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In today’s On the Square feature, Robert R. Chase reviews a pair of science fiction novels inspired by Dante’s Inferno :

Larry Niven conceived the idea to write a sequel to Dante’s Inferno but worried about its theological underpinnings. He felt that the “naïve Roman Catholicism of Dante Alighieri would hardly do for a twentieth-century readership.” Pournelle then suggested that they look at Dante through the eyes of C.S. Lewis. The result was unexpectedly successful. Inferno went through twenty printings and was credited with inspiring renewed interest in Dante among college students as well as providing the impetus for a new printing of the John Ciardi translation of The Divine Comedy .

Now, more than a quarter of a century later, Niven and Pournelle have written a sequel, Escape from Hell . They explain that since the first book, “the Roman Catholic Church has made formal changes in its doctrines concerning the necessity of salvation through the Catholic Church alone, as well as a considerable expansion of the doctrine of cocreation.” In fact, the working title for the new book was “Dante meets Vatican II.” The changes provide both the impetus to reexamine Hell and several plot points for the new story.

Chase also chronicles the battle over religion and the future of sci-fi in ” Science Friction ,” an essay—available free online—in this month’s First Things.

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