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Lest Darkness Fall (Del Rey SF Classics) Mass Market Paperback – July 12, 1983
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HISTORY SETTING: 6th century Italy; very interesting setup. I didn't know much about it and rarely is it covered except in passing as they focus on other parts of the world. DeCamp knows his material.
PACING: The story is only 260 pages long which is small for today's fantasy novels which go from 600 to 1000 pages. No particular story lasted a long time. Decamp would jump from conflict to conflict. In essence, it began with little problems, moving its way up and up to the bigger and more political ones. And, there are plenty. In fact, there are so many plots and intrigues and obstacles and conflicts, that it keeps moving along. Padway will solve one problem but then pick up at least one problem or more.
CONTEXT: Sprague knew his Roman History. There were several Historical points he factored into the story that allowed him to outthink his opponents. Moreover, I got a feel for the setting with the incense wafting out of a door, the togas, the smell of manure, the louse coming out of the maid's armpit . . . etc etc. Unlike some people, one felt they were truly living in this era. Sprague hit you with all of the senses: sight, smell, touch, sound.
OVERALL STRUCTURE: DeCamp is really good at his structure and surprises and pacing. Basically, I would divide this book up into three sections. The first part is laying down the ground work as Padway tries to figure out what has happened, to justify it, to make a living with the help of a merchant and open up a brandy sill.Read more ›
The book gives away its 1938 vintage, when the protagonist Martin Padway is able to exchange about $5.00 worth of modern Italian coins for 93 post-Imperial silver sesterces, enabling him to survive his first 72 hours in old Rome. He could do this, of course, because in 1938 Italy, like most countries, still circulated real silver coins. I can't help wondering how the protagonist would have fared if he only had today's inflated zinc and tin tokens?
L. Sprague De Camp's "Lest Darkness Fall" is justly considered a classic of science fiction. It's a time travel story, but it is also cited by many as an early example of the alternate history genre. So its influence cannot be understated.
De Camp is not aiming for gravity, which is probably a good thing. The book is a breezy, plot-driven adventure, not a meditation on history. Padway is a well-developed character, if perhaps a little TOO competent and resourceful. Upon realizing his predicament, Padway hunts up the basics, including a dwelling and a source of income, first with brandy, and then with a newssheet. However, Padway makes a quick jump from brandy merchant and printer to power-broker with surprising speed and confidence. He manipulates royalty and leads battles, surprising himself with his ruthlessness. While De Camp's story flirts with implausibility, it never enters the realm of ridiculous.
The supporting characters are generally likeable archetypes, like the banker who speaks to God, the formerly-rich soldier who has been reduced to acting as Padway's bodyguard, the senile monarch, and so on. They serve the story and Padway's quest.Read more ›
I enjoyed reading this novel. It does not seem dated, and it held my interest with its technological and historical developments, which were intended to prevent the fall of the late Western Roman Empire, as well as with its many comic characters.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I read this book in high school many years ago when I had to pick a book for a book report. I chose Lest Darkness Fall because of the topic (time travel and Romans! Read morePublished 2 months ago by J Martin
It's an old book and the overall tone is a bit condescending because of that (Amerika uber alles), but it's still worth a read.Published 15 months ago by Anonymous
excellent book of the "alternate history genre", and considered by many to be one of the fathers of this modern type of literature. Read morePublished 16 months ago by gil
Lest Darkness Fall (1939) is a standalone SF Alternate History novel. This story was originally published in Unknown. Read morePublished on May 25, 2014 by Arthur W Jordin
Its what I love about alternate history, the story simply does not date. This book was written in 1936 and apart from an early reference to there not being 'another great war' once... Read morePublished on June 16, 2013 by philswan
Well written, amusing in places, and a sensible exploration of what a person unexpectedly might be accomplish, and what he likely night not. Read morePublished on March 17, 2013 by Steve Foerster