CBR13Bingo – Mythic
Like Dante’s Inferno, this book is more of a time capsule than a truly interesting reading experience. Unless I completely missed it, and I might have, it’s not as thickly layered with criticism and allusion to much more obscure and more “minor” sinners the way Dante’s is, and instead tries to hit the big bads. Instead of Virgil, his guide is Mussolini, hinting at the more fallen nature of classicism in the 20th century. If Virgil was the cultural historian of Rome/Italy for Dante, and Dante needed this guide for his path, then it makes sense that a hack sci fi writer like Larry Niven’s lead character, would find Mussolini to be an appropriate guide. In addition, the “inferno” we have here is a kind of false construct created by an alien race as an homage or playground from Earth, so it makes sense that like Virgil and like Dante, you take about the most famous Italian of his era. In 1975, there were certainly plenty of Italian writers to guide Carpenter here — Calvino, Levi, Bassani, Levi, Montale, Morante, Moravia — or even going back through the years, Gramsci, Pirandello, but Mussolini is a little more pitch perfect.
The book itself is basically, how would aliens from another planet interpret the 20th century through a similar lens that Dante viewed his world. The ideas are interesting; the book mostly just ok.
“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.”