Acclaimed writing pair Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle offer a new twist on Dante's classic tale, Inferno.
After being thrown out the window of his luxury apartment, science fiction writer Allen Carpentier wakes to find himself at the gates of hell. Feeling he's landed in a great opportunity for a book, he attempts to follow Dante's road map. Determined to meet Satan himself, Carpentier treks through the Nine Layers of Hell led by Benito Mussolini, and encounters countless mental and physical tortures. As he struggles to escape, he's taken through new, puzzling, and outlandish versions of sin—recast for the present day.
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About the Author
Larry Niven is the award-winning author of the Ringworld series, along with many other science fiction masterpieces, and fantasy novels including the Magic Goes Away series. He has received the Nebula Award, five Hugos, four Locus Awards, two Ditmars, the Prometheus, and the Robert A. Heinlein Award, among other honors. He lives in Chatsworth, California.
Jerry Pournelle (1933-2017) was an essayist, journalist, and science fiction author. He had advanced degrees in psychology, statistics, engineering, and political science. As a science fiction author, he is best known for his many collaborations with Larry Niven, including Inferno, Beowulf's Children and The Mote in God's Eye.
Pournelle was the first ever winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best new Writer in 1973.
Larry Niven is the award-winning author of the Ringworld series, along with many other science fiction masterpieces and fantasy including the Magic Goes Away series. His Beowulf's Children, co-authored with Jerry Pournelle and Steven Barnes, was a New York Times bestseller. He has received the Nebula Award, five Hugos, four Locus Awards, two Ditmars, the Prometheus, and the Robert A. Heinlein Award, among other honors. He lives in Chatsworth, California.
JERRY POURNELLE (1933-2017) was an essayist, journalist, and science fiction author. He had advanced degrees in psychology, statistics, engineering, and political science. As a science fiction author, he is best known for his many collaborations with Larry Niven, including Inferno, Beowulf's Children and The Mote in God's Eye.
Pournelle was the first ever winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best new Writer in 1973.
Read an Excerpt
By Larry Niven
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1976 Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
All rights reserved.
I thought about being dead.
I could remember every silly detail of that silly last performance. I was dead at the end of it. But how could I think about being dead if I had died?
I thought about that, too, after I stopped having hysterics. There was plenty of time to think.
Call me Allen Carpentier. It's the name I wrote under, and someone will remember it. I was one of the best-known science-fiction writers in the world, and I had a lot of fans. My stories weren't the kind that win awards, but they entertained and I had written a lot of them. The fans all knew me. Someone ought to remember me.
It was the fans who killed me. At least, they let me do it. It's an old game. At science-fiction conventions the fans try to get their favorite author washed-out stinking drunk. Then they can go home and tell stories about how Allen Carpentier really tied one on and they were right there to see it. They add to the stories until legends are built around what writers do at conventions. It's all in fun. They really like me, and I like them.
I think I do. But the fans vote the Hugo Awards, and you have to be popular to win. I'd been nominated five times for awards and never won one, and I was out to make friends that year. Instead of hiding in a back booth with other writers I was at a fan party, drinking with a roomful of short ugly kids with pimples, tall serious Harvard types, girls with long stringy hair, half-pretty girls half-dressed to show it, and damn few people with good manners.
Remember the drinking party in War and Peace? Where one of the characters bets he can sit on a window ledge and drink a whole bottle of rum without touching the sides? I made the same bet.
The convention hotel was a big one, and the room was eight stories up. I climbed out and sat with my feet dangling against the smooth stone building. The smog had blown away, and Los Angeles was beautiful. Even with the energy shortage there were lights everywhere, moving rivers of lights on the freeways, blue glows from swimming pools near the hotel, a grid of light stretching out as far as I could see. Somewhere out there fireworks arched up and drifted down, but I don't know what they were celebrating.
They handed me the rum. "You're a real sport, Allen," said a middle-aged adolescent. He had acne and halitosis, but he published one of the biggest science-fiction newsletters around. He wouldn't have known a literary reference if it bit him on the nose. "Hey, that's a long way down."
"Right. Beautiful night, isn't it? Arcturus up there, see it? Star with the largest proper motion. Moved a couple of degrees in the last three thousand years. Almost races along."
Carpentier's trivial last words: a meaningless lecture to people who not only knew it already, but had read it in my own work. I took the rum and tilted my head back to drink.
It was like drinking flaming battery acid. There was no pleasure in it. I'd regret this tomorrow. But the fans began to shout behind me, and that made me feel good until I saw why. Asimov had come in. Asimov wrote science articles and histories and straight novels and commentaries on the Bible and Byron and Shakespeare, and he turned out more material in a year than anyone else writes in a lifetime. I used to steal data and ideas from his columns. The fans were shouting for him, while I risked my neck to give them the biggest performance of all the drunken conventions of Allen Carpentier.
With nobody watching.
The bottle was half empty when my gag reflex cut in and spilled used rum into my nose and sinuses. I jackknifed forward to cough it out of my lungs and pitched right over.
I don't think anyone saw me fall.
It was an accident, a stupid accident caused by stupid drunkenness, and it was all the fans' fault anyway. They had no business letting me do it! And it was an accident, I know it was. I wasn't feeling that sorry for myself.
The city was still alive with lights. A big Roman candle burst with brilliant pinpoints of yellows and greens against the starry skies. The view was pleasant as I floated down the side of the hotel.
It seemed to take a long time to get to the bottom.CHAPTER 2
The big surprise was that I could be surprised. That I could be anything. That I could be.
I was, but I wasn't. I thought I could see, but there was only a bright uniform metallic color of bronze. Sometimes there were faint sounds, but they didn't mean anything. And when I looked down, I couldn't see myself.
When I tried to move, nothing happened. It felt as if I had moved. My muscles sent the right position signals. But nothing happened, nothing at all.
I couldn't touch anything, not even myself. I couldn't feel anything, or see anything, or sense anything except my own posture. I knew when I was sitting, or standing, or walking, or running, or doubled up like a contortionist, but I felt nothing at all.
I screamed. I could hear the scream, and I shouted for help. Nothing answered.
Dead. I had to be dead. But dead men don't think about death. What do dead men think about? Dead men don't think. I was thinking, but I was dead. That struck me as funny and set off hysterics, and then I'd get myself under control and go round and round with it again.
Dead. This was like nothing any religion had ever taught. Not that I'd ever caught any of the religions going around, but none had warned of this. I certainly wasn't in Heaven, and it was too lonely to be Hell.
It's like this, Carpentier: this is Heaven, but you're the only one who ever made it. Hah!
I couldn't be dead. What, then? Frozen? Frozen! That's it, they've made me a corpsicle! The convention was in Los Angeles, where the frozen-dead movement started and where it had the most supporters. They must have frozen me, put me in a double-walled coffin with liquid nitrogen all around me, and when they tried to revive me the revival didn't work. What am I now? A brain in a bottle, fed by color-coded tubes? Why don't they try to talk to me?
Why don't they kill me?
Maybe they still have hopes of waking me. Hope. Maybe there's hope after all.
It was flattering, at first, to think of teams of specialists working to make me human again. The fans! They'd realized it was their fault, and they'd paid for this! How far in the future would I wake up? Even the definition of human might have changed.
Would they have immortality? Stimulation of psychic power centers in the brain? Empires of thousands of worlds? I'd written about all of these, and my books would still be around! I'd be famous. I'd written about —
I'd written stories about future cultures raiding corpsicles for spare parts, transplants. Had that happened to me? My body broken up for spare parts? Then why was I still alive?
Because they couldn't use my brain.
Then let them throw it out!
Maybe they just couldn't use it yet.
I couldn't tell how long I was there. There was no sense of time passing. I screamed a lot. I ran nowhere forever, to no purpose: I couldn't run out of breath, I never reached a wall. I wrote novels, dozens of them, in my head, with no way to write them down. I relived that last convention party a thousand times. I played games with myself. I remembered every detail of my life, with a brutal honesty I'd never had before; what else could I do? All through it, I was terrified of going mad, and then I'd fight the terror, because that could drive me mad —
I think I did not go mad. But it went on, and on, and on, until I was screaming again.
Get me out of here! Please, anyone, someone, get me out of here!
Nothing happened, of course.
Pull the plug and let me die! Make it stop! Get me out of here!
Hey, Carpentier. Remember "The Chill"? Your hero was a corpsicle, and they'd let his temperature drop too low. His nervous system had become a superconductor. Nobody knew he was alive in there, frozen solid but thinking, screaming in his head, feeling the awful cold —
No! For the love of God, get me out of here!
I was lying on my left side in a field, with dirt under me and warm light all around me. I was staring at my navel, and I could see it! It was the most beautiful sight I'd ever imagined. I was afraid to move; my navel and I might pop like a soap bubble. It took a long time to get the nerve to lift my head.
I could see my hands and feet and the rest of me. When I moved my fingers I could see them wiggle.
There wasn't a thing wrong with me. It was as if I had never fallen eight stories to be smashed into jelly.
I was clothed in a loose white gown partly open down the front. Not very surprising, but where was the hospital? Surely they didn't waken Sleepers in the middle of a field?
They? I couldn't see anyone else. There was a field of dirt, trampled here and there, sloping downhill to become a shiny mud flat. I raised my head, and he was standing behind me. A fat man, tall but dumpy and chunky enough that at first I didn't notice his height. His jaw was massively square and jutted out, the first thing I noticed about his face. He had wide lips and a high forehead, and short, blunt, powerful fingers. He wore a hospital gown something like mine.
He was beautiful. Everything was beautiful. But my navel? Magnifique!
"You are well?" he asked.
He spoke with an accent: Mediterranean; Spanish, perhaps, or Italian. He was looking closely at me, and he asked again,
"You are well?"
"Yes. I think so. Where am I?"
He shrugged. "Always they ask that question first. Where do you think you are?"
I shook my head and grinned for the pleasure of it. It was pleasure to move, to see myself move, to feel my buttocks press against the dirt and know something would oppose my movements. It was ecstasy to see myself in the bright light around me. I looked up at the sky.
There wasn't any sky.
Okay, there has to be a sky. I know that. But I saw nothing. Thick clouds? But there was no detail to the clouds, just a uniform gray above me. Even in my sensation-starved condition it was ugly.
I was in the middle of a field of dirt that stretched a couple of miles to some low brown hills. There were people on the hills, a lot of them, running after something I couldn't make out. I sat up to scan the horizon.
The hills ran up against a high wall that stretched in both directions as far as I could see. It seemed straight as a mathematician's line, but I sensed the slightest of inward curves just before it vanished into deep gloom. There was something wrong with the perspective, but I can't describe precisely what, just that it didn't seem right.
The hills and the mud flats formed a wide strip between the wall and a fast-moving river of water black as ink. The river was a mile away and didn't seem very wide at that distance. I could see it perfectly, another perceptual distortion because it was too far away for the details I could make out.
Beyond the river were green fields and white Mediterranean villas, walled complexes with the squat classical look to them, some quite large. They weren't arranged in any order, and the effect was very pleasing. I turned back to the wall.
Not very high, I thought. High enough to be trouble climbing, perhaps two or three times my six-foot height. I was hampered by the perspective problem. The nearest point of the wall might have been a mile away or ten, though ten seemed ridiculous.
I took a deep breath and didn't like the smells. Fetid, with an acrid tinge, decay and sickly sweet perfume to cover the smells of death, orange blossoms mingled with hospital smells, all subtle enough that I hadn't noticed them before, but sickening all the same. I won't mention the smells often, but they were always there. Most stinks you get used to and soon don't notice, but this had too much in the blend and the blend changed too often. You'd just get used to one and there'd be another.
Beside me on the ground was a small bronze bottle with a classical beaker shape. I figured it would hold maybe a quart. Except for the man standing above me there wasn't another blessed thing.
"Never mind where I am," I said. "Where have I been? I don't remember passing out. I was screaming, and here I am. Where was I?" "First you ask where you are. Then where you were. Do you think of nothing else you should say?" He was frowning disapproval, as if he didn't like me at all. So what the hell was he doing here?
Breaking me out of wherever I'd been, of course. "Yeah. Thanks."
"You should thank the One who sent you to me."
"Who was that?"
"You asked Him for help —"
"I don't remember asking anyone for help." But this time I'd heard him pronounce the capital letter. "Yeah. 'For the love of God,' I said. Well?"
The fat meaty lips twitched, and his eyes filled with concern. When he looked at me it wasn't in distaste, but in sympathy. "Very well. You will have a great deal to learn. First, I answer your questions. Where are you? You are dead, and you lie on the ground of the Vestibule to Hell. Where were you?" He kicked the bronze bottle with a sandaled foot. "In there."
Hot diggity damn, I'm in the nut hatch and the head loony's come to talk to me.
Carpentier wakes up a thousand years after his last flight and sloppy landing, and already he's in trouble. Spoons and forks and chopsticks, traffic lights, the way a man puts his pants on, all may have to be relearned. Law and customs change in a thousand years. Society may not even recognize Carpentier as sane.
But wake him in a thirtieth-century loony bin among thirtieth-century twitchies, and now what? How can he adjust to anything?
There were other bottles sitting unattended on the dirt, some larger than mine, some smaller. I don't know why I hadn't noticed them before. I picked one up and dropped it quick. It burned my fingers, and there were faint sounds coming from inside it.
It sounded like human speech in a foreign language, a voice screaming curses. That tone couldn't be anything else. Endless curses screamed —
Why would they put radios in old bronze bottles and scatter them through the loony bin? My hypothesis needed more work.
The people up on the hills were still running. They'd looped back to about where I'd first seen them, and whatever it was they chased, they hadn't caught it yet. Do they let the nuts run in circles in futuristic loony bins?
Where had I been? Where? There wasn't any hospital around here, no facilities for keeping all or part of a corpsicle, nothing but this crazy man and a lot of bronze bottles and people running in circles and — and insects of some kind. Something whined and did a kamikaze into my ear. Something else stung me on the back of the neck. I slapped frantically, but there wasn't anything to see.
It felt good even to hurt myself slapping.
My "rescuer" was patiently waiting for me to make some response. It wouldn't hurt to humor him until I had more information.
"Okay, I'm in the Vestibule to Hell and I was in a bottle. A djinn bottle. How long?" I told him the date on which I'd fallen from the window.
He shrugged. "You will find that time has not the same meaning here as you are accustomed to. We have all the time we will ever need. Eternity lies before us. I am unable to tell you how long you were in that beaker, but I can assure you it is not important."
Not important? I almost went mad in there! The realization made me start to shiver, and he dropped to his knees beside me, all concern, to put a hand on my shoulder.
"It is over now. God will not allow you back into the bottle. I cannot assure you that there will be nothing worse before you leave Hell. There will be much worse. But with faith and hope you will endure it, and you will be able to leave."
"That's a lot of comfort."
"It is infinite comfort. Did you not understand? I know a way out of here!" "Yeah? So do I. Right over that wall."
He laughed. I listened for a while, and it got irritating. Finally he choked it down to a chuckle. "I'm sorry, but they all say that, too. I suppose there is nothing for it but to let you try. After all — we have plenty of time." He laughed again.
Now what? Would he turn me in if I tried to climb the wall? I got up, surprised at how good I felt except for the gnats and the smell. My imaginary exercises in the bottle —
Or wherever I'd really been —
I started briskly toward the wall.
Excerpted from Inferno by Larry Niven. Copyright © 1976 Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
How come Hollywood hasn't discovered this book yet, especially after 30 plus years? Seems to me that if the project were turned over to a top notch filmaker (George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard come to mind) and if the filmaker were to put as much love and craftsmanship into the film as Niven and Pournell did when re-writing Dante's Inferno, and if they were as faithfull to the story line as Niven and Pournell were to the original by Dante Alighieri, they'd have a summer blockbuster on their hands that people would be talking about for decades! I keep envisioning Harrison Ford as Allen Carpentier, and the late Allen King would have been perfect as Benito Mussolini if only the film had been made while he was still alive and working. I just found out through this website about the sequel to "inferno", and I can't wait to read it!
Renowned popular science-fiction writer Allen Carpentier makes a bet with his fans at a Los Angeles convention. Right out of War and Peace, he sits on the windowsill of a room on the hotel¿s eighth floor drinking a bottle of rum. About half way through he gags and falls out the window to his death.-------------- When Allen lands after what seems like eternity to him, he is shocked that he can think though somehow he finds himself in some sort of brass bottle that he wonders if it is his coffin. Some big Italian who says to call him Benito frees him from his bottle prison and agrees to be his guide as Allen treks through the concentric circles of Hell.----------- This is more than a reprint of the 1976 homage to Dante as Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle apparently revised some of the journey to ¿set the stage¿ for a sequel next year. Accompanying Allen and Benito on the trek is fun as they meet an assortment of sinners through the circles. Obviously still filled with adulation of Dante, INFERNO is a modern day faster and hipper version.------------- Harriet Klausner
I first read this book thirty years ago. I was fourteen years old at the time, and once I finished reading it I rushed to my school library to read the three books of Dante's 'Divine Comedy'. 'Inferno' did not seem to catch on like many other Niven/Pournelle novels, but it made a lasting impression on me and I think this book is probably in a 'cult' status with other readers. After re-reading it again recently, even though it has some flaws that I did not notice thirty years ago (such as being based on a work of literature that views Hell from a strictly Catholic point of view--what other religion considers 'simony' to be an official sin? And in a Hell that probably houses billions of souls, how does one individual run across so many people he knew in life?), it is still a good read, and I found some of the 'updated' punishments, such as the ones reserved for those who destroy the environment, even more relevant today. I am looking forward to the coming sequel. My only hope is that the authors make this Hell a little more ecumenical.
A fun romp through hell that carries a surprisingly worthwhile interpretation of modern hell. Having read Dante's Inferno helps. The narrator is excellent as well and I think listening to the book was much better than reading it would have been.
Substance: An update of Dante, with an sf writer protagonist. Per the authors's afterword, a deliberate attempt to meld Dante's vision with the theological insights of C. S. Lewis. Works for me. Since the book was written in 1976, one can only guess at the meaning of some of the "assignments" in hell, but the classic American Worldview of the writers's of that era is noticeable in respect to the current chasm between Left and Right in the genre.Style: Fast-paced action with the minimum necessary introspection required for the purpose. Some infrequent language, but generally lacking any R-rated material despite the Milieu).
A very interesting and mostly enjoyable book, it seemed to drag in the last two chapters, and while the ending wasn't a surprise, I liked how it was handled.The story really flowed and made me think, and even if I didn't like the main character, I did empathize with him and felt vested in his journey.
Science Fiction writer John Carpentier wakes to find himself in hell (or at least Dante's vision of hell). Upon his waking he sets out on a journey to get out, which is really a ruse. His real quest is why hell? What does it mean? Who would do such a thing? This is the hero's quest...His journey allows him to meet several famous characters and some interesting musings. my favorite are as follows:'we are in the hands of infinite power and infinite sadism'the Republican and Democrat bickering over who is really right.'it is tough getting these animals to work together.''at this... I worked to remove the mote from my own eye.'great ending with constant movement..
Pretty much total garbage. The concept is that the author has copied Dante's Inferno into a modern day situation. A science fiction author falls off a eight-story building in drunkeness, dies, and goes to hell. He meet Benito Musselini and others on a trip through the levels of hell and gets out through the frozen area on the seventh level of hell. The only worthwhile concept is that the purpose of hell is for people to learn and get out after learning. I did not like the Divine Comedy and this is worse. Don't waste your time. It is a shame that such talented authors could generate such dribble.
Wow! I really enjoyed this. It's vividly descriptive of the sinners and their punishments; takes the reader on a wild ride; and brings the characters to life (no pun intended). It was a really fun read, despite the subject matter, and also made me pause to think about my own 'sins'. There's a nice revelation at the end that you get an inkling of; the authors do a great job of leading up to it. Overall, pretty satisfying to me.
I found this book in a local Indie store and I will freely admit that the cover (facing out) was what caught my attention first. I have long been a Niven fan, but also being a medievalist--I could not resist the lure and promise this trade paper tome held.I took my new prize home and flipped open the publishing information and quickly realized how long ago this work had been in print. From the historical point of view--in terms of when this was written and being a historian who specializes in the era in which Dante was active--Niven and Pournelle did an excellent job.There are certain points--such as homosexuals being labeled as serious sinners--that might turn off some readers. This novel should come with a caveat concerning what it is based on and when it was written. I was unsure whether I would like, or buy, Benito Mussolini as Vergil's replacement...but towards the end I found his role as a guide oddly fitting.I found it to be a light and engaging read that I, at times, attempted to over analyze. One comes away with the sense that the concept of Sin is in the eye of the beholder. What gluttony encompasses, for example, is redefined. Gluttons are not just those who are morbidly obese or those who eat and drink too much. Gluttony is any obsession over food and drink thus the overly health conscious might also find themselves sentenced to the third circle.At the heart of the work, Niven and Pournelle answer the question of what would hell look like in 1976 and what were the possible repercussions of Dante's and Virgil's journey--what has changed?
A thinly veiled retelling of Dante's Inferno with some modernized punishments and a dose of humor. Overall, an enjoyable morality story that is easier and shorter to read than the original; however, each reference to Dane's telling left me wanting to read Dante's version more...
¿Inferno¿ is one quirky novel. It is the second book written by the powerhouse writing duo of Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, coming two years after ¿The Mote in God¿s Eye.¿ Let¿s stop for a minute and marvel in the accomplishment implied by the fact that the all-time classic ¿The Mote in God¿s Eye¿ was the first book out of the gate for this pair.That said, ¿Inferno¿ doesn¿t quite live up to its predecessor. It is a straight-up retelling of Dante¿s Inferno, with a dead science fiction writer, Allen Carpentier (don¿t look too closely at the implications of the name), as the hero instead of a dreaming poet. His guide is a remarkably strong Italian gentleman named Benito. There are many in-jokes here, especially regarding the science fiction community. The people one meets in Hell are now heavily weighted towards Americans as opposed to Italians, a fact that even the characters remark on. Mostly the tour hits all the same high points as Dante¿s, but it does turn out that there are some corners that Dante missed, lending new originality to the tale.The pacing is not equal to the best work from these writers, and the politics can get heavy-handed and struck me as a bit naïve. However, it is not wall-to-wall political satire. There is a real ambiguity here between what Carpentier expects this to be (some sort of alien future consruct), and what it appears to be (a real, honest-to-God afterlife). Carpentier has to go through some real soul-searching as to what his purpose in this new life might be. There are some scenes in here that move away from the almost mad-cap adventure story to be genuinely moving. On the whole it is uneven, but short and certainly interesting. I would recommend it as a light read, and definitely if you¿re interested in seeing another facet of the Niven/Pournelle oeuvre.
I returned to this (having read it serialized in Galaxy magazine when it first came out back in the 70's) after reading Dante. It was fun, as I remembered, and a little corny/dated, and surprising Universalist! I'll be reading the sequel coming up (Escape from Hell) in February 2009.
I know others are not as big a fan of this book as I am, but this is an excellent reworking of Dante's Inferno. Updated for modern times, and without Dante's torturous monologues, its a fascinating revision. Read this after you read the Inferno sometime.
Good story but it hasn't been made into a good movie yet. You need to study this one a bit longer.
My senior thesis was Dante's Inferno as compared to T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland. (put Floyd's The Wall on headphones and dive into those cheerful little masterpieces some time) I ended that paper with the feeling that I was missing something important regarding the Inferno. I was. Reading this book put it in a more modern context and made it far more understandable. Follow it up with Escape from Hell for the full effect. I highly recommend these books.