Review: Mike Resnick’s Inferno

I finally finished the three book series comprised of Paradise, Purgatory and Inferno — Chronicles Of Distant Worlds. Each of the three was a great read, but they just got better as I went along. Purgatory was better than Paradise and Inferno was better than Purgatory.

Inspired by the author’s travels in Africa and his love of the continent and her cultures, each of the books chronicles the Earthen Republic’s interference in alien worlds and the tragic consequences which result. Inferno is modeled after the nightmare of Idi Amin’s reign in Uganda in the 70s and 80s. This time, the Department of Cartography has deliberately left the Republic out and instead tried to bolster and assist the locals in educating their people and improving their planet. The desire is to let the natives shape their own world, only some of the natives take to the Western style more than others and conflict arises.

When the leader the Department of Cartography has supported is defeated by a rival, the planet’s government becomes unfriendly to the Republic, resisting joining the Republic, and seeking aid and trade with worlds outside the Republic’s influence. As the world, Faligor, drifts further from the Department’s hopes, a coup arises, one which the Republic hopes will restore order and integrity to the government. Instead, the General who led the revolution is even more brutal than his predecessor. He begins a campaign of racial cleansing and persecution of the population, creating a military state where his people live in fear.

The General fears only one thing: war with the Republic, but the Republic refuses to interfere. The Department of Cartography had insisted they stay out and not mess it up, so now the leadership was determined to leave Faligor to its own fate. As the former director of the Department of Cartography, who’s retired on Faligor, tries to interfere, he becomes an enemy of the General and finds himself jailed and threatened for it.

Inferno is a powerful story of tragedy. A good, kind people who grow to believe they may deserve the cruel dictators who take over their planet one after another. It is the story of the humans who tried to help them and now watch in horror as their plan backfires and the planet falls apart. It’s an echo of one of the most tragic events in world history and one of the greatest murderers who ever lived.

The story is a page turner and it is deeply moving. It causes the reader to consider his or her own values, morality and expectations for government, to evaluate his or her prejudices toward people who are different, and to question whether those people and their cultures deserve more respect than they’ve been given. It reminds us that despite our best intentions, our own interference in other countries has led to great tragedy and harm, and sometimes our “superior” culture ends up not being as superior as we suppose.

A deeply powerful must read for science fiction fans and any reader interested in other cultures. Written by a master storyteller in simple prose full of great characters and deep emotions. Resnick never preaches. He lets the story’s events speak for themselves. And speak they do, loudly and continually. A book you’ll never forget.

For what it’s worth…