Escape from Hell by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle is the long awaited sequel to their classic adaptation and updating of Dante’s Inferno, titled appropriately enough, Inferno. Unlike Dante, Niven and Pournelle have decided not to take their protagonist, Allen Carpenter, to Purgatory. Instead, Escape to Hell is the story of Carpenter’s work to continue the efforts of his guide from Inferno, Benito Mussolini, to help those who deserve to escape Hell. Along the way, he collects an assortment of companions, including Sylvia Plath, Aimee Semple McPherson, and a thinly disguised Carl Sagan, while revisiting the people and places in Hell he had passed through with Benito. Carpenter discovers that his work is more difficult than he expected. Hell is changing, according to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and there are temptations even for the good intentioned. As before, the writers indulge themselves by including their personal causes and damning their enemies to Hell, but then so did Dante.
Escape from Hell is a worthy sequel to Inferno, yet I cannot help but feel it is something of a disappointment. With Inferno, we were introduced to a new infernal world to explore. With the sequel, we are going back over old ground, updated to apply the changes of Vatican II. Allen Carpenter travels through the same regions of Hell he went to before. The only difference is that his mission has changed from trying to escape Hell to rescuing others. It might have been nice for the authors to follow Dante’s outline and have Carpenter travel through Purgatory. Perhaps there will be another book in the series.
Despite some reservations, Escape from Hell is a worthy sequel to Inferno, both as a fantasy, adventure and as a thought-provoking exploration of the nature of Hell and evil.
- Inferno (davidscommonplacebook.wordpress.com)
I absolutely love Inferno by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, since after reading this book for the first time, I felt encouraged to try out the original source for their story, Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, surely one of greatest works of literature ever. While Niven and Pournelle’s Inferno doesn’t quite rank with Dante it is still an update of Dante that is wonderfully fun to read with a serious exploration of why Hell might exist.
Allen Carpentier is a science fiction writer who falls out of a window during a convention. Since Carpentier is an agnostic, he is astonished to wake up in Hell where he meets a man named Benito who assures him that Hell is arranged just as Dante described it in the Inferno and that He knows the way out of Hell. Carpentier cannot believe that he is in Hell at first, he believes it to be an artifact created by advanced aliens for their amusement, but as he and Benito make their way through Hell and observe the punishments meted out to sinners, Carpentier has no choice but to concede that he is, indeed in Hell. Then he must wrestle with the problem of why God would create Hell. The punishments seem to be just, but far out of proportion. No sin however great could be worth eternal agony. In the end, he learns who Benito really is and begins to have some idea why Hell might be necessary.
The authors largely followed the path described by Dante updating the sins and punishments when it seemed advisable. Thus, polluters are found among the hoarders and wasters, politicians voting along party lines rather than what they believed good for the country among the traitors etc. Like Dante, Niven and Pournelle included their personal causes and pet peeves in the story, damning to Hell the people they seemed to particularly dislike, but then that is part of the fun.
Inferno is a great science fiction/fantasy novel, worth reading. After you are done with it, see if you can’t tackle Dante too.
- Doomed to Purgatory (mbracedefreak.wordpress.com)