An indication of the influence and longevity of the book is by the number of best-selling writers who have written stories in direct response to, or influenced by, Lest Darkness Fall. The original tribute volume (titled Lest Darkness Fall and Related Stories, reprinted three such stories by Frederik Pohl, David Drake and S. M. Stirling written over a period of forty-three yearsa testament to the timelessness of the book.
The 2021 edition (Lest Darkness Fall and Timeless Tales Told in Tribute) includes two brand new stories by Harry Turtledove and David Weber.
Similar, thematically, to Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, the book tells the tale of Martin Padway who, as he is walking around in modern Rome, is suddenly transported though time to 6th Century Rome.
Once in ancient Rome, Padway (now Martinus Paduei Quastor) embarks on an ambitious project of single-handedly changing history.
L. Sprague de Camp was a student of history (and the author of a number of popular works on the subject). In Lest Darkness Fall he combines his extensive knowledge of the workings of ancient Rome with his extraordinary imagination to create one of the best books of time travel ever written.
This volume also includes an afterword by Alexei and Cory Panshin, adapted from their Hugo-winning book on science fiction, The World Beyond the Hill.
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About the Author
L. Sprague de Camp is a key figure in science fiction and best known for his highly influential book Lest Darkness Fall which not only impacted many future giants of the industry, it was also responsible for the establishment of alternate history as a solid subgenre. Alternate history has seen a huge increase in popularity in recent years with major media productions like The Man in the High Castle (Amazon’s hit series based on the book by Philip K. Dick).
His body of work is marked by interests in linguistics, ancient history, philosophy, and plausible scientific extrapolation. He wrote several books related to time travel and alternate history in which challenged conventional notions of how history is created by arbitrary acts, instead arguing about the importance of technological determination in shaping history.
He explored these notions in detail in many of his books, and a number of his books on the subject, including Lest Darkness Fall, are considered seminal works of alternate history and time travel.
While the term extraterrestrial was first used by H.G. Wells in connection with life beyond Earth, de Camp is credited with both using it as a noun to describe alien life as well as for creating the abbreviation E.T. in the first part of his two-part article, “Design for Life” published in Astounding Science Fiction.
Many subsequent bestselling authors in science fiction and fantasy have cited de Camp’s work as having a major influence on them, including David Weber, David Drake and Frederik Pohl.
L. Sprague de Camp was a guest of honor at the 1966 World science fiction convention, was named a Gandalf Master of Fantasy at the 1976 convention (after J.R.R. Tolkien and Fritz Leiber) and a Grandmaster of science fiction by the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) in 1979. He also accumulated a plethora of awards, including a Special Achievement Sidewise Award for Alternate History in 1996, citing ‘seminal works in the field.’
He was born in New York City in 1907 and married Catherine Adelaide Crook in 1939. They moved to Plano, Texas in 1989. Both he and Catherine died within months of each other in 2000. Their ashes share a columbarium niche together at Arlington National Cemetery.
Frederik Pohl is the author of the classic science fiction novel Gateway which was followed by later books that now comprise the Heechee collection. He is considered one of the premier science fiction writers of the twentieth century with several bestsellers to his name.
Along with commercial success, his works also met with wide critical acclaim. He won multiple Hugo and Nebula awards throughout his career both for short stories as well as novels. He was made a Grandmaster by the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) in 1993 and was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 1998. He also received the J. W. Eaton Lifetime Achievement Award from the University of California Riverside Library which houses the Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Frederik Pohl was born in New York City in 1919 and died in Palatine, Illinois in 2013.
David Drake is a Vietnam war veteran who used his military experience to create an extremely successful series of military science fiction series called the Hammer’s Slammer stores. The setting is called the Slammers universe or the Hammerverse. The series (and the universe) is named after the first book in the series, a collection of short stories titled Hammer’s Slammers (with the pivotal character of Colonel Alois Hammer).
David utilizes both is own military experience as well as inspirations drawn from historical or mythological stories to create his stories.
Being one of the first to write a popular military science fiction series, David Drake is now considered a major figure in the genre and helped establish many of the norms future writers have followed.
David was born in Dubuque, Iowa in 1945.
S.M. Stirling is an award-winning Canadian-American science fiction author specializing in alternate history and time travel books. He is well known in the subgenres for his Draka and Nantucket series.
Many of his books are conflict driven, military adventures. He also uses his works to explore value systems and cultural and historical influences.
Stirling was bon in Metz, France in 1963 and currently lives in New Mexico with his wife Jan.
Alexei Panshin is a science fiction writer as well as a science fiction historian and critic. His novel, Rite of Passage won a Nebula award and this study of science fiction, The World Beyond the Hill won a Hugo Award.
Alexei was born in 1940 and currently lives with his wife Cory (who co-authored with him on several of his works, including The World Beyond the Hill) in Quakertown, Pennsylvania.
Dubbed as “The Master of Alternate History” by Publishers Weekly, Harry Turtledove has written a number of classic bestsellers in the subgenre, including How Few Remain, The Guns of the South and The Man with the Iron Heart.
He uses his study of history (with a Ph.D in Byzantine history) to create alternate worlds in intricate detail; crafting enthralling adventures that have garnered him high critical praise as well as making him one of the most successful bestselling authors in alternate history.
Turtledove has won, or been nominated, for nearly every major award in science fiction (multiple times, for many) including the Hugo, Nebula, Sidewise (alternate history), Homer (short stories), The John Esten Cooke Award for Southern Fiction and the Prometheus Award.
Harry Turtledove is married to novelist Laura Frankos. They have three daughters, Alison, Rachel and Rebecca.
David Mark Weber (born October 24, 1952) is an American science fiction and fantasy author. He has written several science-fiction and fantasy books series, the best known of which is the Honor Harrington science-fiction series and has had a number of New York bestsellers. His books are also a regular selection for the Science Fiction Book Club.
Read an Excerpt
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER ONE
Whenever and however all this was, that gesture assured Padway that he was still in Italy.
Padway asked in Italian: “Could you tell me where I could find a policeman?”
The man stopped his sales talk, shrugged, and replied, “Non compr’ endo.” “Hey!” said Padway. The man paused. With great concentration Padway
translated his request into what he hoped was Vulgar Latin.
The man thought, and said he didn’t know.
Padway started to turn elsewhere. But the seller of beads called to another hawker: “Marco! The gentleman wants to find a police agent.”
“The gentleman is brave. He is also crazy,” replied Marco.
The bead-seller laughed. So did several people. Padway grinned a little; the people were human if not very helpful, He said: “Please, Ireally wanttoknow.”
The second hawker, who had a tray full of brass knick-knacks tied around his neck, shrugged. He rattled off a paragraph that Padway could not follow.
Padway slowly asked the bead-seller: “What did he say?”
“He said he didn’t know,” replied the bead-seller. “I don’t know either.” Padway started to walk off. The bead-seller called after him: “Mister.” “Yes?”
“Did you mean an agent of the municipal prefect?” “Yes.”
“Marco, where can the gentleman find an agent of the municipal prefect?”
“I don’t know,” said Marco.
The bead-seller shrugged. “Sorry, I don’t know either.”
If this were twentieth-century Rome, there would be no difficulty about finding a cop. And not even Benny the Moose could make a whole city change its language. So he must be in (a) a movie set, (b) ancient Rome (the Tancredi hypothesis), or (c) a figment of his imagination.
He started walking. Talking was too much of a strain.
It was not long before any lingering hopes about a movie set were dashed by the discovery that this alleged ancient city stretched for miles in all directions, and that its street plan was quite different from that of modern Rome. Padway found his little pocket map nearly useless.
The signs on the shops were in intelligible classical Latin. The spelling had remained as in Caesar’s time, if the pronunciation had not.
The streets were narrow, and for the most part not very crowded. The town had a drowsy, shabby-genteel, rundown personality, like that of Philadelphia.
L. Sprague de Camp
At one relatively busy intersection Padway watched a man on a horse direct traffic. He would hold up a hand to stop an oxcart, and beckon a sedan chair across. The man wore a gaudily striped shirt and leather trousers. He looked like a central or northern European rather than an Italian.
Padway leaned against a wall, listening. A man would say a sentence just too fast for him to catch. It was like having your hook nibbled but never taken. By terrific concentration, Padway forced himself to think in Latin. He mixed his cases and numbers, but as long as he confined himself to simple sentences he did not have too much trouble with vocabulary.
A couple of small boys were watching him. When he looked at them they giggled and raced off.
It reminded Padway of those United States Government projects for the restoration of Colonial towns, like Williamsburg. But this looked like the real thing. No restoration included all the dirt and disease, the insults and altercations, that Padway had seen and heard in an hour’s walk.
Only two hypotheses remained: delirium and time-slip. Delirium now seemed the less probable. He would act on the assumption that things were in fact what they seemed.
He couldn’t stand there indefinitely. He’d have to ask questions and get himself oriented. The idea gave him gooseflesh. He had a phobia about accosting strangers. Twice he opened his mouth, but his glottis closed up tight with stage fright.
Come on, Padway, get a grip on yourself. “I beg your pardon, but could you tell me the date?”
The man addressed, a mild-looking person with a loaf of bread under his arm, stopped and looked blank. “Qui’ e’? What is it?”
“I said, could you tell me the date?”
The man frowned. Was he going to be nasty? But all he said was, “Non compr’ endo.” Padway tried again, speaking very slowly. The man repeated that he did not understand.
Padway fumbled for his date-book and pencil. He wrote his request on a page of the date-book, and held the thing up.
The man peered at it, moving his lips. His face cleared. “Oh, you want to know the date?” said he.
“Sic, the date.”
The man rattled a long sentence at him. It might as well have been in Trabresh. Padway waved his hands despairingly, crying, “Lento!”
The man backed up and started over. “I said I understood you, and I thought it was October 9th, but I wasn’t sure because I couldn’t remember
Lest Darkness Fall
whether my mother’s wedding anniversary came three days ago or four.” “What year?”
“What year?” “Sic, what year?”
“Twelve eighty-eight Anno Urbis Conditae.”
It was Padway’s turn to be puzzled.“Please, what is that in the Christian era?”
“You mean, how many years since the birth of Christ?” “Hoc illethat’s right.”
“Well, nowI don’t know; five hundred and something. Better ask a priest, stranger.”
“I will,” said Padway. “Thank you.”
“It’s nothing,” said the man, and went about his business. Padway’s knees were weak, though the man hadn’t bitten him, and had answered his question in a civil enough manner. But it sounded as though Padway, who was a peaceable man, had not picked a very peaceable period.
What was he to do? Well, what would any sensible man do under the circumstances? He’d have to find a place to sleep and a method of making a living. He was a little startled when he realized how quickly he had accepted the Tancredi theory as a working hypothesis.
He strolled up an alley to be out of sight and began going through his pockets. The roll of Italian bank notes would be about as useful as a broken five-cent mousetrap. No, even less; you might be able to fix a mousetrap. A book of American Express traveler’s checks, a Roman street-car transfer, an Illinois driver’s license, a leather case full of keysall ditto. His pen, pencil, and lighter would be useful as long as ink, leads, and lighter fuel held out. His pocketknife and his watch would undoubtedly fetch good prices, but he wanted to hang onto them as long as he could.
He counted the fistful of small change. There were just twenty coins,
beginning with four ten-lire silver cartwheels. They added up to forty-nine lire, eight centesimi, or about five dollars. The silver and bronze should be exchangeable. As for the nickel fifty-centesimo and twenty-centesimo pieces, he’d have to see. He started walking again.
He stopped before an establishment that advertised itself as that of S. Dentatus, goldsmith and money changer. He took a deep breath and went in.