Lest Darkness Fall, by L. Sprague De Camp

I have on hand two perfectly good 2012 Time Travel stories, one middle grade and one YA, and, given the focus of my blog, I should probably be reviewing one of them today. But instead, I offer an Old Chestnut for grown-ups --Lest Darkness Fall, by L. Sprague De Camp (1939), an impulse check out from the library that is now hideously overdue.

In much the same vein as A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Lest Darkness Fall tells of an American archaeologist from the 20th century who finds himself back in 6th century Rome. Fortunately for Martin Padway's peace of mind, a colleague has just explained all about time travel--how the time traveller will not alter history, but will, instead, create a new alternative. So Padway sets to with a will, creating a version of history where the Dark Ages are averted. Not from altruistic reasons, but simply to make the the past a more pleasant place for a modern person like himself to live in.

Combining new technology with his knowledge of the past, and considerable luck in his dealings with the Natives, Padway sets Gothic Italy on a course for early enlightenment. And it makes for entertaining reading. It's written in a light style, not going to deeply into emotions, or serious contemplation of anything. I enjoyed very much seeing how his interventions changed things, learning about a time and place I had only a cursory knowledge of, and appreciating Padway's reactions to it all.

Except. The author manages to be offensive en passant to Africans, Women, Muslims, and (probably) some Christians. Sheesh. It is a shame, because it really was interesting as all get out. Because of this sense I got that it's a book by a white dude for white dudes untrammelled by consideration for people who aren't white dudes, it's not one I'll re-read. (But I'm not sorry I read it, because when I wasn't being bothered, I did enjoy it).

(A minor problem that I had with the book, that it's original readers would not have had, is that I kept mis-reading Padway as Padme, which flavored my reading in disconcerting way. I do not blame the author for this.)

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