Reading Science Fiction

Cover of "Inferno"

Cover of Inferno

I used to read a great deal of science fiction. In fact, I think there was a time when that was just about all I ever read. One day I happened to read Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Inferno. I suppose it must have been pretty good by sci-fi standards as it was nominated for Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel.

At the time I thought it was pretty interesting. It is basically set in Dante’s Inferno, represented as Infernoland, a high-tech amusement park with all the circles of hell. The setting captured my imagination and I set out to learn more about the book it was based on.

I tracked down copies of Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso and started reading them. I was stunned and amazed. This was so much richer and more complex. I had always thought sci-fi was a fairly philosophical genre–full of imagination and ideas about human beings, their relationship to each other, to technology, to the universe. But in Dante there was so much more to think about, so many different ways to approach the book.

My sci-fi books felt anemic by comparison. They were almost always simple allegories with a single, obvious point of view. I’m not even sure how much I understood what was going on in Dante, but it was very exciting. I read them over and over. After that I was never able to read science fiction. The simple allegories made me feel tricked and manipulated. I wanted to think for myself, and I had found something to read that would inspire that kind of thinking.

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~ by severalfourmany on April 7, 2013.

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