Infernova: An Infidel Reinvents Dante’s Hell
© S.A. Alenthony
Go to Hell.
Go there with Mark Twain. In fact, let him give you a tour of Hell. It’s actually the kind of place he approves of, because in an ironic twist, it is the arrogantly pious and faithful who people it — not the rational and humanistic. This is no place of sadistic wrath, however: only a realm in which people are forced to face the consequences of their actions — where those who limited themselves and humanity by their refusal to commit to rationality realize their self-imposed limitations in full.
Infernova is a modern retelling of Dante’s Inferno, the classic story in which a man is forced to tour the bowels of Hell, being guided through its many levels by a sage or personal hero of sorts. There are nine levels all told. After passing through the Vestibule — where the otherwise rational who clung inexplicably to irrationality, like Sir Isaac Newton and C.S. Lewis — linger, chuckling at their foolishness on Earth — our narrator, led by Mark Twain, begins his descent into Hell. With Twain commenting all the while, they will descend the Slippery Slope, cross the Plains of Bullshit inhabited by sheep (people who are now in form what they remained in mind in life), and enter the final descent, which is flanked by the petrified forms of self-appointed prophets and demigods who set themselves up as spiritual tyrants and dogmatic teachers. These prophets, still living, have been forced into stone where they are unable to manipulate the minds of people with their words. Among their ranks are not just televangelists and religious fathers, but political dictators. The Inferno is home to all forms of mental slavery, not just that maintained by religion.
Impressively, and appropriately given that this is a retelling of The Inferno, Infernova is written in rhyming verse and is divided into Cantos rather than chapters.I enjoyed the format, so different from that to which I am accustomed. Written as a parody, the book will easily provide rationalists and skeptics with laughter. The author’s audacity in naming names is also entertaining. With Infernova, Alenthony promotes reason, compassion, and the human spirit while skewering the opposition in a playful way. Best of all, he does this without seeming vindictive or mean-spirited, for Twain introduces Hell in such a way as to let the narrator know that the sights he will see are not true: no outside power is inflicting further humiliation on these people. The punishments seen here are physical symbols of the mental slavery and punishment people inflict on themselves so willingly in reality.
- Jennifer Michael Hecht’s interview with For Good Reason, titled “The Poetry of Skepticism”.