there is no Alex Hergensheimer. Rather, he is Alec Graham, a man with a beautiful mistress, Margrethe. They connect and marry, and together, the two shift from universe to universe, each time losing money, jobs, friends, everything, sometimes their shirts. And pants even. It is a compelling testament to the power of relationships in a person's life. As long as one has real love, one can endure almost anything.

In the beginning, I wondered what was causing these changes of world. At least, was there a pattern to them? Then as the pattern became more established, my focus turned to Alec and Margrethe, how they handled their predicament and when it would end. As the story approached the climax, this became tiring. My heart wrenched each time the world changed, and I just wanted to give up. Usually, that level of repetition would be merely boring, but in Heinlein's hand it reflects his characters' torment, and I got to revel in the way they handle it.

Then the climax hit. In the biblical story, Job talks to God, comes to terms with his experiences, then lives on better than he had ever lived before. In Heinlein's story, Alex goes to heaven, hell, and everywhere inbetween, and it's so weird that Alex himself, being a fundamentalist theologian, should've called God to account. He should've thought he himself was dreaming or being deceived. That would be part of his character. But he didn't. H.P. Lovecraft once pointed out that you have to manage the strange elements of your story carefully; otherwise, your story will lose all credibility. And that is the gaffe Heinlein fell into here. At the climax, the story quickly turned boring, boring, boring. I glossed through page after page of heavenly weirdness, then page after page of hell, then some more stuff. At first, I knew Alex was going to wake up and have an epiphany--or at least I thought I knew; I just didn't know how it would come. As the prose went on, I gradually came to realize that, no, this was not supposed to be a dream or deception. Oh well, I guess not all stories can have plausible endings.

However, if not plausible, at least it kept me scanning until I reached the epilogue, because I wanted to find out how things turned out for Alec and Marga. In summary, it was a compelling story, even though it did have a storytelling gaffe. It was not, as some of the cover blurbs imply, the best Heinlein ever. I enjoyed The Moon is a Harsh Mistress much more than JOB, as that earlier work left me satisfied and convinced. It was all real, despite the fact that its premise is impossible, SF gibberish (though it wasn't at the time Heinlein wrote it). Not so with JOB, in which the premise turned out to be merely unbelievable.

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