Saturday, March 28, 2009

Escape From Hell by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

In 1976 Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle wrote an updated version of Dante's Inferno called Inferno. In it an atheist science fiction writer finds himself in hell, and learns of a way out. It is a very fine book, and I recommend it.

This year the pair published a sequel: Escape From Hell.

The original book did not invite a sequel, and Larry Niven's track record with sequels isn't as stellar as one might hope—he has an unhappy tendency to try to fill in logical holes, which tends to detract from telling a clean story. (I refer you to the Ringworld series for some examples.)

That's two strikes against it, but I felt that the original was good enough that I owed the new book a try.

Since you already know the overall themes from Inferno, the new book lacks some of the drama of the original, but it actually works well as a sequel. Carpenter is on an errand of mercy—and so are others. And there are reorganizations afoot, and of course famous characters appear: Sylvia Plath and Oppenheimer and some politicians you'll recognize. Carpenter struggles too much with doubts for full believability. The book expands on Inferno's themes, and is full of quotations (what you get when you travel with a poet)--though it never actually cites Matthew 16:18.

If you liked the original book you will probably like this.

If you haven't read Inferno, go do that first.

Ignore the blurbs on the cover and flyleaf.

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