First published in 1984|
Latest edition: 1990
Publisher: Del Rey
Mass Market Paperback
Reviews At the end of Expanded Universe, Robert Heinlein promised that he would keep whistling at pretty girls and kicking sacred cows. Job: A Comedy of Justice fulfills that promise on a grand scale, as it whisks us along on a fast-paced, wickedly irreverent tale.
It tells the story of Reverend Alexander Hergensheimer, an engineering school dropout who became a fundamentalist minister instead. But rather than spending Sundays in the pulpit, Hergensheimer pushes paper for "the greater glory of God," as head of C.U.D.-Churches United for Decency. It's a Christian special interest group that lobbies the leaders of his country on such social issues as whether to use "the Alaska option for the Negro problem," or to eliminate all research in astronomy. Hergensheimer hails from a godfearing world, and he aims to make it even more fearful. But now he's on vacation, on a cruise through the South Pacific, and utterly relaxed-until he takes a bet that he can walk through a fire pit. Terrified, but praying fiercely, Hergensheimer walks over a bed of hot coals only to faint away at the very end of it. When he awakes, the world has changed around him.
Back aboard ship, Hergensheimer is shocked to discover a drastically changed set of mores, including paganism, foul, heretical language and even nudity. Hergensheimer's country, the theocratic North American Union, no longer exists, nor does the technology he grew up with. Worst of all, only he seems to have noticed the great world change-everyone else is slapping him on the back and calling him by a different name.
What follows is a study in human virtue and human folly, as some unseen force plays cat and mouse with Hergensheimer, and as Hergensheimer falls in love and gives in to the deadliest of sins. World change follows world change, and his torturer finally leads Hergensheimer to Heaven, to Hell, and to the ultimate audience with the God of Gods, Mr. Koshchei.
Heinlein wrote Job in the grand tradition of American satire, taking cues from James Branch Cabell (Jurgen: a Comedy of Justice) and Mark Twain ("Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven"). Critics almost uniformly praise Job, and the book earned itself a sound condemnation from Falwell's Moral Majority, whose activities are so lovingly parodied by Hergensheimer's C.U.D.
Along with the well wrought satire, in Job Heinlein delivers skillful studies of human nature and portrayals of various walks of life. Highly recommended. ---Beth Ager
ExcerptsReverend Hergensheimer's Visit to Heaven:
Angels handled us like traffic cops, herding us into the formations they wanted. I knew they were angels; they wore wings and white robes and were heroic in size--one that flew near me was nine or ten feet tall. . .
And we flew past the Throne of God.
But first an angel positioned himself in the air about fifty yards off our left flank. His voice carried well. "Now hear this! You will pass in review in this formation. Hold your position at all times. Guide on the creature on your left, the creature under you, and the one ahead of you. Leave ten cubits between ranks and between layers, five cubits elbow to elbow in ranks, no slowing down as we pass the Throne. Anybody breaking flight discipline will be sent to the tail end of the flight . . . and I'm warning you now, the Son might be gone by then, with nobody but Peter or Paul or some other saint to receive the parade. Any questions?"
"How much is a cubit?"
"Two cubits is one yard. Any creature in this cohort who does not know how long a yard is?"
No one spoke up. The angel added, "Any more questions?"
A woman to my left and above me called out, "Yes! My daughter didn't have her cough medicine with her. So I fetched it. Can you take it to her?"
"Creature, please accept my assurance that any cough your daughter manages to take with her to Heaven will be purely psychosomatic."
"But her doctor said--"
"And in the meantime shut up and let's get on with this parade. Special requests can be filed after arriving in Heaven."
There were more questions, mostly silly, confirming an opinion I had kept to myself for years: Piety does not imply horse sense.