For old time’s sake, we get one last spin with Robert Anson Heinlein – as a fantasy winner, surprisingly.
The novel begins with Alex Hergensheimer, a Christian activist from an alternate America run by fundamentalists and frequented by zeppelins, without airplanes or television. Hergensheimer walks on hot coals while on a tropical cruise, faints, and wakes up in an alternate universe that is no more technically advanced but much more freewheeling and immodest than his own. He falls in love with a young pagan stewardess named Margrethe, and the two soon find themselves in yet another world, more like our own. Every time they shift worlds, they tend to lose all of their money (or it becomes useless), so most of the novel is spent following Alex and Margrethe as they try to hitchhike back to Kansas through various worlds, washing dishes and waiting tables along the way. Alex suspects that there may be a divine reason for his universe-hopping, and it turns out he’s right. Eventually, we get Heinlein’s irreverent take on heaven and hell, Satan and God.
I’ve mentioned before that Heinlein’s later work tended to be a bit sex-obsessed; Job is no exception, though maybe it’s a bit more modest than the average late-Heinlein. We hear a lot about Alex’s sexual adventures, his lust for Margrethe and his other dalliances. Heinlein has fun taking a Christian fundamentalist through these sexual adventures, but it’s not like his internal conflicts are that complex. Overall, the atmosphere is very light. Very very light. And yet, I didn’t find it all that funny. I think Heinlein hoped to shock readers into a few laughs with his irreverence, but it’s all pretty tame by today’s standards. Actually, the religion material is relatively tame by Mark Twain’s standards – Heinlein’s just more prurient.
So, the jokes don’t work, and Heinlein’s descriptions of Alex’s dishwashing and various lusts get very tedious. Yeah, I didn’t really like this novel at all. I wanted to say one last good bye to the one of the masters of the genre, but I should have remembered that his later material just doesn’t work. Another dimension-hopping Locus fantasy nominee from this year, Stephen King and Peter Straub’s The Talisman, is a far better novel.