Niven and Pounelle are both respected SF authors, who sometimes collaborate. This fantasy novel is a exception to their usual ‘hard SF‘ style.
It is a reworking of the most famous work of the great Italian poet Dante. In Dante’s “Inferno” the (thinly disguised) author takes a guided tour of hell, courtesy of the Roman poet Virgil.
In Niven and Pournelle’s version a (fictional) SF author – Allen Carpentier – attempts to upstage Isaac Asimov at an SF convention. Unfortunately, he is dead drunk at the time, and only succeeds in falling (unnoticed) out of a window. He wakes up in hell, and takes his tour as an inmate.
On his travels, Carpentier meets a variety of historical and contemporary figures. His guide describes how their surreal punishments are designed to complement the sins which for which they condemned. These include Epictetus, Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Bob Ford, Henry VIII of England, Vlad Tepes, Aimee Semple McPherson, William M. Tweed, Al Capone and, of course, L Ron Hubbard (whose appearance is very brief, but telling). Continue reading