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Escape from Hell    by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle order for
Escape from Hell
by Larry Niven
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2009 (2009)
* *   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

This sequel to Inferno (published in 1976) should be welcomed with great enthusiasm by fans. Once again, Niven and Pournelle tackle huge questions of faith and cosmic justice. Modern readers, especially fans of science-fiction, will likely find that the protagonist's uncertainties and doubts mirror their own. David Carpenter's sense of justice does not permit him to make his escape at the end of Inferno; as he wanders Hell in this sequel, he comes to a clearer understanding of what he wants - confirmation that escape from Hell is possible for all.

The authors base their tale on Dante's vision, but the personages encountered by Carpenter include modern figures Dante would never have known. The encounters are fascinating; and the authors' interpretations of the map of sins presented by Dante, and how these individuals have ended in their particular spots for torment, are ingenious. Carpenter is deeply troubled that so many of the souls he meets are being tortured for what appear to him to be minor sins; the concept of torture by a just God is itself gravely disturbing. After all, he wonders, how can God dispense justice without mercy? For this modern reader, too, the idea that only Christians(originally only Catholics) go to Heaven is jarring.

Escape from Hell is an engrossing exploration of many complex ideas, as well as an introduction to intriguing personalities, most based on historical figures. Niven and Pournelle frequently stray from conventional or stereotypical depictions, and sly references to modern events keep the reader on the alert.

In the end, David Carpenter finds an answer that satisfies him, and we are reminded that there are no easy or absolute solutions to these cosmic questions. Conclusions reached by Carpenter and the people he meets are thoughtful and thought-provoking, like the novel itself.

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