L. Sprague de Camp

American non- and speculative fiction writer

L. Sprague de Camp (November 27, 1907 – November 6, 2000) was an American writer of science fiction, fantasy and non-fiction. In a career spanning 60 years, he wrote over 100 books, including novels and works of non-fiction, including biographies of other fantasy authors. He was a major figure in science fiction in the 1930s and 1940s.

If I don't believe a thing is possible, I don't use it.



Short fiction


Judgment Day (1955)

Published in Astounding, August 1955
  • For thousands of years, priests and philosophers have told us to love mankind without giving any sound reason for loving the creatures. The mass of them are a lot of cruel, treacherous, hairless apes. They hate us intellectuals, longhairs, highbrows, eggheads, or double-domes, despite—or perhaps because—without us they would still be running naked in the wilderness and turning over flat stones for their meals. Love them? Hah!
    • p. 69
Page numbers from the mass market edition, published by Ace Books, ISBN 0-441-69190-0, first printing, April 1980
See L. Sprague de Camp's Internet Science Fiction Database page for original publication details
  • I fear me that the eighteenth century, which I have idealized all these years, never really existed. The real one was far dirtier, more narrow-minded, brutal, orthodox, and superstitious than I could have ever conceived without seeing it.
    • Balsamo's Mirror (p. 24)
  • I once read that the Devil studied Basque for seven years and only learned two words.
    • The Lamp (p. 34)
  • As you know, Monsieur Newbury, the civilization is but a thin crust over our savage interiors, no matter if our skins be white or black. We must try to keep this shell of egg intact.
    • The Yellow Man (p. 130)
  • His voice had a hypnotic quality, which lulled one into a kind of passive daze. One ended with the impression that one had had a wonderful revelation but without remembering much of what the Master had actually said. Some of his assertions seem to contradict what others had told me of his doctrines; but I understood that he brought out a new doctrine every month or two, keeping his suckers too confused to think.
    • A Sending of Serpents (p. 138)
  • We rented an apartment in a rambly wooden-frame building, a block from the beach. This was before the waterfront sprouted a host of huge condominiums, like a plague of concrete mushrooms.
    • The Purple Pterodactyls (p. 173)
  • I passed that off as women’s intuition, which is wrong more often than not. People remember the times it works and forget those it fails.
    • The Purple Pterodactyls (p. 184)
  • But what argument could I offer? It was nothing but an irrational feeling—the kind of “premonition” we get from time to time but remember only on the rare occasions when it is fulfilled by the event. I had no evidence.
    • Dead Man’s Chest (p. 198)
  • There was no harder-boiled materialist than I; I rejected Marxism as too mystical and not materialistic enough.
    • The Figurine (p. 207)
  • The world is full of people who, if they got to Heaven, would complain about the tune of the harps and the dampness of the clouds.
    • The Figurine (p. 207)
  • It was hardly fair to his opponents, but I have never had much sympathy for the victims of gambling sharks. If they were not trying to get something for nothing, they would not expose themselves to being taken.
    • The Figurine (p. 216)
  • Yngvi is a louse!
Many editions. All page numbers here are from the mass market paperback edition published by The Paperback Library, catalogue number 64-696, in September 1971, second printing
  • Certainly their intentions are peaceful, like those of the lion for the lamb. The lion wishes only to be allowed to devour the lamb in peace.
    • Chapter 2, “The Sinking Land” (p. 16)
  • Before sending my opinions forth across the chasm of surmise, I prefer to wait until they’re provided with a more solid bridge of fact.
    • Chapter 2, “The Sinking Land” (p. 18)
  • I find that verse provides one of the cheapest and most harmless of life’s major pleasures.
    • Chapter 10, “Lake Tritonis” (p. 106)
  • In all these fights and flights I have never known that mad joy of battle of which the epics speak. Before the combat I am frightened, during it I am confused, and after it I am weary and disgusted.
    • Chapter 18, “The Philosophy of Sederado” (p. 199)
  • “You make it sound wonderful, sir. Could I but be sure…”
    “Wait to be sure of anything and you will find yourself looking out through the sides of a funerary urn, your quest unaccomplished.”
    • Chapter 18, “The Philosophy of Sederado” (p. 202)
Many editions. All page numbers here are from the first mass market paperback edition, published by Dell, catalogue number 600, in 1952
  • Antis, looking up from his fire-making to watch the flying fish, remarked, “That’s an omen of change.”
    “What is?”
    “When a flying fish circles withershins.”
    “Oh, silly! You see omens in everything, and changes are always occurring.”
    • Chapter 1, “The Community” (p. 18)
  • There must be something. No, nothing. But there must be, if she could only be clever enough to think of it. What, then? How do you know there is anything to think of? There simply must be. But that’s wretched logic; things don’t exist because you wish they did…
    • Chapter 2, “The Sky Ship” (p. 25)
  • I am sorry, my dear, but that is the best advice we can give you. If some irrational rule of your society prevents, so much the worse for your society.
    • Chapter 2, “The Sky Ship” (p. 35)
  • I’ve been saying a special prayer to Eunmar; did you know I believe in the old gods? If you try hard enough, I’ve found, you can believe anything.
    • Chapter 6, “The Royal Duel” (p. 91)
  • “From all I gather, love of individuals is more important among you than love of your Community. If that’s the case, how can your Communities be well run?”
    “Mostly they aren’t,” said Bloch, relighting his pipe. “But we have a lot of fun.”
    • Chapter 7, “The Rogue Drones” (p. 106)
  • “Cold comfort,” said Bloch. “Like most oracular verse, full of vague ominous intimations of nothing in particular.”
    • Chapter 7, “The Rogue Drones” (p. 109)
  • It must be that Terran love of theirs. Remember the quicksand? Whatever troubles it may cause, that kind of love makes them run risks for each other they wouldn’t for anybody else.
    • Chapter 8, “Royal Jelly” (p. 131)
  • It was very puzzling. Why had all this happened to her? In the old days, according to her researches, one blamed a jealous or capricious god for one’s undeserved misfortunes, but nobody had taken the gods seriously for generations. It was, thinkers agreed, a case of the mysterious operations of luck. Emotionally, however, blind chance was a poor substitute for a god when you wanted something on which to turn your resentment at the hard treatment accorded you by fate.
    • Chapter 9, “The Oracle” (p. 140)
All page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Pocket Books, ISBN 0-671-83161-5, in March 1980, first printing
  • “But your loss of honor—”
    “Honor is a subjective, intangible loss. Therefore our laws take no cognizance of it.”
    • Chapter 4 (p. 47)
  • “Then who were the Ancient Ones?”
    Halran shrugged. “There are as many interpretations of those myths as there are mythographers.”
    • Chapter 5 (p. 58)
  • “You Afkans seem like a grimly puritanical lot,” said Halran, “if you will excuse my saying so.”
    Ndovu beamed. “No apologies needed. What you say is high praise here.”
    • Chapter 8 (p. 89)
  • “It is a common belief that all paleskins are superhumanly lusty and incorrigibly lecherous.”
    “Now it is you who flatter us,” said Halran.
    • Chapter 8 (p. 92)
  • If the gods made man, which I doubt, they should have made him so he sometimes enjoyed what he has instead of forever yearning for what he has not.
    • Chapter 10 (p. 114)
  • There is nothing so dangerous as an ignorant and frightened man.
    • Chapter 11 (p. 117)
  • All supernaturalism is simply a scheme to enable a class of magicians called priests to live without working.
    • Chapter 11 (p. 132)
All page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Baen Books, ISBN 0-671-65435-7, in September 1988, first printing
  • “We are a law abiding folk, sir. We do not permit private persons to indulge their feuds on their own, and we have some most ingenious penalties for homicide.”
    “Mean ye,” said Jillo, “that amongst you Pathenians, a gentleman may not avenge an insult by the gage of battle?”
    “Of course not! We are not bloodthirsty barbarians.”
    “Ye mean there are no true gentlemen amongst you,” sniffed Jillo.
    • Chapter 2, “The Smiling Sorcerer” (p. 26)
  • “Ah! Here we be! ‘Human beings most readily love others of their species who, alpha, do services for them; beta, flatter them; gamma, refrain from reproaching them for errors; and delta, cultivate good nature and ease of manner.’”
    • Chapter 6, “The Sporting Sovran” (p. 90)
  • A grudge makes a starveling diet.
    • Chapter 6, “The Sporting Sovran” (p. 90)
  • Gontran was a rancorous, vengeful man, who never forgave what he deemed a slight or let bygones be bygones. Hatred and grudges so filled his mind as to render him impervious to reason.
    • Chapter 13, “Heroes in Hiding” (p. 186)
  • Let me tell you a little secret. A man’s ability as a swordsman of the other kind, to borrow your words, hinges much upon his health of body and peace of mind. If you’d fain cause his—ah—resolution to droop, you have but oft to berate him in harsh and wounding terms. If you’re fain to have him serve you with vigor, flatter and praise him; make him think himself worthier than in his heart he knows himself to be.
    • Chapter 13, “Heroes in Hiding” (p. 188)
  • I have deeply studied the female mind. Somewhat to my surprise, I found it, not the same as the male, but on balance quite as able.
    • Chapter 17, “A Surplus of Spouses” (p. 232)

About de Camp

  • In [Viagens Interplanetarias], Sprague’s interstellar travel takes place in Earth's backyard, so to speak; among stars, that is, within a reasonable number of light-years from the sun. Further, his concept of interstellar travel has queer effects on the subjective passage of time. This makes the stories harder to write. I once asked him why he did this and he explained that since travel faster than the speed of light was impossible, it would take far too long to reach the really distant stars. I pointed out that if he used “hyper-space” as most writers did, that wouldn’t matter. (Hyperspace is a mythical term among s.f. writers and can be used in a vague and foggy way to excuse any speeds up to infinity.) Sprague said he didn't believe in hyperspace. I said neither did I but I used it. He just put his pipe in his mouth and shook his head. "If I don’t believe a thing is possible," he said, "I don't use it."
    • "In Re Sprague", by Isaac Asimov; introduction to The Continent Makers and Other Tales of the Viagens, 1953.
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