“When am I? Padway asked himself after the lightning-flash knocked him down. He knew where he was--Rome. He was there to study archaeology, and even though the lightning had left him dazed, he could see the familiar Roman buildings. But the buildings looked newer and the crowds in the street were wearing tunics, not suits! And a rich barnyard smell had replaced the gasoline-and-garlic aroma of modern Rome. So, when was he? And he was suddenly cold with fear of the answer...”
My Review - Rating - 8/10
L. Sprague de Camp’s Lest Darkness Fall is a classic alternative history/time travel book that’s still a somewhat interesting read today. It’s one of the oldest in the Genre, written in 1939, and is one of the oldest fiction books I’ve read for leisure rather than knowledge. It has an interesting (though now overused) plot, a pretty good main character, and decent worldbuilding, but it’s nothing special by modern standards. The writing was excellent, engaging throughout and especially vivid and descriptive in the early chapters of the novel, when Padway is just getting established in his new situation. The book as a whole wasn’t a struggle to read, but wasn’t a joy either, since the plot was pretty much just a basic alternative-history/time travel tale -- a modern man goes back in time and impacts the world with his futuristic knowledge. I wasn’t too engaged in the book because it didn’t have any plot lines that I hadn’t seen before and all charechters but the protagonist were one-dimensional. Even so, it outperformed my expectations; though my interest in the idea of a modern man going back in time and saving Rome was almost totally exhausted by the Emperor’s Men series by Dirk van den Boom, I still was interested in Padway’s journey and eventual success.
Beyond that, complaining about the unoriginal plot as compared to many recent works is unfair to the author as it is judging the book only by modern standards. The plotline, characters, and level of worldbuilding - though basic for a modern alternate history book - were new and exciting at the time, since this book was one of the first of its kind. I have read countless books which directly or indirectly drew inspiration from Lest Darkness Falls which was why I was interested in reading it in the first place. The reason that it felt so bland to me is the same reason for which it is so influential in the genre - the way Sprauge approached worldbuilding and character building in Lest Darkness Falls is now very common in the alternate history/time travel genre. A modern man, unextraordinary before being transported back in time, has to use his wits and knowledge to survive in a time where he knows no one, has nothing, and isn’t familiar with the customs and practices of the time. He gradually adjusts to his new life, and is drawn into bigger and bigger events in the world around him, which he influences with his modern knowledge. That’s not just a quick synopsis of Lest Darkness Falls, it’s the basic story for most alternate history/time travel books. Sprauge’s book used this storyline so well and so early that, even with over eighty years between its release and today, there hasn’t been a lot of room for improvement on this idea, though many authors have given it their own spin or added to it in some way. I’d recommend this book to prolific readers or potential writers, because it really gives the reader a good sense of the baseline for the genre. Being able to see the similarities between Lest Darkness Fall and the newer alternative history books I usually read has helped me appreciate new, original ideas and concepts in those books, and recognize dated or cliched stories and characters before I get too invested into a bad or unoriginal book. Because of this book’s utility to me and age, I gave it an eight out of ten rating even though my enjoyment of it and opinions on the writing and plot would have garnered it, at most, a six out of ten.
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