Book Review: Lest Darkness Fall & Related Stories by L. Sprague de Camp (Four Stars)

Book Review: Lest Darkness Fall & Related Stories by L. Sprague de Camp

Four Stars

“This was a harsh, convulsive world … you’d get caught in the gears sooner or later.”

An outstanding collection of stories led by de Camp’s 1939 classic. For a hard science fiction author who rejected time machines and faster than light travel as not possible, de Camp wrote an excellent story of a twentieth-century man dropped into six-century Rome.

Comparison with Mark Twain’s 1889 A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is inevitable. De Camp’s story is better. Twain focused was on social commentary of his own era; de Camp worked at getting both the history and the technology right. Twain’s wit satirizes; de Camp’s makes you think.

“You’re persecuted because heretics … are not?”

Lest Darkness Fall is all the more enjoyable because, despite being written before World War two when “Benny the Moose” still ran Italy, de Camp created a timeless story which works in the twenty-first century. Sure things work too easily, but all the breaks seem to go against the protagonist.

“Feels like I stepped into a sewer full of big rats.” “That’s what adventures are like.”

Published with de Camp’s tale is an assortment of shorts riffing or inspired by it. A worthy bundle.

“[Time travel] sounded metaphysical and he was a hardened empiricist.”

John Campbell defined science fiction for Astounding magazine as “good, logical and possible.” De Camp was a major contributor. But Campbell was wise enough to also publish Unknown to explore “alternate possibilities.” Most of today’s science fiction writers and readers hardly blink at including FTL travel, time machines, transporters and replicators with no idea how it’d work. Magic labeled as science. That a few authors pay attention to the laws of physics, chemistry and biology enrich the reading for the rest of us.

“History had … been changed. Darkness had not fallen.”