He wrote over a hundred books in the course of 50 years. He especially liked to write about time travel, ancient history, magic and pseudo-science, mainly in the form of stories about adventurers, but sometimes as non-fiction. He helped to keep Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian alive into the 1980s when it made it onto film.
His single best book is probably “Lest Darkness Fall” (1939). It is about an archaeologist who suddenly finds himself in Rome back in the year 535 in the time of Justinian. He becomes an inventor….
Most of his books are good, light reads. While he is a good writer, he has never taken his writing so seriously as to think of it as art. For him it was just a way to make a living. Yet he did win the Nebula (1978) and the Gandalf (1995) as a grandmaster of both science fiction and fantasy. He also won the Hugo in 1997 for his autobiography.
Born in New York, he went to Caltech to get his engineering degree. During the Second World War he worked at the Philadelphia Navy Yard with Asimov and Heinlein: “For three-and-a-half years, Heinlein, Asimov and I navigated desks and fought the war with flashing slide rules.” He and Asimov became good friends.
De Camp is a materialist, a big believer in science who applies reason to everything – particularly to things like UFOs, creationism, Atlantis and racism.
Even when he writes about a world where magic or time travel is possible, he is thorough in applying strict reasoning to it. He has that kind of mind. He is also careful to get his facts right and make sure that the science of his science fiction is, in fact, science.
His love of facts and adventure took him round the world to places like Uganda, Iraq, Guatemala, India and Easter Island. When he was writing a book about ancient cities, he went to visit their remains first-hand.
It also took him all over Texas when he wrote about the life of Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan. His matter-of-fact truthfulness angered Howard’s fans. De Camp also wrote a book about another author he loved: H.P. Lovecraft.
De Camp wrote books well into his 70s.
He was married to the same woman for almost 70 years, his “rewrite gal”. He died on her first birthday after she passed away.