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Escape from Hell Hardcover – February 17, 2009

3.5 out of 5 stars 77 customer reviews
Book 2 of 2 in the Inferno Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In the long-awaited sequel to 1976's Hugo and Nebula–nominated Inferno, dead science fiction writer Allen Carpenter returns to the nine circles of Dante's Hell on a quest. After witnessing infamous fascist dictator Benito Mussolini (Carpenter's Virgil-like guide in Inferno) escape from the confines of Hell, Carpenter vows to make the nightmarish journey again and liberate as many tortured souls as possible. Poet Sylvia Plath, recently freed from the Wood of Suicides, accompanies Carpenter, as do a diverse cast of notorious historic figures, including Pontius Pilate, J. Robert Oppenheimer and Anna Nicole Smith. This well-constructed tale will inspire many readers to seek out the original Divine Comedy, but fans of Inferno may find that the landscape and the plot are a little too familiar. (Feb.)
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From Booklist

In Inferno (1976), Niven and Pournelle updated Dante for the modern age, swapping medieval torments for more contemporary ones. At the end of the book, its protagonist, deceased sf writer Allen Carpenter, accompanied by Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, discovered a way out of hell’s nine circles but remained profoundly disturbed by the underworld’s unjust punishments. Now survivor’s guilt has driven Carpenter back to the damned’s domain to attempt a wholesale rescue of its tortured denizens. His sidekick this time is the poet Sylvia Path, with whom Carpenter shares an uncommon literary perspective on their surroundings. In their trek through hell’s darkest corners, the pair enlists the aid of such historic figures as J. Robert Oppenheimer, J. Edgar Hoover, and militant atheist Bertrand Russell. Satan, however, has other ideas. While the territory is perhaps too littered with celebrities in this installment, Niven and Pournelle’s further life experience helps them add gravitas to Carpenter’s philosophical contemplations. Meanwhile, their collaborative narrative magic is as compelling as ever. --Carl Hays

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; First Edition edition (February 17, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765316323
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765316325
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #987,742 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
My parents had a 1948 edition of the White translation of Dante's "The Divine Comedy," the one with the Doré engravings. Those engravings were dark, gruesome and vivid; they were fascinating to a teenager, and sucked me in to Dante's great work. And demonstrated to me that the first book of "The Divine Comedy," "Inferno," was by far the most interesting.

In 1976, Niven and Pournelle published their "Inferno," a modern re-working of the first book of Dante's opus. instead of Dante, the narrator was the fictional Alan Carpentier, nee Carpenter, a pedestrian science fiction writer. Dante's guide was Virgil, the great Roman poet. Carpenter's guide was, well, that's a surprise, but let's just say he was Italian also.

"Inferno" was interesting, but not great. In some ways, it also represented Niven's lamentable descent into travelogue instead of plot. You know, "Inferno on $5 A Day." But the novel also had some excellent moments, including the apparent ramblings of a mad psychiatrist, who turned out to understand the real purpose of Hell, or at least of Niven's modern Inferno. The novel was a complete work; there was no real need to go back. There was no need for a sequel.

But go back we did. In the overwrought title, "Escape from Hell," Niven and Pournelle revisit Alan Carpenter as he tries to put into effect the ideas he developed in "Inferno." They don't involve any escape from Hell; quite the opposite.

Again, the novel has its moments. The despairing would-be rescuer of souls reclines on the roots of a tree in the Wood of Suicides. And the tree turns out to hold the spirit of Sylvia Plath. The first half of the novel has Carpenter tell the story of his failures to Plath. Nice irony, especially if you've read Plath's poetry.
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Format: Hardcover
My advice, if you enjoyed Niven/Pournelle's Inferno, is to just forget you heard there was a sequel. I had some misgivings going in, mostly because I felt the original didn't really leave any unresolved issues that would make a sequel worthwhile. Escape from Hell is an aimless, poorly thought out mishmash that neither explores any new ground nor builds on the original in any substantial way. And it's dull. Inferno worked as an adventure story, a thoughtful exploration of society's changing attitidue toward the concept of an afterlife, and social commentary. Escape from Hell works as none of these.

I'm very disappointed, because I'm a big fan of Niven and Pournelle, and Inferno is not only one of their best novels, but one of my favorite novels, period. Having said that, their history with sequels to their major works (e.g., The Gripping Hand, sequel to The Mote in God's Eye), is not good. The only reason I can come up with that Niven/Pournelle decided to write Escape from Hell, other than the money, of course, is that some people have croaked in the last 30 years that they wanted to place in some particular spot in Hell.

Do yourself a favor and pass.
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A Kid's Review on February 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I read "Inferno" when I was junior in high school and loved it. It was a fantastic adventure story that took the classic story by Dante and brought it to life for the 2oth century. I've grown and matured since 1976 and Pournelle's and Niven's creation has evolved too in "Escape From Hell". This book is richer in character development and in it's philosophy. I avoided reading the list of characters at the beginning of the book so as to be surprised on discovering whom the authors placed in hell. There were some "laugh out loud moments", such as the discovery of the identity of "Pink Talon", as well as some profound moments that touched me. I read the book in two days and was throughly entertained. A highly recommended book!
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Format: Hardcover
I haven't read a novel lately where the authors were so anxious to impress you with their erudition. They've read CS Lewis, they've read the life of Sylvia Plath, they've read up on Vatican II, and they really want you know it. Normally I don't mind erudition, and I'm impressed that they quote a line from Voltaire's CANDIDE in the original French. But in the process we lose sight of the basic situation that INFERNO grappled with, that a lot of people are suffering for no discernable reason. They're just part of the landscape (as, in a way, they were for Dante, who thought they belonged there). INFERNO may have had its weaknesses, and it was less erudite, but it was much the better book.
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Format: Hardcover
Like many other reviewers, I vastly enjoyed the original Niven/Pournelle _Inferno_ and was happy to hear of a sequel. While I don't think this new book was all that bad, I don't think it was actually *good*, either.

Much of it strikes me as just lazily coasting along. There's a lengthy list of characters at the beginning which I think would've been better placed after the main text. I ended up really resenting that list for multiple reasons: it presents a big gob of spoilers up front, it doesn't indicate which characters were actual historical figures and which are invented, it gives the authors an excuse to neglect fully identifying some of those characters within the novel itself, and it really breaks up the narrative flow if the reader keeps referring back to the list to look up those characters' full names to get the intended impact.

The belated incorporation of Vatican II doesn't really make sense either, considering that the character list establishes the date of Allen Carpenter's death (and thus the earliest possible date for the original N/P _Inferno_ to take place) as 1975, already ten years after the council-- so the judicial process of Hell hadn't yet taken notice then, but was undergoing a complete reform within the next few decades? (Well, maybe-- this *is* literally the bureaucracy from Hell, chock-full of institutional inertia.) For that matter, there were a number of fairly major plot points that didn't make sense to me either, including a rational explanation of why/how the vast nuking of the ice takes place... an ignited metonymy of invention? if Nobel were embraced, would the result resemble dynamite?

And one last nitpick-- there were some jarring typos I noticed, and I'm usually oblivious to minor typos so these were pretty bad.
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