On the planet Faligor a sentient species developed a pre-technological civilization in which a certain balance has been established among the various tribes. The Republic’s interference in the history of other more primitive species led to catastrophic results so this time humans arriving on the planet try to have a more friendly attitude towards the natives.
Through Arthur Cartright of the Department of Cartography and some other human representatives of the Republic, an attempt is being made to prepare the natives for contacts with other planets that may include business relationships. Despite good will, the balance on Faligor is destroyed.
“Inferno” begins almost exactly like the previous novels in the series, with an introduction in which Mike Resnick tells a variant of a parable that features a scorpion and a crocodile. The only difference is that in this third novel Mike Resnick mentions Uganda instead of Zimbabwe and Kenya indicating which African nation is the protagonist of the story disguised by a patina of science fiction.
The planets Peponi and Rockgarden, on which the events of the two previous novels happen, are mentioned in “Inferno” because their stories develop a bit earlier than Faligor’s within the future history created by Mike Resnick but the three novels are completely independent. They’re part of a trilogy set in the same fictional universe and have in common the basic theme, the allegory of colonialism in Africa, but each of them can be read independently and in any order without losing anything important.
“Inferno” shows an attitude on the part of human beings towards a species that’s technologically more primitive different from that seen in the previous novels of the series. On Faligor they try to help the natives to prepare to have an equal relationship with more advanced species, for example by contributing to the education of the natives. For this reason, the result becomes even more tragic.
The novel is seen in part from the points of view of the exoentomologist Susan Beddoes and Arthur Cartright, who tries to establish a friendly relationship between the Republic and Faligor’s authorities and to prevent the planet from being devastated to exploit its resources. The hope is that Faligor’s natives can overcome their tribal divisions and reach a unified government that one day joins the Republic but things start going quite differently.
Humans’ intentions are good but their influence has unforeseen consequences. The concept of democracy is excellent on paper but must not only be applied in practice but also be defended from those who want to circumvent it for their own interests. The first presidential elections are called on Faligor and the candidate friend of the Republic is defeated, an event that starts an authoritarian drift.
The plot reflects what happened in Uganda over the past decades and in particular during Idi Amin’s bloody dictatorship. In “Inferno” the dream of a unified planet gives way to the nightmare of a tribalism more extreme than ever that leads to mass killings, ethnic cleansing and the brutal repression of any opposition. The social experiment supported above all by Arthur Cartright fails but at that point the Republic decides not to intervene on the planet letting the natives kill each other.
This is a truly tragic story of what is above all a civil war in which most of the common people on Faligor don’t try to overthrow the dictators who raise to power over time and often think they deserve it. They’re people who descended from many generations who have been loyal to tribal kings, therefore only a minority tries to rebel, sometimes after having suffered terrible abuses.
At the beginning of “Inferno” Susan Beddoes meets the most important tribal king, descendant of three hundred former kins of whom ordinary people have been subjects. After all those generations, in a very few years the subjects find themselves having the possibility to choose their rulers, what could ever go wrong?
As in the previous novels, Mike Resnick uses an alien planet to tell many years of the history of an African nation without providing judgments, using the characters to express the various points of view. In this case, it’s mainly the two protagonists who play this role, during the discussions they have with each other or when they’re dealing with the various Faligor leaders.
In “Inferno” the events on the planet Faligor mirror those in Uganda, which have consequences also on that nation’s current situation. For this reason I think it’s a must-read novel, as well as the other two in the series.