Years in the Making Essay - Critical Essays

Years in the Making

L. Sprague de Camp first began publishing his speculative fiction in the “Golden Age” of science fiction during the 1930's and 1940's. He kept on writing for the next fifty years. Time travel was one of his favorite themes. It allowed him to display a wide-ranging erudition, and also offered a rich field for his famous sense of humor.

The pieces in this collection are an eclectic mix. Some like “Language for Time-Travelers” and “The Wheels of If” allow de Camp to explore his fascination with language, and the way in which it changes over time. In others de Camp uses the time-traveling premise as the background for fast-paced action stories. One such is “A Gun for a Dinosaur” in which hunters journey back to the Cretaceous period for some really big game. “The Isolinguals,” the earliest of de Camp's stories in this collection, originally published in Astounding Stories in 1937, is rip-roaring pulp fiction, with fascistic villains manipulating time to gain political power.

The centerpiece of the collection is de Camp's 1939 novel Lest Darkness Fall. This is the story of a scholar who is transported to the city of Rome in the early sixth century, a time when Italy was ruled by Gothic barbarians. The novel bears comparison with Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889) thanks to its breezy style and satiric humor. It differs from Twain's classic in its painstaking attention to historical detail. Lest Darkness Fall inaugurated the sub-genre of counterfactual history in science fiction. This collection of de Camp stories will delight both general readers and students of speculative literature.