This is a book review of two short classic sci-fi books are set in the years after an apocalypse, so if you’re looking for a classic post-apocalyptic story, here are two that fit the bill!
Earth’s Last Citadel by C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner
This 79-year-old book would be considered very slow (and likely a little boring) to most readers today, but as a piece of 40s culture, it has a lot of fascinating (and sometimes unintentionally funny) aspects and has a lot of the post-apocalyptic tropes that we love (like mutants and raiders!).
Four humans from the Twentieth Century are hurled forward a billion years in time by a being from an alien galaxy. They have been brought to a dying Earth – to Carcasilla, Earth’s last citadel – where the mutated remnants of humanity are making their final stand against the monstrous creations of a fading world.
Thrust in the middle of this desperate struggle for survival, the last humans search for a way to break the deadlock in the Armageddon at the end of time…
The novel is not the most exciting, as it moves quite slowly, the characters are very flat, and it’s full of telling the reader what is going on (rather than having us deduce for ourselves). But, we have to remember this book was written when many people still rode to work on horses. Did I enjoy it? Yes, it’s very easy to read and follow, the slow parts don’t drag on too long, and I liked the representation of women. The action scenes are quite thin, though.
Our main character, Alan, is the typical hero of this age—stalwart, strong, a war hero, and single. As such, he makes all the right, honorable choices, falls in love with an ethereal beauty named Evaya, and saves the day. The other characters, Karen (an axis spy who takes charge), Mike Smith (an American-turned-nazi who is almost always referred to in narration as Mike Smith and not just Mike), and Dr. Colin (a Scottish intellectual who speaks in phonetic Scottish that was annoying to read), are more interesting than Alan, as they aren’t your typical characters in this type of novel. We don’t get enough of them, quite honestly, as the story spends a lot of time with Alan and his love interest wandering around, you guessed it, Earth’s last citadel.
The plot isn’t much to write home about, but it deals with aliens destroying the earth and some surviving raiders. There is a bit of battle at the end and an escape from a life-force-sucking alien that was the bee’s knees (to use 1940s slang).
Overall, do I recommend it? I think it’s great as a relic, but it’s not the best classic sci-fi I’ve ever read. If you really want something post-apocalyptic from the 40s, then yes, try to find a copy, but you’re not really suffering in life if you skip this one.
Daybreak 2250 A.D. (1952) by Andre Norton
(Also called Star Man’s Son.)
This book checks off all the post-apocalyptic tropes: a radiation-ravaged wasteland, mutants, more mutants, abandoned towns, new civilizations, and feral beasts.
Fors was a mutant. He did not know what drove him to explore the empty lands to the north, where the great skeleton ruins of the old civilization rusted away in the wreckage of mankind’s hopes.
But he could not resist the urging that led him through danger and adventure, to the place where he faced the menace of the Star Men.
Two centuries after an atomic war on earth, a silver-haired mutant sets out on a dangerous search for a lost city of the ruined civilization.
The setting is the best part of this novel. If you love wastelands (which, I’m assuming, you do), this is a classic depiction. There are sections of the novel set in abandoned cities that are really fun, and there is quite a bit of action at the end. The main antagonist is the “Beast Men” who are heavily-mutated humans who have descended to a near-primal state and also resemble giant rats.
The story starts when Fors is denied a spot as a Star Man (an explorer and forager), due to his heritage, and he strikes out on his own. His town doesn’t like him because his mom was a “Plainswoman,” and he’s also “a mutant” (due to his hair colour and because he can see in the dark—it’s not explained how this mutation happened). In this world, there are collections of small societies: the mountain people, the roving Plainspeople, and “the Dark People.” The latter survived the war because during the nuclear bombardment they were in … airplanes. The crux of the tension lies in claims of territory between the groups and a lack of trust between them.
For the first bit of the novel, it’s just Fors and his giant cat, Lura, but he soon meets a friend, Arskane, who is pretty much the same character as Fors but slightly more fiery in disposition. They’re both determined, tough young men and I liked them, but they weren’t very deep.
The writing is typical for the era—very much a linear plot that is heavy on description and not a lot of interior focus—but the ideas behind it are very solid, and the tropes are a lot of fun. There’s also a scene where they get a car working that was a blast. I didn’t love the novel, but I very much enjoyed it! Recommended if want to try a classic bit of post-apocalyptica.
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