Last October I read Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Inferno
and really enjoyed it. Though I have been a fan of both of them since the seventies. Inferno is based on Dante’s Inferno and follows a Science Fiction writer who dies and winds up in the Vestibule on the outer edge Hell and is taken through Hell by a guide. They follow Dante’s topography of Hell closely, though do add in some modern elements. They wrote this book back in 1976. I was happy to find at the time that they were writing a sequel and it was released last month.
I just got done reading the sequel “Escape from Hell
” and certainly enjoyed it except for some minor caveats. Again it follows fictional Science Fiction writer Allan Carpenter as this time he tries to further understand the purpose of Hell and to guide people out of it. The whole “Escape from Hell” idea is the bad theology of the book, but it makes for an interesting story. The people they meet in Hell along the way mostly include more modern names and it is rather interesting some of the people they put into Hell and the reason they are there especially one very famous popularizer of science.
Even looking at the books via the lens of Catholic theology they stand up pretty well and the authors did go to some effort to do this as they mention in the notes at the end of the books. I know Jerry Pournelle was raised Catholic, but don’t know if he still practices his faith. Though it was Larry Niven who originally suggested doing the first book. The book is nowhere as theologically rich as C.S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce” in describing Hell and why people are there. The book though sticks to Hell as seen through Dante’s poem and so they do stick to what the reactions would be in a Hell with that topology and the actual punishments as described by Dante. Plus of course the authors were using this as a vehicle for fiction, not theology.
There is a bit of mention of the priestly abuse scandal in the book, but there are also much more positive examples of priests – even if they were in Hell for another reason. Promoters of junk science and ecological doom were depicted much harsher. There are certainly some interesting historical characters that join Allan Carpenter on his goal to escape Hell that really add to the book.
I did find the mention of Vatican II to be annoying.
“It changed things in Hell?”
“Yes, quite a lot. Many doctrines changed. They came close to abolishing the idea of heresy. Ecumenism everywhere. That’s why we have to organize for new trails. The whole notion of sin and heresy was changed.”
They go on to mention Dignitatis Humanae as if it changed things. Rather silly view for a non-dogmatic council that restated existing doctrine and addressed how the Church is to interact in the modern world. At another point though they point out that the Church does not create new truths, but only reveals what already exists. I had hoped better from Mr. Pournelle who I know is rather conservative generally.
Otherwise, as a book of fiction it was quite enjoyable.
On a side note I bought this book via the Amazon Kindle store to read on my iPod Touch. Recently they added a free Kindle app for the iPhone/iPod Touch that allows you to read books bought from the Amazon Kindle store. The price of the book was much cheaper than the hardcover version that just came out and I had no problem reading it on the iPod Touch’s screen.