NESFA Members' Reviews


by L. Sprague de Camp


by David Drake

Baen, ISBN 0-671-87736-4, 1996 (1939), 336pp, US$5.99

A book review by Evelyn C. Leeper

Copyright 1996 Evelyn C. Leeper

LEST DARKNESS FALL is a classic, and justifiably so. The cover describes it as "the novel that defined a genre," and while there were earlier alternate histories, this was the first to make a major impression on the science fiction field. (Harry Turtledove in his introduction talks about how it changed his life, giving a great example of how alternate histories work: what if he hadn't read it?) It is a book that should be in print and I'm glad to see Baen has brought it back. It is interesting that it has been reissued just as de Camp was given a "Special Achievement" Sidewise Award for Alternate History, and it was cited along with his works THE WHEELS OF IF and "A Gun for Aristotle" as major seminal works in the genre.

For those who don't know, the plot is very much a "Connecticut Yankee" sort of plot: Martin Padway, walking along in 1939 Rome, is struck by lightning and wakes up in sixth century Rome. He determines to use his superior knowledge to prevent the fall of Rome, or rather the Dark Ages following it. While Twain intended A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT to be a rather bitter description of how bad life--and people--were in the so-called "golden days" of Camelot, de Camp is more an engineer and hence concentrates more on just what a twentieth century man could do with his knowledge.

David Drake's novella "To Bring the Light" is very much in the same vein. (In that regard, the cover blurb that describes it as "a brand-new story that stands that genre on its head" is completely inaccurate.) In it, Flavia Herosilla, an educated woman in the Rome of 248 A.D. is hurled back to 751 B.C. Not surprisingly, she meets Romulus and Remus, and finds that the area that would be Rome is smelly, dirty, and altogether uncivilized. So she takes matters into her own hands and attempts to improve the situation.

But the novella suffers by comparison to the de Camp. In addition, there are several problems that should have been caught by the editors. I have no problem with the omniscient narrator. However, that is not the voice in which this novel was written, and even if it were, the phrase "the sun was still a finger's breadth below the eastern horizon," would still strike me as awkward. This, combined with punctuation errors, grammatical mistakes, and unfortunate word choices make me again bemoan the current state of editing.

If you haven't read LEST DARKNESS FALL, this is a must-buy. But if you already have that book, then the additional novella is not sufficient reason to buy this edition.

%T      Lest Darkness Fall
%A      L. Sprague de Camp
%T      To Bring the Light
%A      David Drake
%C      New York
%D      August 1996
%I      Baen
%O      paperback, US$5.99 [1939]
%G      ISBN 0-671-87736-4
%P      336pp

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