1943’s Earth’s Last Citadel is a standalone far-future adventure by C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner.
Alan Drake’s desperate bid to get genius Sir Colin out of a North African war-zone is stymied when the two are ambushed by Axis agents Karen Martin and Mike Smith. Karen and Mike catch up to Alan and Sir Colin just after the pair stumble across a mysterious object in the desert. The Nazis barely have time to gloat before they and their prey are bewitched into entering what appears to be an alien spacecraft.
The four do not emerge from their captor’s craft for a very very very long time.
Waking with a sense that they have been asleep for ages, the quartet find an Earth transformed. The Moon looms large in the sky, having sunk towards the Earth in the ages in which the four were in stasis. The Earth is a barren wasteland, a worn-out world whose end is in sight.
Barren is not the same thing as uninhabited. There is life and some of it is human. Or at least humanlike. The ethereal maiden Evaya finds the newcomers in the desert and leads them to her home, the great citadel of Carcasilla. Carcasilla may be Earth’s last metropolis. It is a grand city, and one whose alien appearance speaks for itself. Humans may live in Carcasilla, but they did not create it.
Carcasilla’s creators were the Light Wearers, creatures made force fields, not flesh. The quartet’s kidnapper was the vanguard of a great invasion from space. Incomparably more powerful than pitiful humanity, the Light Wearers took Earth for their own, exterminating the majority of the human race in the process. A handful survived, shaped into new forms that better pleased their owners.
The Light Wearer who captured Alan, Sir Colin, and the two Nazis appears to have made a slight miscalculation. Why its craft, and the craft’s passengers, went into stasis is a mystery. What is clear is that the alien and the humans it kidnapped slept through the whole of the Light Wearer era on Earth. The only remnants of that age are a few settlements of engineered humans and the citadel itself.
Evaya may be a tweaked human, not Homo sapiens, but the seemingly delicate woman is very pretty. Alan is smitten with Evaya, if not with her culture. Her people lead immortal lives of G‑rated hedonism. Such lives seem empty to a robust barbarian of the 20th century. No doubt he would have adapted in time — had not other distractions intervened.
Evaya’s people are not the only hominids to survive into this distant future. The barbaric Terasi live not too far from Carcasilla, close enough to launch raids into the citadel. During one raid, they carry off Sir Colin and the Nazis. The Terasi do not kill their captives. The barbarians know they’re in deep trouble and they need every ally they can find, even strangers from another time.
There are no Light Wearers left alive on Earth save for one. That single exception to racial death is, of course, the Light Wearer who kidnapped Alan and his companions. It emerged from stasis to find itself alone. Not only alone, but starving. It requires a specific type of psychic food. Evaya’s people won’t do; they were intended as pets, not food. That leaves only the Terasi.
Given time, the sole Light Wearer is still powerful enough to overcome the Terasi’s defences. The barbarians cannot remain where they are. They do have a functional spacecraft, an aging relic. They might be able to flee to Venus, beyond the Light Wearer’s reach, if only they could find a compatible power source.
Alan knows where to obtain the power source: in Carcasilla, where it provides the city’s energy. Retrieving it won’t be easy. And if he succeeds? Every human in Carcasilla, will die. Including Alan’s beloved Evaya.
Covers don’t always tell you much about the book they promote, but they can say volumes about the publisher. Compare and contrast the old mass market paperbacks with the cover of the most recent North American edition.
Elements of this story recall Heinlein’s 1941 By His Bootstraps: Earth under alien domination for aeons, humanity reshaped to suit their masters, time travel. It’s also reminiscent of the Dying Earth genre: Clarke’s Against the Fall of Night, Hodgson’s The Night Land, and Don A. Stuart’s Night. The story is definitely of its time.
There’s less tension between the two Allies and the two Axis agents than I would have expected from a novel written during WWII. The two agents are bad news, but they are portrayed less negatively than they might have been had, say, the book been written after the concentration camps were liberated. Of course, the whole Allied-Axis conflict is long vanished by the time the four come out of status, but Karen and Mike are still the sort of people who thought teaming up with Team Evil was the right decision.
At one hundred and twenty-eight pages there isn’t much time to develop any of the characters or the settings. The history of the world has been largely forgotten, which means the authors can get away with impressionistic brush strokes when explaining how the Earth got from WWII to a dying Earth under a swollen moon. The dying Earth itself is quite vivid, even if the astronomy does not hold up. The plot races along at breakneck speed because if it didn’t, the authors would have run out of paper before they resolved the plot. Alan barely qualifies as a character and the rest of the cast are even slighter.
There are some memorable visuals. It’s a pity that by the time Earth’s Last Citadel was republished in a mass-market paperback edition, Kuttner was dead and Moore had stopped writing, No hope for an expanded edition.