TIME AND CHANCE
by L. Sprague de Camp
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
L. Sprague de Camp is one of the deans of science fiction. His writing dates back to "The Isolinguals" published in Astounding, September 1937, thereby predating Heinlein, Asimov or Clarke. Throughout the years, de Camp has known all the great science fiction authors in addition to being one of their number. With Time and Chance, de Camp turns his attention to himself. At this point, it would generally be stated that de Camp is his own most interesting subject. Since he writes science fiction and fantasy, as well as non-fiction of various stripes, this would be a major disservice to his writing abilities.
What can be said about de Camp's autobiography is that it is a fun read. Painting his life in colorful vignettes from his stories of the Laurent de Camp's arrival in Nieuw Amsterdam in 1664 to de Camp's own arrival in Plano, Texas in 1989. The majority of the book is a reminiscence of his own life (naturally enough), the friends he made and how science fiction affected his life.
Isaac Asimov has frequently written about the years he spent with de Camp and Robert Heinlein at the Philadelphia Navy Yard during World War II. De Camp's side of this period is finally aired when de Camp discusses the period. de Camp's view of events is not at odds with Asimov's, merely a different point of view.
Time and Chance doesn't give any great insight into L. Sprague de Camp which can't be found simply by reading his novels and short stories, nor does it function as a course for writing as he does. Instead, it details stories which actually happened to him in an entertaining manner and gives the reader clues as to why his opinions are attitudes are what they are. Obviously, this is a book which will have an audience in those who enjoy de Camp's writings and want to get more of his style.
Reading Time and Chance gives the reader the impression that de Camp has led an interesting life. Whether or not this is true is hard to say. What de Camp has done is examine his life and culled the boring parts and described the interesting parts in a way possible only for a master story-teller. de Camp tells about the life he lives. His novels and short stories are mentioned insofar as they are part of that life, but they are not the purpose for that life. This work is a review of the life, not the novels. There is little in the way of literary criticism of his work, which is good. It is not the place for de Camp to examine what he has written. Instead, he wisely leaves that for others to take up.
Time and Chance is not a book for everybody, just as Asimov's various autobiographies will only appeal to his fans. However, if you enjoy the writing of L. Sprague de Camp, I would recommend giving this book a look. If you've never read L. Sprague de Camp, I would recommend going to the bookstore or library and finding a copy of Lest Darkness Fall, Rivers of Time, or, for more non-fiction, The Ancient Engineers.
Purchase this book in hardcover from