Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination (1956); L. Sprague De Camp, Lest Darkness Fall (1939)

My brief thoughts on two November reads:

51py53jJ2lLAlfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination is fast-paced 1950’s revenge SF novel of teleportation, inter-planetary warfare, cargo cults, prison escape, gratuitous violence, rape, corporate/state intrigue, bio-modification, telepathy, atom bomb analogies and synaesthesia. This was enjoyable even with some of its shortcomings; a little dialogue on the comic book scale, and perhaps being too brisk and madcap here and there. Aside from the action, the most interesting thing about this book is the portrayal of an Earth society that has been completely restructured after the discovery of teleportation; widespread housing and transport reforms, economic and political upheaval, the return of diseases, Victorian morality, and new opportunities for criminals. I can appreciate how this book would have blown the minds of a teenager in 1956, and it’s still a fun read – and superior to his earlier novel, The Demolished Man. 4/5

lest darkness fall

Lest Darkness Fall is a fun time travel novel from L Sprague De Camp (1939.) A 20thC American archeologist is in Rome when he is struck by lightning and transported to AD 536, and Ostrogothic Italy. He uses his wits and knowledge of 20thC technology and science to make a living – beginning with the introduction brandy and book-keeping. This in the face of local Gothic ignorance, Roman venality, and Church superstition, from which many of the novel’s humorous moments arise, and overall the novel has a light-heartedly comic tone. The protag eventually becomes embroiled in local and international politics, where he undertakes grander schemes to strengthen the Italo-Gothic kingdom in the face of Justinian and Belisarius’ Byzantine invasion; in come the printing press, catapults, and army modernisation, and a good deal of clever planning. Of particular interest is De Camp’s depiction of the Goths, who are presented favourably. They are lazy and ignorant, but religiously tolerant, and their custody of Italy and Rome’s heritage is ultimately preferable to possession by the rapacious, venal, and comparatively intolerant Byzantine imperialists.  Overall, this short novel is a pleasant mix of historical detail, comedy, romance, action and intrigue. 5/5



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