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Lest Darkness Fall (Del Rey SF Classics) Mass Market Paperback – July 12, 1983

4.4 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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About the Author

L. Sprague de Camp, a SFWA Grand Master and winner of the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, wrote the definitive biography of Conan's creator, Robert E. Howard. De Camp died in 2000. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Del Rey (July 12, 1983)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345310160
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345310163
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 4.1 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,507,589 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
CONCEPT: A History professor is whisked back in time to Rome; only a few years before it's about to fall; with his foresight he attempts to not only create a living for himself but, at a later point, to stop the fall of Rome
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.
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By A Customer on October 4, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I've lost count of how many times I've read this book and had to replace it at least once. De Camp's depiction of the life, events and people of post-Imperial Italy are dead on accurate as far as I can tell, and the fictional aspect of the work is highly engaging.
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?
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
While on an expedition to Mussolini's Italy, young American Martin Padway is struck by lightning. When he comes to, he discovers himself to have been inexplicably transported to the waning days of the Roman Empire. Quickly realizing that he has no hope of returning home, Padway resolves to prop up the flagging Western Empire and stave off the approaching dark ages. But is he politically astute enough to handle the destructive forces within and without Rome?

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.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
Lest Darkness Fall is an amusing, time-travel, alternative-history novel, written in 1939. Our hero, Martin Padway (soon to become Martinus Paduei), is an American archeologist who is visiting Italy, and is transported to sixth-century Gothic Italy, threatened by Justinian forces, Franks, and others. Martin's goal becomes to prevent the encroaching Dark Ages by using his knowledge of history and modern technology. He soon introduces the printing press and paper stock (putting out newspapers and books), double-entry bookkeeping (helping him secure bank loans), distilling of brandy (earning him lots of money), a telegraph system, and more modern military methods, and he also frees the serfs--all in his attempt to alter history. Much of this leads to a lot of funny dialogue and some suspense, as do his encounters with church and political officials, generals, kings, and aristocrats.

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.
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