First Edition cover for Sixth Column
|Author(s)||Robert A. Heinlein|
|Cover artist||Edd Cartier|
|Genre(s)||Science fiction novel|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover & Paperback)|
Sixth Column, also known under the title The Day After Tomorrow, is a science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein, based on a story by editor John W. Campbell, and set in a United States that has been conquered by the PanAsians, a combination of Chinese and Japanese. Originally published as a serial in Astounding Science Fiction (January, February, March 1941, as by Anson MacDonald) it was published in hardcover in 1949.
A top secret research facility hidden in the Colorado mountains is the last remaining outpost of the United States Army after its defeat by the PanAsians. The conquerors had absorbed the Soviets after being attacked by them and had then gone on to absorb India as well. The invaders are depicted as ruthless and cruel—for example, they crush an abortive rebellion by killing 150,000 American civilians as punishment.
The laboratory is in turmoil as the novel begins. All but six of the personnel have died suddenly, due to unknown forces released by an experiment operating within the newly-discovered magneto-gravitic or electro-gravitic spectra. The surviving scientists soon learn that they can selectively kill people by releasing the internal pressure of their cell membranes, among other things. Using this discovery they construct a race-selective weapon which will kill only Asians.
They devise other uses for the awesome forces they have discovered, but how can a handful of men overthrow an occupation force that controls all communications when it is a crime to print a word in English? Noting that the invaders have allowed the free practice of religion (the better to pacify their slaves), the Americans set up a church of their own and begin acting as "Priests of Mota" (Mota is atom spelled backwards) in order to build a resistance movement—which Major Ardmore, the protagonist of the book, refers to as the Sixth Column (as opposed to a traitorous fifth column).
The original idea for the story of Sixth Column was proposed by John W. Campbell (who had written a similar unpublishable story called All), and Heinlein later wrote that he had "had to reslant it to remove racist aspects of the original story line" and that he did not "consider it to be an artistic success."
Heinlein’s work on Campbell’s All was considerably more than just a re-slanting; Campbell’s story was felt to be unpublishable as it stood, written in a pseudo-archaic dialect (with occasional inconsistencies), with no scientific explanations for the apparently miraculous powers of the American super-weapons. (There are plausible discussions of the weapons, but by the PanAsians, concluding that their powers must be divine.) George Zebrowski, in his afterword to the story, speculates that Heinlein was parodying Campbell in the character of Calhoun, who goes insane and actually believes the false religion created by the Americans. The bulk of Heinlein’s work on the novel, e.g., the explanations of the weapons’ effectiveness and the strategy for the Americans' rebellion, are missing from All.
Boucher and McComas found the novel to be "a fine example of serious pulp science fiction.". P. Schuyler Miller compared Sixth Column to "the old E. Phillips Oppenheim or modern Eric Ambler intrigue, thrust and counterthrust with civilization at stake."
Portrayal of racism
The book was written in the same year as the attack on Pearl Harbor, while its hardcover publication coincided with the Communist victory in China; with the PanAsians being both Chinese and Japanese, it had a direct topical relevance in both cases. It is notable for its frank portrayal of racism on both sides. The conquerors regard themselves as a chosen people predestined to rule over lesser races, and they refer to white people as slaves. "Three things only do slaves require: work, food, and their religion." They require outward signs of respect, such as jumping promptly into the gutter when a member of the chosen race walks by, and the slightest hesitation to show the prescribed courtesies earns a swagger stick across the face. One character is Frank Mitsui, an Asian American whose family was murdered by the invaders because they did not fit in the new PanAsiatic racial order. The Americans in the novel respond to their conquerors' racism by often referring to them in unflattering terms, such as "flat face", "slanty" (a derisive reference to the look typical of Asian eyes), and "monkey boy".
Sixth Column and Farnham's Freehold, another novel by Heinlein, both center on the issue of race. Whereas some people perceive Sixth Column as racist, Farnham's Freehold turns the tables by reversing the racial stereotypes. A more complete discussion of race in Heinlein's fiction is given in the main article on Heinlein.
- Robert A. Heinlein, Expanded Universe, foreword to "Solution Unsatisfactory", p. 93 of Ace paperback edition.
- The Space Beyond, Pyramid 1976, p. 284.
- "Recommended Reading," F&SF, February 1952, p.105
- "Book Reviews", Astounding, December 1950, p.99