Escape from Hell
by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
Review by Andrew Brooks
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765316325
Date: 03 February 2009 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Allen Carpenter has been in Hell for a long long time, and what has he been up to since last we saw him traveling through Dante's Inferno with Benito Mussolini? Trying to reason out the existence and reason for Hell, and encouraging everyone he comes across to follow him to the way out. Like Benito Mussolini before him, Allen, in Pournelle's and Niven's Escape From Hell, is now the one outside Hell's rules and on a mission to save as many souls as he can. For those who didn't read the book Inferno, by the same authors, stop reading this review and go check that one out first. It's a classic and one of the two authors' best collaborative efforts.
Escape From Hell, while entertaining, isn't as good as that first book. In fact, it suffers from something a lot of sequels do. We've been there, we've seen that and we have the Infernoland t-shirt.
No longer convinced he's in some sort of futuristic alien theme park, Carpenter continues his pondering from the previous book. Why is he there? Why are others there? Does anyone deserve to suffer in such cruel and imaginative ways? While asking these questions he also wanders through Hell gathering lost souls for an escape attempt and having philosophical discussions not only about Hell's purpose, but also who has committed which sin.
Satan's servants allow him a mostly free reign to do so, just like they did with Benito in the first book, and readers of the first book can see the strong similarities between the two. Don't get me wrong, it's enjoyable, but it gets a little tiresome. Especially when the first part of the book is Allen relating his travels after Benito had escaped in the previous book, and then doing it all over again in the next section of the current one. Essentially, he travels through Hell twice in this novel. So that by the time the novel neared its close I think I was more ready to be out of Hell than Carpenter was.
But it's not all bad in this sequel, just a little worn. The authors still paint a horrifying, yet fascinating picture, of this Dantesque Hell. Allen is a likeable protagonist, and his main companion in this novel, the dead poet Sylvia Plath, served as a better point and counter point when theological discussions arose. I know it's fiction, but Mussolini's character in the first book was a little hard to cheer for. In Escape From Hell most of the characters the two stumble across evoke a bit more pity than a former dictator. That may have been the reason Pournelle and Niven used Benito in the first book, as one of the central themes is does anyone really deserve to be in Hell, but I preferred both Sylvia's wit and slightly melancholy out look on things.
While I didn't hate Escape From Hell I also thought it could have been better, and, while I won't ruin the ending for you, I expected something more. I'm not sure what exactly, but after the first novel I didn't this one's pseudo-similar ending. But it followed the preceding story, and also suffered from sequelitis. The book's strengths are its imaginative descriptions of Hell, and the discussions Carpenter has with most of the characters he comes across. It's just that that was what the first book had strongly going for it. The whole thing felt too similar for me. A bit like Inferno B, instead of another chapter in Carpenter's hellish experience.
If you enjoyed the first book then by all means get this one. If you didn't, avoid this trip.