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de Camp, L Sprague

Entry updated 1 April 2024. Tagged: Author, Critic, Editor.

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(1907-2000) US author, married from 1939 until her death early in 2000 to Catherine Adelaide Crook (see Catherine Crook de Camp), who collaborated on a number of his books, sometimes without printed credit, though always freely acknowledged by de Camp; though she was always actively involved in his career, the two were increasingly seen after about 1960 to be genuine collaborators. De Camp was educated at the California Institute of Technology, where he studied aeronautical engineering, and at Stevens Institute of Technology, where he gained a master's degree in 1933. He went to work for a company dealing with patenting, and his first published work was a co-written textbook on the subject. He then met P Schuyler Miller, with whom he collaborated on a novel, which failed to find a publisher for several years: Genus Homo (March 1941 Super Science Stories; exp 1950), signed by both authors, is a Sleepers Awake tale whose protagonists find that, a million years hence, the human species has been supplanted by apes (see Apes as Human; Satire). De Camp's first published story was "The Isolinguals" (September 1937 Astounding), which appeared before the arrival of John W Campbell Jr as Astounding editor; but when that happened the two men proved highly compatible, and de Camp soon became a central figure of the Golden Age of SF, writing prolifically for Astounding over the next few years (on one occasion using the pseudonym Lyman R Lyon). His contributions included the Johnny Black series about an intelligent, Uplifted bear: "The Command" (October 1938 Astounding), "The Incorrigible" (January 1939 Astounding), "The Emancipated" (March 1940 Astounding) and "The Exhalted" (November 1940 Astounding). Some of the better stories from this period were collected in The Best of L. Sprague de Camp (coll 1978).

It was, however, the appearance in 1939 of Astounding's fantasy companion Unknown which stimulated de Camp's most notable early work, including Lest Darkness Fall (December 1939 Unknown; exp 1941; rev 1949), in which an involuntary time-traveller to sixth-century Rome attempts to prevent the onset of the Dark Ages; this was the most accomplished early excursion into History in magazine sf, and is regarded as a classic. Other contributions to Unknown included "None but Lucifer" (September 1939 Unknown) with H L Gold; Solomon's Stone (June 1942 Unknown; 1956); the long title story of Divide and Rule (coll 1948); the title story alone being republished as Divide and Rule (April-May 1939 Unknown as "Divide and Rule!"; 1990 chap dos); "The Wheels of If" (October 1940 Unknown) in The Wheels of If, And Other Science-Fiction (coll 1948), a Parallel-Worlds story, also cited below in reissued form; and The Undesired Princess (coll 1951), the title story "The Undesired Princess" (February 1942 Unknown) alone being republished in The Undesired Princess and The Enchanted Bunny (anth 1990), the second story being by David A Drake.

De Camp was, unusually, an author who seemed equally comfortable solo and in collaboration. Over and above the huge influence of his wife, he was most successful in his collaborations with Fletcher Pratt, whom he met in 1939. Pratt conceived the idea behind their highly successful Incomplete Enchanter series of humorous fantasies in which the protagonist, Harold Shea, is transported into a series of Parallel Worlds based on various myths and legends (see Science and Sorcery). As usual with de Camp, the publication sequence is complex. The main titles – all credited to both authors – are: The Incomplete Enchanter (May, August 1940 Unknown as "The Roaring Trumpet" and "The Mathematics of Magic"; coll of linked stories 1941; vt The Incompleat Enchanter 1979), The Castle of Iron (April 1941 Unknown; exp 1950) and Wall of Serpents (June 1953 Fantasy Fiction, 1954 Beyond #9 as "The Wall of Serpents" and "The Green Magician"; coll of linked stories 1960; vt The Enchanter Compleated 1980). After separate publication, the first two titles were initially assembled as The Compleat Enchanter: The Magical Misadventures of Harold Shea (omni 1975), and all three were eventually put together as The Intrepid Enchanter (omni 1988) – for the complex sequence of variant titles, all very similar, see Checklist. Without the involvement of Pratt, who died in 1956, Sir Harold and the Gnome King (in World Fantasy Convention Program Book, anth 1990; 1991 chap) and The Exotic Enchanter (coll 1995) with Christopher Stasheff were subsequently added to the Enchanter canon, de Camp's contribution to the latter being a novelette, "Sir Harold of Zodanga"; these late solo works, plus all the stories with Pratt, were assembled in the mistitled The Mathematics of Magic: The Enchanter Stories of de Camp and Pratt (coll 2007). Other collaborations with Pratt were The Land of Unreason (October 1941 Unknown; 1942) and The Carnelian Cube: A Humorous Fantasy (1948), the latter being published several years after it was written. In 1950, de Camp and Pratt (whom see for details) began their Gavagan's Bar series of Club Stories, assembled in Tales From Gavagan's Bar (coll 1953; exp 1978).

After joining the US Naval Reserve in 1942, de Camp spent the war working in the Philadelphia Naval Yard alongside Isaac Asimov and Robert A Heinlein. Afterwards he published a few articles, but hardly any new fiction until "The Animal-Cracker Plot" (July 1949 Astounding) introduced his Viagens Interplanetarias stories, a loosely linked series set in a future where Brazil has become the dominant world power, the stories themselves being sited mainly on three worlds which circle the star Tau Ceti and are named after the Hindu gods Vishnu, Ganesha and Krishna; the planet Krishna was a romantically barbarian world on which de Camp could set, as sf, the kind of Planetary Romances he had previously written as fantasy, the market for pure fantasy having disappeared with Unknown in 1943. Other planets circling other stars included Osiris, Isis and Thoth. Many of the short stories in the series were included in The Continent Makers and Other Tales of the Viagens (coll 1953); others appeared in Sprague de Camp's New Anthology of Science Fiction (coll 1953); "The Virgin of Zesh" (February 1953 Thrilling Wonder) was assembled together with the unconnected The Wheels of If (October 1940 Unknown; 1990 chap dos) (see separate citing above) in The Virgin and the Wheels (coll 1976). Rogue Queen (1951), a novel in the series, depicts a matriarchal humanoid society based on a hive structure; it is, with Lest Darkness Fall, de Camp's most highly regarded sf work. The remaining novels, an internal series all set on Krishna, were Cosmic Manhunt (August-September 1949 Astounding as "The Queen of Zamba"; 1954 dos; vt A Planet Called Krishna 1966; with restored text and with "Perpetual Motion" [September/October 1950 Future Science Fiction as "Wide-Open Planet"] added, rev vt as coll The Queen of Zamba 1977); The Search for Zei (October-November 1950 Astounding as the first half of "The Hand of Zei"; 1962; vt The Floating Continent: The Second Volume in the Famous Krishna Series 1966) and The Hand of Zei (December 1950-January 1951 Astounding as the second half of "The Hand of Zei"; 1963; cut 1963), both titles finally being superseded by publication of the full original novel, The Hand of Zei (October 1950-January 1951 Astounding; 1982); The Tower of Zanid (May-August 1958 Science Fiction Stories; cut 1958; with "The Virgin of Zesh" added, vt as coll The Virgin of Zesh/The Tower of Zanid 1983); The Hostage of Zir (1977); The Bones of Zora (1983) with Catherine Crook de Camp; and The Swords of Zinjaban (1991) with Catherine Crook de Camp. They contain a blend of intelligent, exotic adventure and wry humour characteristic of de Camp's better work, though they do not explore any too deeply either the romantic or the human-condition ironies available to aspiring authors of the Planetary Romance.

De Camp was in any case not to write much more sf, his later career increasingly being devoted to outright fantasy and to Sword and Sorcery. He had gained an interest in the latter category through reading Robert E Howard's Conan stories, and worked extensively on editing and adding to that series. Tales of Conan (coll 1955; vt Conan: The Flame Knife 1981) consists of unfinished Howard manuscripts converted into Conan stories and completed by de Camp (for remaining titles, see listing below). His nonfiction writings on the sword-and-sorcery genre have been published as The Conan Reader (coll 1968), Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers (1976) and Blond Barbarians and Noble Savages (1975 chap). He also edited several theme anthologies, beginning with Swords and Sorcery (anth 1963), and co-edited the critical anthologies The Conan Swordbook (anth 1969) and The Conan Grimoire (anth 1972), both with George H Scithers. De Camp's own first sword-and-sorcery effort was the Pusadian sequence of tales assembled as The Tritonian Ring and Other Pusadian Tales (coll 1953); the title novel was later published alone as The Tritonian Ring (Winter 1951 Two Complete Science-Adventure Books; 1968). Later he wrote several stories set in the imaginary world of Novaria: The Goblin Tower (1968), which is his most substantial novel of this type, The Clocks of Iraz (1971), The Fallible Fiend (December 1972-February 1973 Fantastic: 1973), The Unbeheaded King (1983) and The Honorable Barbarian (1989) – the first, second and fourth of these five being assembled as The Reluctant King (omni 1984).

De Camp's most notable sf writings after about 1950 were stories like The Glory that Was (April 1952 Startling; 1960) and "A Gun for Dinosaur" (March 1956 Galaxy), the Dinosaur title story of A Gun for Dinosaur, And Other Imaginative Tales (coll 1963), which also included "Aristotle and the Gun" (February 1958 Astounding). The first and third of these tales use history themes, in the case of the third combined with Time Travel, in a manner similar to Lest Darkness Fall; the second is a straightforward time-travel story. With Willy Ley, De Camp wrote Lands Beyond (1952), which describes imagined lands (including Atlantis) visited in the course of various Fantastic Voyages; it won the International Fantasy Award for 1953. Lost Continents: The Atlantis Theme in History, Science, and Literature (1954) broadens the scope of the inquiry. He also produced one of the earliest books about modern sf, Science Fiction Handbook (1953; rev 1975) with Catherine Crook de Camp; a useful compendium of information and advice for aspiring writers in its original edition, it gained little from its subsequent revision – indeed, the revised version omitted some material of interest. Otherwise he wrote historical novels and nonfiction works, including a book on Magic with his wife: Spirits, Stars and Spells: The Profits and Perils of Magic (1966). His opinions about the nature of Fantasy and the appropriate decorum necessary to write within the genre were expressed in an energetic, if sometimes reactionary, fashion in his many articles. He also wrote definitive lives of H P LovecraftLovecraft: A Biography (1975; cut 1976) – and of Robert E Howard – Dark Valley Destiny: The Life of Robert E. Howard (1983) with Catherine Crook de Camp and Jane Whittington Griffin (?   -1983), the latter book having been preceded by The Miscast Barbarian: A Biography of Robert E Howard (1906-1936) (1975 chap). In the 1980s, and into his own ninth decade, more and more often in explicit collaboration with his wife, he maintained a remarkable reputation for consistency of output. He was given the Gandalf (Grand Master) Award for 1976, the SFWA Grand Master Award for 1978, the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement in 1984, and the Pilgrim Award in 1998. His autobiography, Time & Chance: An Autobiography (1996), which won a Hugo, reflects little in the way of shadows, though it is occasionally stiff-tongued; his last work seemed as agelessly smiling as the first Harold Shea tales 60 years earlier. [MJE/JC]

see also: Edisonade; End of the World; Evolution; Finland; Gamebook; GURPS; Hive Minds; Humour; Invention; Linguistics; Longevity in Writers; Mathematics; Nuclear Energy; Politics; Publishing; Science Fantasy; Slow Glass; Sociology; Time Paradoxes.

Lyon Sprague de Camp

born New York: 27 November 1907

died Plano, Texas: 6 November 2000



Incomplete Enchanter

Viagens Interplanetarias/Krishna



As the raison d'etre of these works is to fit consistently into the gaps in Robert E Howard's original sequence, the listing below is given in terms of internal chronology rather than publication date.

additional Conan titles


Incorporated Knight

individual titles (selected)

collections and stories (selected)


works as editor

nonfiction (highly selected)

further reading

  • Lest Darkness Fall and Related Stories (Rockville, Maryland: Phoenix Pick, 2011) [anth: original story plus tributes: pb/]
    • Lest Darkness Fall and Timeless Tales Written in Tribute (Rockville, Maryland: CAEZIK SF and Fantasy, 2021) [anth: exp of the above: hb/]

about the author


previous versions of this entry

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