Inferno – Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

From October 16, 2010

 

Based on Dante’s Inferno, this is a story of Allen Carpentier, or Carpenter, and his trip into hell.

 

In life Carpentier is a science fiction writer who never gets the credit he feels he deserves.  He is feeling this most acutely one night, and is trying to do things he thinks his fans would enjoy.  One such thing is sitting out on a ledge, drinking.  It is no surprise therefore when he falls to his death and wakes up in hell.  Of course he doesn’t think that this is really hell, he thinks that he as been abducted and placed in some futuristic replica of the hell described in Dante’s Inferno.

 

Carpentier is given a guide, Benito Moussolini, who takes Carpentier through the seven circles of hell with the promise of showing him a way out.  Along the way Carpentier comes to realize that he is in hell, and not on a different planet.  Once he believes his reality, then the question becomes how God could let people suffer the way they were in hell.  And the answer is that if people don’t believe in God after enduring what they are in hell, then they never will believe.  And Carpentier, at the end of the novel is in the between stage where he understands this idea as a concept, but he still can’t really believe in God.  That is why  he lets Benito leave hell, and he takes over the position of escorting people to the exit.

 

Here’s the thing that I love about science fiction: It allows the writer to explore philosophical ideas in a way that is not as easily represented in other forms of writing.  Throughout the majority of the story we have Carpentier trying to rationalize all the things he is seeing.  The rapid healing and weightlessness seem like magic, but “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  Carpentier convinces himself of this fact for a long time.

 

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