The Book of Joby
by Mark J. Ferrari
Edited by David G. Hartwell
Review by Harriet Klausner
Tor Books Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765317537
Date: 21 August 2007 List Price $15.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
In a café, Gabriel, his brother Morgan, and the Creator sip skinny latte as the latter knows at his age he must watch what he eats and drinks. After the pleasantries, Gabe tells his sibling that Morgan seems inappropriate for Lucifer. They discuss a wager that has the Creator stating "this same stupid bet' again that they have made thousands of times since the sixth day creation with Lucifer winning twice; once in the garden and once with Judas; the creator points out that in both cases things worked out better for humans. Still Lucifer remains persistent that he will not be like Gabe a teacher's pet as he insist that the Omniscient One blundered when he gave his pets free will. The Creator accepts this latest round of the stupid bet. The stakes are simple; if Lucifer wins he gets to destroy the earth and remake it in his image, which means no free will; the rules are the Creator cannot intercede regardless of what happens; to win Lucifer must get the chosen one to denounce God before he dies. Loyalists to both sides are allowed to intrude on the chosen one's life, but no one can tell him or her that he is the subject of a heaven-hell wager.
The chosen one selected by the Creator is nine-year-old Joby Peterson, a nice well-adjusted kind-hearted lad although he has a whimsical side to him ever since his grandfather gave him A Child's Treasury of Arthurian Tales. He dreams of being a knight of the Round Table doing chivalrous deeds. However, from the moment the celestial bet is set, Joby life turns from happy to depressingly miserable. He is picked on and accused of being a girly man just because he refuses to fight his tormentors. He finds little respite as everything in his life seems to be one tragedy after another with slight rest periods in between the traumas. Still as the sides of the wagering combatants yank Joby over the next three plus decades trying to either break him or reinforce him, a confrontation awaits him in Taubolt where he, as a schoolteacher, will either dance with the devil or with his childhood sweetheart.
The first paragraph above is the prologue to what is a terrific modern day parable in which the Old Testament meets Camelot. The Creator is an interesting character as he drinks latte and has a whimsical human-like depiction that some fundamentalists might find offensive and declare a personal jihad; this reviewer found the Creator and Lucifer sharing lattes and bets more accessible.
However, Joby is the star as everyone from Lucifer to Merlin to Michael to other angels and fallen angels manipulate him. In some ways he is the reincarnation of Arthur as he struggles with all that has happened to him making the audience wonder whether he will finally disregard his love of God as Lucifer and his squad seem to have the edge with the rules heavily in their favor. If you know Job you know what Joby faces so he instantly receives reader empathy and like his biblical counterpart, the audience will wonder why God made such a bet with the devil as no one deserves a lifetime of this type of punishment.
Readers who appreciate something different in their fantasies will enjoy this superb allegory in which a modern day Job goes through traumatic travails in a Camelot near Berkley. Fast-paced especially when Joby is front and center, the sidebars involving the Creator, Lucifer and the angels and fallen angels are fascinating and unique with a witty sense of humor and satire as nothing is sacred including the business world; Lucifer runs an efficient and effective operation with a millennium strategic plan, a mission, vision and key short term objectives (under a century to achieve) with converting Joby the output and destroying humanity the outcome; his cynical supporters come out of American corporations as they willingly sacrifice their stakeholders especially immediate bosses and direct reports for advancement. Perhaps the only objection to this whimsical tale is the Creator needs to act his age and give away his ragged tennis shoes; surely he can afford a new pair even if it means being frugal and going to Payless.