Mind-blowing, epic, ballsy, perfect - whatever the label, I agree with Harlan Ellison. The Sandman Volume Four: Season of Mists
is awesome. Some readers had claimed this volume exceeds in excellence [b:The Sandman, Vol. 2: The Doll's House|25099|The Sandman, Vol. 2 The Doll's House|Neil Gaiman|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1298566119s/25099.jpg|2648]. Possibly. I've tried to compare this series with [b:Watchmen|472331|Watchmen|Alan Moore|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1327866860s/472331.jpg|4358649] and [b:V for Vendetta|5805|V for Vendetta|Alan Moore|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1343668985s/5805.jpg|392838]. But the farther I read, the less interested I become in making comparisons. They all stand on their own as great works.
Debating the if's and why's of hell definitely counts as speculative fiction. For Gaiman in Season of Mists
, the Creator needs Hell:
There must be a Hell. There must be a place for the demons; a place for the damned. Hell is Heaven's reflection. It is Heaven's shadow. They define each other. Reward and Punishment; hope and despair. There must be a Hell, for without Hell, Heaven has no meaning."
Shadow as integral part of existence - Jungian idea, that. Gaiman's ideas of Hell being Heaven's "little realm of pain" and humans choosing to go to Hell to "fulfill their [own] desire for pain and retribution" will appall many religious folks, but it sure makes for a thought-provoking read. I'm intrigued!