LEST DARKNESS FALL by L. Sprague de Camp
Baen, 1939-1949 (Re-released 1996)
After the fall of Rome was a brief period where Roman laws were still followed, where Greek and Roman learning was still studied, and where the Germanic invaders thought of themselves as part of the Roman tradition. Into this environment, Martin Padway, a modern (when this novel was first written) American falls. Somehow, he must survive. He feels compelled to do more, however. Using his twentieth century knowledge, he introduces double-entry bookkeeping, arabic numerals, the newspaper, and distilled spirits.
When Byzantine Emperor Justinian decides to re-unite the Roman Empire, Padway finds himself forced to take sides in the Gothic civil disputes. He knows that Justinian can conquer Italy, but doing so will only leave a power vacuum that will lead to the real Dark Ages. Still, Padway is anything but a warrior and the Goths have no place in their hierarchy for an intellectual non-Goth.
Author L. Sprague de Camp (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of novels by de Camp) writes with a light style, but invests real emotional depth into his characters. Padway tries to do what is right, even though doing nothing might have been more comfortable for him personally. He is willing to work within the power system, yet does not find himself one of the rulers (which is the cliche in this type of novel).
LEST DARKNESS FALL is a classic in the alternate history/fish out of water tradition. Together with Mark Twain's A CONNETICUTT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT and LORD KALVIN OF OTHERWHEN) LEST DARKNESS FALL was one of the first and one of the best in the genre.
The current edition of LEST DARKNESS FALL is packaged with TO BRING THE LIGHT a short novel by David Drake. TO BRING THE LIGHT postulates that a woman from the late Roman Empire is sent back to the founding of Rome. The view of pre-historic Rome is amusing. The novel does not, however, truly build on the genre. The heroine doesn't bring any special knowledge or technology and thus does not represent the fish out of water. TO BRING THE LIGHT is certainly adequate and David Drake is a fine writer. It is a nice bonus to the masterful LEST DARKNESS FALL
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