All reviews copyright 1984-2016 Evelyn C. Leeper.
"Hyperpilosity" by L. Sprague de Camp:
[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/20/2014]
"Hyperpilosity", L. Sprague de Camp (Astounding Science-Fiction, April 1938; Groff Conklin's OMNIBUS OF SCIENCE FICTION): Conklin at least gives you a footnote that says, "The original opening of this story has been eliminated, with the permission of the author, since it seemed to weaken its impact somewhat." That is a refreshing change from editors that do not tell you when a story has been changed, but it also means that yet another Retro nominee is not really available in its 1938 form. This is the problem people have often claimed occurs in the artist, fancast, and other categories--votes are cast based on something other than the works from the year in question. People listen to the latest 2014 "Jovian Overlords Training Sessions" podcast and then rank the 2013 nominee on the basis of that.
I read "Hyperpilosity" without noticing where it was first printed, and found myself thinking, "Typical ANALOG story." Sure enough, it was first published in ASTOUNDING. It is nothing extraordinary, but a good, competent story of the sort one found then.
"The Roaring Trumpet" and "The Mathematics of Magic" by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt:
[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/15/2016]
"The Roaring Trumpet" by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt (Unknown, May 1940), and "The Mathematics of Magic" by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt (Unknown, Aug 1940): These two novellas were edited together to form the "fix-up novel" THE INCOMPLETE ENCHANTER. Naturally, this means that the two original novellas would be unavailable without getting a copy of the original magazines, were it not for the fact that there are PDFs of the original magazines in archive.org. This is also a problem with the novelette "Darker Than You Think"--and with the same solution. In the case of the de Camp/Pratt stories, I decided to read the fix-up novel. I am not a member of MidAmericon II, so I am not actually voting, and there is a limit to how much effort I want to put in to sitting at a computer reading PDFs.
In any case it is at least easy to see where one novella ends and the other begins: the first is an adventure in the universe of Norse mythology, and the second is one in the land of Edmund Spenser's "Fairie Queen". I am far more familiar with the first than with the second (as I suspect most people are these days), and that made a difference in my enjoyment and understanding the two novellas. So I would rate "The Roaring Trumpet" considerably higher than "The Mathematics of Magic".
To order The Incomplete Enchanter from amazon.com, click here.
LEST DARKNESS FALL/TO BRING THE LIGHT by L. Sprague de Camp/David Drake (Baen, ISBN 0-671-87736-4, 1996 (1939), 336pp, mass market paperback):
Lest Darkness Fall is a classic, and justifiably so. The cover describes it as "the novel that defined a genre," and while there were earlier alternate histories, this was the first to make a major impression on the science fiction field. (Harry Turtledove in his introduction talks about how it changed his life, giving a great example of how alternate histories work: what if he hadn't read it?) It is a book that should be in print and I'm glad to see Baen has brought it back. It is interesting that it has been reissued just as de Camp was given a "Special Achievement" Sidewise Award for Alternate History, and it was cited along with his works THE WHEELS OF IF and "A Gun for Aristotle" as major seminal works in the genre.
For those who don't know, the plot is very much a "Connecticut Yankee" sort of plot: Martin Padway, walking along in 1939 Rome, is struck by lightning and wakes up in sixth century Rome. He determines to use his superior knowledge to prevent the fall of Rome, or rather the Dark Ages following it. While Twain intended A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court to be a rather bitter description of how bad life--and people--were in the so-called "golden days" of Camelot, de Camp is more an engineer and hence concentrates more on just what a twentieth century man could do with his knowledge.
David Drake's novella "To Bring the Light" is very much in the same vein. (In that regard, the cover blurb that describes it as "a brand-new story that stands that genre on its head" is completely inaccurate.) In it, Flavia Herosilla, an educated woman in the Rome of 248 A.D. is hurled back to 751 B.C. Not surprisingly, she meets Romulus and Remus, and finds that the area that would be Rome is smelly, dirty, and altogether uncivilized. So she takes matters into her own hands and attempts to improve the situation.
But the novella suffers by comparison to the de Camp. In addition, there are several problems that should have been caught by the editors. I have no problem with the omniscient narrator. However, that is not the voice in which this novel was written, and even if it were, the phrase "the sun was still a finger's breadth below the eastern horizon," would still strike me as awkward. This, combined with punctuation errors, grammatical mistakes, and unfortunate word choices make me again bemoan the current state of editing.
If you haven't read Lest Darkness Fall, this is a must-buy. But if you already have that book, then the additional novella is not sufficient reason to buy this edition.
To order Lest Darkness Fall/To Bring the Light from amazon.com, click here.
SCIENCE FICTION HANDBOOK, REVISED by L. Sprague de Camp and Catherine de Camp:
[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/23/2004]
There was also a Retro Hugo nominee for "Best Related Book" that I read. Well, actually, I read the 1975 L. Sprague de Camp and Catherine C. de Camp, SCIENCE FICTION HANDBOOK, REVISED (ISBN 0-070-16198-4), a revision of the 1953 edition. It is still quite readable, but with flaws. For example, de Camp's summary of the history of imaginative fiction is concise, but marred with questionable claims (such as the claim that the novel originated in Alexandria under the Ptolemys). Of course, it's more than made up for by finding out that Seabury Quinn was so popular as a "Weird Tales" author that when he was taken to a New Orleans bordello, the staff offered him one on the house.
The discussion of how publishing works is, of course, very out-of-date, but the discussions of how to choose names and other technical aspects of writing are still pertinent. (I wish more people would follow his dictum: "The writer must not, however, let his linguistic enthusiasm lead him to give names too long or too difficult or too full of diacritical marks")
Of the first World Science Fiction Convention, de Camp notes, "TIME [magazine] wrote up the convention, noting its more juvenile aspects." (page 3) It's nice to see some traditions haven't changed in sixty-five years.
To order Science Fiction Handbook, Revised from amazon.com, click here.