from science fiction by
L. Sprague de Camp

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Lest Darkness Fall


science fiction

time travel

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Lest Darkness Fall

Copyright © 1939 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc.
Copyright © 1941 by Henry Holt and Company, Inc.
Copyright © 1949 by L. Sprague de Camp


“I was saying all these people who just disappear, they have slipped back down the suitcase.”

“The what?”

“The trunk, I mean. The trunk of the tree of time. When they stop slipping, they are back in some former time. But as soon as they do anything, they change all subsequent history.”

“Sounds like a paradox,” said Padway.

“No-o. The trunk continues to exist. But a new branch starts out where they come to rest. It has to, otherwise we would all disappear, because history would have changed and our parents might not have met.”


Time Travel


“Religious persecution. We won’t stand for it forever.”

“I thought the Goths let everybody worship as they pleased.”

“That’s just it! We Orthodox are forced to stand around and watch Arians and Monophysites and Nestorians and Jews going about their business unmolested, as if they owned the country. If that isn’t persecution, I’d like to know what is!”




He was living in the twilight of western classical civilization. The Age of Faith, better known as the Dark Ages, was closing down. Europe would be in darkness, from a scientific and technological aspect, for nearly a thousand years. That aspect was, to Padway’s naturally prejudiced mind, the most, if not the only, important aspect of a civilization. [...]

So what? Could one man change the course of history to the extent of preventing this interregnum? One man had changed the course of history before. Maybe. A Carlylean would say yes. A Tolstoyan or Marxian would say no; the environment fixes the pattern of a man’s accomplishments and throws up the man to fit that pattern.

The answer was Rapid communication and the multiple record—that is, printing. Not even the most diligently destructive barbarian can extirpate the written word from a culture wherein the minimum edition of most books is fifteen hundred copies. There are just too many books.

So he would be a printer.


He reflected that there was this good in Christianity: By its concepts of the Millennium and Judgment Day it accustomed people to looking forward in a way that the older religions did not, and so prepared their minds for the conceptions of organic evolution and scientific progress.


He was reacting to his first homicide with a combination of humane revulsion and buck fever. He was too sensible to blame himself much, but he was still no mere thoughtless adventurer to take a killing lightly.


“You never seemed very mysterious to me, in spite of your foreign background.”

“That’s great. You’re not afraid of me, are you?”

“Not in the least. If you made a deal with Satanas as some people hint, I’m sure the Devil got the worst of it.”

CHAPTER XIII He liked fun as much as the next man, even if the next man would consider his ideas of fun peculiar.

“I don’t know the pretty phrases. In fact, I’ve never written a love letter in my life.”

“I’ll help you out with that, too. Here, we can start right now.” Padway got out writing materials, and they were presently concocting a letter to the princess. “Let’s see,” said Padway reflectively, “we ought to tell her what her eyes are like.”

“They’re just like eyes, aren’t they?”

“Of course, but in this business you compare them to the stars and things.”

Urias thought. “They’re about the color of a glacier I once saw in the Alps.”

“No, that wouldn’t do. It would imply that they were as cold as ice.”

“They also remind you of a polished sword blade.”

“Similar objection.”

CHAPTER XVII It wasn’t the horses’ war, and they had no intention of spitting themselves on the unpleasant-looking lances.

text checked (see note) Sep 2023

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