Lest Darkness Fall

Posted by : atcampbell | On : July 6, 2009

Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp

Fifteen people attended this meeting, the first held in the new building for the North Village Library. Our topic was L. Sprague de Camp’s Lest Darkness Fall, a time travel/alternate history story set in historical Rome. Thirteen of us had read de Camp before. Twelve of us started this book, and eight finished.

One person liked it a lot. He felt it convenient that Padway, the time traveler, was a historian who fell into a period he knew well. He thought that the order in which Padway introduced new inventions was logical, particularly starting with brandy. He liked that some experiments failed, notably gunpowder. While the book was written in 1939, he felt the only aspect that dated the book was some politically incorrect language.

Another enjoyed the conceit of a historian going back in time. She didn’t feel there was much characterization, but it moved quickly. She appreciated the difficulties the time traveler faced with language. She felt the book ended at just the right time.

We liked the book’s fast-paced beginning and the author’s confident storytelling that kept the story flowing.

One reader appreciated the book’s humor, and felt that its approach anticipated Terry Pratchett. He loved the religious humor, and would like to see a revival of interest in de Camp’s work. The scenes of Padway haggling were a highlight.

We liked how the author made ancient Rome come to life. One person said this book got her to read history books about Justinian.

One reader felt this book was not to his taste. He felt the story was implausible, and the time traveler should have paid more attention to medicine. He thought Padway would have been executed immediately once he was dropped back in time. He didn’t think the book was funny, but felt the author was funnier writing with Fletcher Pratt.

Another person was glad we read classics like this book. He found the book easy to get into and in general was enjoyable, but he had less fun after the main character lost interest in inventing and got into politics.

We had trouble classifying this book. One person strongly felt it was fantasy, while most of the rest felt it was science fiction.

We had a brief discussion of other books of this type: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court , Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen, Bring the Jubilee, The Cross-Time Engineer, and 1632.

Afterward, many of us had a nice dinner at Waterloo Ice House.

—A. T. Campbell, III