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This book was originally written in 1970's so some of the language is a bit dated. Additionally some of the characterizations of women are likewise from a time when the women's movement was just starting to raise the consciousness of individuals, so sexist language and sterotypes still pervade this book (ironically underscored by the male narrator doing female voices). Reading this book, you can almost visualize the gold lamae shirt (unbuttoned to the navel) and choker chain around the neck of its primary antagonist Alan Carpenter (or Alan Carpentier as its pronounced through at least part of it). Once you get past the dated elements, the plot is an interesting retelling of Dante's Inferno with reference to Dante throughout. As Carpenter trudges through the circles of Hell his guide explains to him the sins that each level punishes.
Throughout it all the most interesting thing is the constant questions of justice. How can a just God demand punishment for all ETERNITY for acts done in a finite lifetime? The value of this book is its attempt to grapple with this question. In the end it is as influenced by C.S. Lewis as it is by Dante (which becomes explicit in the sequel)and it is clear that the author is not the agnostic skeptic that his protagonist is. Still it ends up being an interesting discussion of a weighty issue.
Two things I would note. The book should be considered long midrash on Dante, as a result it does not move very quickly and if you are not intrigued by the religious elements in it, it will not be for you (as a professor of Religious Studies I ended up liking it). So while its categorized as sci-fi/fantasy its really more religious fiction. Second, on the upside if you have always wanted to read Dante but 14th century poetry is not really your thing, this is an entertaining way to get much of it and may compel you in the end to re/turn to the original.
16 of 17 people found this review helpful
I love this book. The audiobook is even better.
Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle paint an incredibly detailed, wildly imaginative and thought-provoking take on Dante's Inferno as seen through the eyes of a recently deceased science fiction writer. His theories on the whys and hows of Hell from the point of view of an agnostic are very clever and even gave me doubts at times as to whether they were really dead, and trying to make rational sense of the extraordinary experiences of Hell echoes what a normal person would feel like if dropped into Dante's imaginative take on hell.
I genuinely like Carpenter and Benito, and it was a pleasure watching their friendship grow. The assorted cast of other damned make for a colorful background as well, and it was great seeing the changes brought from this book take shape in the sequel, Escape from Hell.
As impressive as the writing is the performance - Tom Weiner does a wonderful job of narrating the story and the characters, adding an extra dimension of tone and depth to an already thoughtful book. I'd want this man to narrate my life.
All in all, a fantastic book and an even better audiobook. I'd also highly recommend the sequel, Escape from Hell.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
Read and enjoyed this in print many years ago. Audio version did not dissapoint. Funny and thought provoking.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
I love this book & know it well having read it many times. Tom Weiner's rendition of it however comes nowhere near doing it justice. His reading voice has great tone and timbre and on that basis ought to be really good, however his phrasing, timing, and particularly inflection are poor and misplaced. Sometimes his phrasing is completely inappropriate to the situation, the words that preceded it and the words that follow. His long drawn out drawl at the end of some words also irritates me, though that's personal taste. If you've read the book I wouldn't recommend this version. If not, well you'll get more or less the sense of it.
2 of 3 people found this review helpful