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Book Review: The Infernova by S. A. Alenthony

Price: US$11.21
Paperback: 220 pages
Publisher: Blackburnian Press (August 11, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0981967892
ISBN-13: 978-0981967899

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This book is a real gem. Anyone with a science or sceptical bent will love it. Bloggers and commenters on blogs and other internet fora will especially appreciate it.

The book is based on Dante’s Inferno. But it is a secular reinvention. In this new hell we get a chance to choose the villains — and their punishment.

As for Dante’s work this is a drama written in verse.

The villains are the irrational, the mystical and the dogmatically religious and their gods. Their punishments are designed to fit their crimes against humanity.

Our guide is the great secularist Mark Twain. He describes the Infernova as the:

’very Hell

that the non-thinking and easily frightened

have built in the world. For mark you well,

a fictitious Hades we needn’t invent:

it is sadly, that world where you dwell.’

This is a hell ’where each class of Unreason is displayed’ and punished in nine

’descending circles of infamy

based on the Inferno that Dante made.’

Still this hell is not real — but simulated to educate us.

Enter, abandoners of reason

Our narrator is greeted at the doors of this hell by the inscriptions:

’I am the way of human delusion

I am the way of wilful ignorance

I am the way of needless confusion

To serve as effective testament

Of the price of Irrationality

Satire and justice raised this monument

If man would think, my need would disappear

As long as there is that cause of hell on earth

Abandoners of reason, enter here.’

The outer vestibule is for the unclear. People with important ideas who failed to lucidly communicate:

’For they matter not, your discoveries,

insights, or theories, if you mistranslate.

You’d better off not to speak one word

as would be those deceived when you obfuscate.’

Here we meet Einstein — who is there;

on my own reprimand.’

’Yes, during my time on the world’s stage,

I’d sometimes assume, implicitly,

that my audience was on the same page

concerning what the word ’God’ meant to me.

Namely Spinoza’s God, Natural Law.

Ah, what trouble from that capital ‘G’!

If only I could that word withdraw,

and get across in some alternate way

my pantheistic, sublime Sense of Awe.

For after I left the world, some would say’

‘Einstein believed in Him – God must be real!’

And made me their spokesman, to my dismay.’

The first circle houses the:

’Intelligent Mystics, the ones that learned

how to reason, but never could let go

of irrational conceits.’

Some who were victims of ’an age when myth rules’. Others who:

’used their wit to help conceal

that their philosophies did not make sense,

that their arguments were less than ideal.

For if there’s one drawback to intelligence

it’s that it can enable a false claim

to be given a plausible defense.’

Here we meet some of the early philosophers and scientists.

Punishing the perpetrators of fallacy

Mark Twain guides the narrator through consecutive circles. We get to see those who argued fallacies. They employed the slippery slope, missing evidence, special pleading, and burden of proof. They indulged in rebuttal fallacies such as straw men, the poisoned well, ad hominen, and red herrings.

Those who poisoned the well in their arguments are now forced to consume water from contaminated wells.  And for :

’those that would frame

their rivals view as something else instead —

some weak position, easy to pshaw.

Their chastisement is to be fed

great handfuls of rancid and stinking straw.

And eat it they must, lest they decompose,

for the fibrous stuff on which they gnaw

also makes up their bodies.’

Then we get those claiming telekinetic powers, the astrologers and the UFOlogtists. In the eighth Circle we meet the followers, who like sheep empower tele-evangelists. Then on to the racists, creationists, robbers of the future and priest paedophiles.

The tele-evangelists are in full oratory flight. But:

“The punishment here was not to allow

the speakers to be heard as they touted

their spiritual wares incessantly

and in solitary tombs so spouted

their fiery, bombastic oratory

that the air roasted them.’

The creationists reside in a garden, a new Eden, where only animals and plants are visible. But

’every one

Of the creatures you see here was once a man

or woman. Now they are altered, undone

but there awareness kept intact. They’ve been

transformed to live in a primitive state

and to first-hand witness the origin

of new species. That is the timeless fate

for Creationists’

Sectarian violence, terrorists and prophets

On to the torturers and those who committed sectarian violence – including Pol Pot and Stalin. Then the Crusaders and terrorists.

In circle nine we confront the prophets. There they are in their vast numbers, all set in stone and larger than life.

The charismatic figures that would head

cults or sects, in a figurative way,

were larger than life. ..

….Yet here they stand

mute and motionless, unable to find

any means to express themselves or command

attention — aggravate them much, it must.’

We see Mohammed:

’forced to obey laws

set for many women of his faith – bound

head to foot in a burqa, and the shame

in his eyes was visible and profound.’

The gods themselves

Finally at the very centre we come to the gods — again in huge numbers. Twain points out their natural origins:

’Discovery

of patterns and trends naturalistic

was the first step in mankind’s history

towards understanding. One cannot blame

stone-age tribes for thinking some agency

drove forth storms or bequeathed the fish and game

they pursued. The problem lies with those who

would cling to such notions once it became

clear these fanciful myths were wrong.’

Our narrator’s response to this parade of weird and wonderful gods?

’’We all worship the same god’ — I laughed at

this now, for the objects of devotion

varied so dramatically with locale,

culture, and time — and caused such commotion

and strife when they clashed. Could anyone fail

to see the simplest exegesis here?

That all these gods were each a fairy tale?’

So a great book. I certainly like to see justice. To see scoundrels punished at last. Whether they indulged in fallacious argument, deception of the innocent, crimes against humanity or provided excuses for such activity.

Could it be improved? Well, some illustrations would be nice. I can just see old-style line drawings depicting the squirming of the creationists, the frustration of the silenced prophets and tele-evangelists. Maybe even the vast hordes of prophets and their gods.

Alenthony has done a thorough job. There can be few vendors of unreason who miss out on their just rewards. It’s all very satisfying.

If you think the same way I do you’ll enjoy the book.

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