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3.6 out of 5 stars16
3.6 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 25 June 2009
I loved Inferno, a witty and humane re-working of part of Dante's Divine Comedy. Now I know Niven and Pournelle have a very poor track record with their sequels (Moat around Murchison's Eye for example) but I was rather hoping that with the quality of the original concept and the whole of history and hell to provide ideas that they could at least assemble a half decent story.

I was right, it is half decent, as per usual with Niven novels of late it's technically very accomplished. It's a great page turner with a nice clearly defined structure and a wonderful primary protagonist in Allen Carpenter. The historical supporting characters in the main chosen with care and attention and in particular the use of one well known female poet is inspired. But that's it.

I've started to wonder if Niven is having his novels ghost written or something because this feels like a collection of notes assembled into a novel by someone with serious technical writing skills but little or no imagination at all. Exploding souls? Impact of Vatican II leading to hell's bureaucracy being overtaken by American district attorneys from Louisiana? Hitler and Stalin wrestling after the ninth circle gets nuked? In particular the latter stages of the book make almost no sense at all, the narrative being bombarded with half formed ideas and vague 1960s so-cal concerns, "last-years zeitgeist" crooks and lazily chosen cameos of histories monsters, are Hitler and Stalin really the worst baddies in history? Are they really the best you could think of? Does Why does Ken Lay get a cameo, why Ken Lay even deserve a mention?

It's a damn shame, Inferno was a classic humanist tale of redemption and humanities place in the infinite. This is a well designed but ironically, ultimately soulless auctioneer.
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on 6 October 2010
I thought Inferno was brilliant but Escape From Hell seems like about 100 not that good ideas crammed into as few pages as possible.
Inferno kept a lot of the oppressive atmosphere, with a hint of possible redemption, that is so present in Dante's Inferno whilst the updates to the story (haunted cars for the Violent Wasters is a good example)felt like natural progressions but Escape From Hell ignores all of that rich history to tell a story that feels more like a bad Hollywood directors remaking of Dante.There's no atmosphere to Escape From Hell at all - everything is rushed through at 100mph with ideas thrown at the story like mud at a wall, to see what will stick.
I cannot adequately express my disappointment at how bad this book is - suicide bombers blowing up Demons, a nuclear bomb blast in Hell that actually injures the Devil - I could go on with more ridiculous storylines but it's too long a list..
Don't read this book - rubbish!
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In 1976 Science Fiction writing team Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, who had previously collaborated on some of the best SF novels of all time such as "The Mote in God's Eye", wrote a brilliant novel called "Inferno". As the title suggests, this was a modern version of the first volume of Dante Alighieri's "Divine Comedy," also called "Inferno" (Link: Dante: Inferno (Penguin Classics)). E.g. a journey through Hell in which the role of the traveller through Hell and narrator (Dante in the original) was taken by a modern science fiction writer and the role of his guide (Virgil in Dante's original) was taken by Benito Mussolini.

Now, thirty years later, Niven and Pournelle have published "Escape from Hell" which is the sequel to that story. This book includes references to a number of more modern events and concepts, for example, there are exploding fanatics who appear to correspond to suicide bombers. (In this vision of the afterlife these guys definitely do not get provided with a harem containing large numbers of virgins, but the failure of the afterlife to correspond to their delusions just makes them all the more angry.)

Characters in this volume include the poet Sylvia Plath, her husband Ted Hughes, Oscar Wilde, Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith, Atomic bomb researcher Robert Oppenheimer, Reinhard Heydrich, "Bomber" Harris, and Trotsky. New sins which did not exist in the 14th century have their own punishments which fit the crime in much the same way that those in Dante's original poem did.

The books are dedicated to the two past writers who most influenced them: "Inferno" is dedicated to Dante Alighieri and "Escape from Hell" is dedicated to Clive Staples (Jack) Lewis. Both books are set in Dante's Hell but the philosophy of both is heavily influenced by the writings of C.S. Lewis and particularly "The Great Divorce".

Lewis argued that a merciful God would not imprison souls forever in Hell with no prospect of release. He believed that the door of Hell is bolted on the inside and every soul who stays there forever does so because he or she ultimately chooses this. Like "Inferno" and "Escape from Hell," his book "The Great Divorce" is set in the afterlife, beginning in Hell, where after wandering in Hell for some hours the narrator finds a bus stop. The bus which arrives at that stop gives the damned the opportunity to take a trip to Heaven. Those who wish to do so can stay - but making that choice is not always easy.

If you are interested in fictional speculations about what life after death might be like, I can recommend both these books by Niven and Pournelle, and Lewis's "The Great Divorce."

If you might want to read this, and have not yet read Niven and Pournelle's version of "Inferno," then you should probably navigate away from this page immediately without looking at any more of the reviews here, perhaps to the page for the previous book "Inferno". "Escape from Hell" works best if you have previously read "Inferno" so I would advise you to read that book first. Unfortunately IMHO some comments in the reviews here of "Escape from Hell," while they will not spoil the book reviewed, are spoilers for the conclusion of "Inferno."

For me "Escape From Hell" does not come up to the same standard as the previous book: both contain many clever little morality plays but the first book was more consistent in suggesting how people needed to learn and grow to be able to leave Hell, where this second book treats the process of escaping from Hell much more like a prison breakout. There is plenty of action, but not quite as much of a sense that to escape from Hell the damned souls had to recognise where they went wrong in life and make an effort, sometimes an enormous one, to start to change.

For example, in one particular scene a group of the most infamous figures of the 20th century work together to break out of the pit in Nether Hell to which they have been sentenced. Most of them seem to be as ruthless as they were in life, but two of them, while still co-operating with their fellow "evil counsellors," do show a degree of compassion and concern for those who have helped them escape. When similar things happened in the previous book, those who showed more compassion got further. The sense that escaping from Hell was part of a process of redemption, not just getting past the security systems in a vast supernatural prison, was what made the first book special but was almost wholly absent from this scene, and some others, in this second book. This weakened the central message of the series.

But although it is not quite as brilliant as "Inferno" this book is still an entertaining and thought-provoking read.
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on 6 September 2010
Inferno's strengths were its originality and humour. These attributes sprang from the protagonist's application of scientific 'objectivity' and scepticism to a Christian hell. While well written, as you would expect from these authors, the sequel, having lost these strengths, doesn't replace them with anything substantial. The novel picks up the storylines of previous minor characters, and the protagonist's relationship with the late Sylvia Plath is quite interesting, but as a whole the book disappoints.
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on 15 May 2016
what an absolute pile of shte. i found "Inferno" way back in the early 80s, loved it. stumbled across this a few months back, surprised i'd known nothing about a sequel and eagerly ordered it. OMFG, it's the "highlander 2" of books. i've not read a more boring, monotonous, repetitive, insulting crock of excrement in my life. talk about Hell, does everyone deserve to be there eternally? what's it about, blah god loves people, blah everyone should have the chance to leave. go somewhere else for two pages, meet someone else, talk about Hell, does everyone deserve to be there eternally? what's it about, blah god loves people, blah everyone should have the chance to leave. go somewhere else for two pages...repeat ad nauseum. through in some pathetic insulting crap like having Carl Sagan repent of being a scientist and you have one of the most ridiculous wate of trees ever to "grace" a bookshelf.
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on 24 June 2011
I've read and re-read and enjoyed Inferno,and thought it was a pretty good book. Escape from Hell is a fairly good page turner. Not bad book not Niven and Pournelle don't do bad. If they follow the original Dante there must be a sequel about Limbo in the pipeline.
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on 10 July 2014
Following their previous book, Inferno, I had expected this book to be something new, not just a rerun / rewrite of the previous story. Sadly, although I have the greatest respect for these authors, I have to say that this book is a complete load of tosh. It is unengaging, superficial and frankly dull. It takes skill to achieve this given the setting of the story. The hero is cute, and he meets a lot of cute people on the way to ..... heaven? I never found out because having read about 90% of the book and threw it across the room and went of a stiff drink. I hope Oxfam will have success in selling it for a good cause.
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on 3 March 2009
For anyone who has read Niven and Pournelle's Inferno this book will cover familiar territory. This is a great page turner covering the later exploits of Allen Carpenter ex-author and now guide to potential escapees from Hell. It follows the familiar route map of Dante's Hell but with enough twists to keep it fresh and some stunning conceits make it a worthy adjunct to the earlier volume
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"Inferno"- absolutely stunningly funny, sadisic and hilarious. This, no, nowhere near the same level. While the situations might have allowed it, this is totally lacking in the humour of the original, and so falls rather flat. Full of ideas, so a perhaps rather generous three stars.

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on 16 July 2012
A little more introspection, not as much action, this time around.
Still very readable, but less of a yomp through hell, more of a stroll.
With a potential cast of anyone, it's odd how few actually turn up this time...
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