Sunday, February 22nd, 2009
8:00 am - H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks...  
It has not been a good couple of days. For one thing, my back has been killing me, and for no reason I can discern. The pain comes and goes, and doesn't really affect my strength, i.e., I can lift stuff without the pain getting worse. On top of that, yesterday, when I was supposed to go down to Jersey for my cousin's 50th birthday bash, I got hit with some sort of stomach bug. No party for me. Feh. I'm still a little queasy this morning.

Inferno — Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

I read this when it was first serialized in Galaxy magazine, a long time ago. Niven and Pournelle just wrote a sequel, so I picked up copies of both. It's about a science fiction writer named Allan Carpentier who manages to get himself killed by completely avoidable accident at a con. (Alcohol was involved.) He winds up in Hell, just as Dante describes it. Of course, being an SF writer, be doesn't believe it for a second, He thinks the place is some sort of elaborate Riverworld like artifact created by some future (or possibly alien) intelligence for God knows what reason. He calls it Infernoland.

Carpentier meets a man who says there's a way out, and who offers to guide him there. The way out is allegedly in the very center of Hell, so off they go, traversing the nine circles. They meet people, some famous (William Bonney), some not, and some unnamed (in-jokes of varying obscurity). (They pass the tomb of an atheist with a neon sign on it that flashes "So it goes," and Carpentier mentions that the occupant denied that he wrote SF, too.) There are new interpretations of old sins, and some sins that Dante never thought of. (Niven and Pournelle's God is very libertarian in outlook.)

Eventually Carpentier comes to realize that he really is in Hell, which raises a question for him. Why is God so vengeful? As he notes at one point, "We're in the hands of infinite power and infinite sadism." As they travel further, though, he begins to realize that it's not God that's keeping the damned souls in their torment, but the souls themselves. Hell is the last test, and it is possible to escape.

The book has aged a little. One of the first people Carpentier meets is there for a sin that was big news in the seventies, but much less relevant these days. Actually, it's not the sin that's irrelevant (lying by twisting scientific results to suit one's own agenda), but rather that the actual subject (the banning of cyclamates in the US) is now mostly forgotten. It's also occasionally annoying to see some of the things that Niven and Pournelle seem to view as sins (there are a lot of lawyers in Hell), but it doesn't detract too much from the story. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel.
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Jonquil Serpyllumjonquil on February 22nd, 2009 - 09:41 pm
I thought at the time that including Vonnegut, although true to Dante's practices of settling his scores in an imagined Hell, was remarkably mean-spirited.
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DXMachinadxmachina on February 22nd, 2009 - 11:27 pm
Apart from the two main characters, that was the one detail I remembered about the book. It is mean spirited, although the first time I read it I think I was more amused than anything else. That may have had something to do with having read (and almost flung) Breakfast of Champions not long before. It was also not long after the dust up between Vonnegut and Philip Jose Farmer over Farmer's having written Venus on the Half Shell as Kilgore Trout, so they may have been getting even in support of Farmer.

It was more jarring to me this time around, especially since they sort of singled him out by making him the one really recognizable unnamed soul. Plus, he's actually dead now.

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