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Inferno by Larry Niven

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Book Information  
AuthorLarry Niven
GenreScience Fiction
Book Reviews / Comments (submitted by readers)
Submitted by Archren 
(Jun 29, 2006)

“Inferno” is one quirky novel. It is the second book written by the powerhouse writing duo of Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, coming two years after “The Mote in God’s Eye.” Let’s stop for a minute and marvel in the accomplishment implied by the fact that the all-time classic “The Mote in God’s Eye” was the first book out of the gate for this pair.

That said, “Inferno” doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor. It is a straight-up retelling of Dante’s Inferno, with a dead science fiction writer, Allen Carpentier (don’t look too closely at the implications of the name), as the hero instead of a dreaming poet. His guide is a remarkably strong Italian gentleman named Benito. There are many in-jokes here, especially regarding the science fiction community. The people one meets in Hell are now heavily weighted towards Americans as opposed to Italians, a fact that even the characters remark on. Mostly the tour hits all the same high points as Dante’s, but it does turn out that there are some corners that Dante missed, lending new originality to the tale.

The pacing is not equal to the best work from these writers, and the politics can get heavy-handed and struck me as a bit naďve. However, it is not wall-to-wall political satire. There is a real ambiguity here between what Carpentier expects this to be (some sort of alien future consruct), and what it appears to be (a real, honest-to-God afterlife). Carpentier has to go through some real soul-searching as to what his purpose in this new life might be. There are some scenes in here that move away from the almost mad-cap adventure story to be genuinely moving. On the whole it is uneven, but short and certainly interesting. I would recommend it as a light read, and definitely if you’re interested in seeing another facet of the Niven/Pournelle oeuvre.

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