Book Review: The Infernova by S. A. Alenthony
Paperback: 220 pages
Publisher: Blackburnian Press (August 11, 2009)
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:
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
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
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:
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.