Published: January 2009
My rating: 8.5
Escape from Hell continues the journey Allen Carpentier started in Inferno. In the previous installment, Niven and Pournelle reevaluate Dante's classic in terms of modern era sins. Allen decides to not follow Benito Mussolini out of Hell. He takes over Benito's mission of freeing damned souls--should they wish to leave. Carpentier becomes a saintly apostle of sorts, who, with the help of poet Sylvia Plath, seeks to aid as many souls as he can.
******That is the basic gist of the book. I admit that I was worried about this particular book--it was written 33 years after the initial release of Inferno. A new journey through territory already trodden could go horribly wrong--but, in this case, it did not.
I found this work to be more socially and culturally relevant than Inferno. Niven and Pournelle managed to include historical as well as contemporaneous denizens--for example, at one point Allen runs into Anna Nichole Smith.
For me, Escape, like Inferno, is not really about the plot per se--but the broader idea of the purpose of Hell. The protagonist must deal with his rationalist nature in the face of what science (and the modern audience) might view superstition. With this being said, Hell is a construct of human belief. What we believe does change the landscape of Hell. Niven and Pournelle explore how Vatican II altered Hell. Also, as new sins crop up, such as terrorism, that too must affect the very nature of a sinner's existence in Hell.
******I will be the first to admit that I had a really hard time separating myself from my scholarly tendencies while reading this particular book (and Inferno as well). I think it says something about both Inferno and Escape that I am not going on a rant about what they did wrong.
Escape is thought provoking and entertaining. I think it is a welcome read for anyone who is a Sci/Fi/Fantasy fan-- as well as anyone who is a fan of Dante or Milton.
I think that this book is better understood if one reads Inferno first as the spiritual growth of Allen is better understood if one is part of his complete journey.