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LEST DARKNESS FALL [Mass Market Paperback]

L. Sprague De Camp
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book by L. Sprague deCamp

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my absolute favorites Oct. 4 1999
By A Customer
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
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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5.0 out of 5 stars A Connecticut Yankee At the Fall of Rome June 30 2004
By R. WINN
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Formally, this is similar to Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee ..." but on just about every account it's better. De Camp doesn't try to match Twain strong powers of irony, but focusses on the problem of staying alive in time of turmoil. It's fun - and a little bit of learning creeps in unaware.
If you liked this book, try Robert Grave's "Count Belasarius" to learn a bit more about the stuffy Byzantine general.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars July 22 2014
Format:Mass Market Paperback
allwasgreat
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable read; great for History buffs; easy read March 22 2001
By MISTER SJEM - Published on Amazon.com
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. As high reps demand bribes, he begins to get involved in politics to a lesser extent. From there, he starts to expand his business and make friends. In the last third, which is probably half of the novel, he starts to run Rome. Puts the old emperor back on and uses him as sort of a puppet. Moves the capitol to Ravenna since that's one of the few spots which wasn't attacked by Goths. He wins the love of a Goth princess, dumps her to another man and then gets ready for several attacks upon Rome. Leads forces twice against Belisarius and then Bloody John.
WHY IT WORKED FOR ME: Other than the reasons stated above, I like Roman History and there were some very funny parts; especially in the dialogue!
FLAWS: Someone made the point that Padway was a little too ingenius at creating future inventions, as well as at maneuvering amongst all the political intrigues. There may be some validity to it but one who has studied such things wouldn't be hard pressed otherwise. It may have been a good idea to have shown that he knew of such things before since the typical professor wouldn't be able to make them nor perform political intrigues.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my absolute favorites Oct. 4 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
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?
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exciting, if not Deep, Sci-fi Adventure Tale March 29 2006
By Ian Fowler - Published on Amazon.com
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. Moreover, while De Camp knows the history of the era, he opts for broad strokes, acknowledging the fractured nature of Christianity, the tension between West and East, and the multi-cultural state of Rome at this time. It's probably for the best, as this isn't a treatise on the fall of Rome, but a story about Padway. Nonetheless, the reader may feel slightly adrift in generally unfamiliar era.

"Lest Darkness Falls" is a book that satisfies the reader's desire for a good adventure, if not the desire for brain-food. It's an entertaining tale, and is worth reading on its own merits, as well as an artifact of sci-fi.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Classic SF June 24 2005
By Michael Goldman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
I love this book. In Mussolii's Italy, professor is zapped back to very late Roman Empire, when the Goths basically rule. He has some adventures a la "Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" but he does not always know how to bring in modern inventions, unlike Twain's Yankee. Can you make gunpowder out of raw materials? What would it really be like to be a modern man in those days? Lots of fun.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In Roman Times May 25 2014
By Arthur W. Jordin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Lest Darkness Fall (1939) is a standalone SF Alternate History novel. This story was originally published in Unknown. It begins in Rome, Italy, just prior to the start of World War II.

In this novel, Martin Padway is an American archaeologist from Chicago. He is quite shy and hates confrontations.

Tancredi is an Italian archaeologist. He has a rather interesting theory about time.

Nevitta Gummund's son is a Goth farmer. He lives about eight miles up the Flaminian Way.

Thomasus the Syrian is a banker. He is honest, but you have to watch him.

Fritharik Staifan's son is a Vandal. The Byzantines had driven him off his estate with only the sword at his side.

In this story, Martin is the passenger in a small fiat driven by Tancredi. He hates the way Tancredi drives. Like most Italian drivers, Tancredi uses both hand to emphasize his points.

Martin is a very careful driver. After Tancredi almost hits several cars, Padway is holding onto the seat with both white knuckled hands. Hopefully Martin with get to his hotel in one piece.

Tancredi discusses several subjects, some in their joint field, but others on a variety of subjects. His discussion of time, however, is the main topic, despite side excursions into related areas. He thinks that certain locations in space and time are stressed at certain periods and people can be thrown back in time. Sometimes, these people start branches to the tree of time.

Martin asks Tancredi to drop him off at the Pantheon. He sees the usual Italian loungers near the temple. As he approaches the temple, a lightning strike lands near him. His vision is overloaded for a while and he drops about two feet onto a pavement.

When his vision clears, Martin still sees the temple and the loafers. Yet he notices that the men are now wearing while tunics. The pavement is stone instead of concrete and the traffic is gone. In fact, the neighborhood and roads are not the same.

After arguing with himself, Martin decides to use Tancredi's theory to explain the changes. If he is being delusional, he will wake up later. First, he tries to find a policeman. None of the locals knows where to find one.

Martin inventories his possessions and decides most of them are worthless in this time. He asks strangers about a moneychanger. Finally he locates a man who will exchange his coins for local money.

The moneychanger refuses the nickels, but offers a sum for the rest. A local Goth thinks that the coins are worth more. He helps Martin get half again the original value. They talk for a while and Martin gives Nevitta some medical advice. In turn, the Goth give him the names of a lawyer, a doctor and a banker.

Martin visits Thomasus for a loan. Of course, such a thing is ridiculous, but Thomasus asks how much. Martin tell him and Thomasus say no way, but asks about collateral.

When Martin says he doesn't have any, Thomasus says no deal. Martin tells him about Arabic numbers and Thomasus agrees to let Martin teach his clerks. Then he gives Martin the loan.

Martin wants to refine wine into brandy. He hires a foreman and then a couple of helpers. After the first batch is ready, Thomasus drinks more than he should have and decides to takes Martin out to a local wine shop. They soon find themselves in a religious argument.

Martin meets Fritharik in the bar and soon hires him as a bodyguard. He also learns not to argue about religions. It leads to even more violence than arguing politics.

This tale leads Martin into building a printing press. Then he starts printing a local newsletter. That almost gets him into politics, but he points out the risks to a scribe now working as a reporter.

Martin also creates a limited liability corporation to build semaphore telegraphs lines. That brings him to the attention of the garrison commander and then to the Gothic King. The king only asks why he was not invited to buy shares.

Martin tries to prevent the Dark Ages, but finds much resistance. This does not have any sequel, but has been very influential. Although it was not the first novel to use this approach (see A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court), it was the initial novel in the SF Alternate History subgenre.

Highly recommended for de Camp fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of time travel, alternate worlds, and a bit of romance. Read and enjoy!

-Arthur W. Jordin
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