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Literature / Sixth Column

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Sixth Column is a Science Fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein, first serialized in 1941 and published as a book in 1949.

Sixth Column (aka The Day After Tomorrow) tells the story of six surviving US soldiers after Pan-Asian invaders conquer America. Having recently invented a Doomsday Device that confers its wielder powers not much unlike omnipotence, the surviving Americans begin plotting to free their country using this new technology.

Complications arise as they realize how fickle the PanAsians are and how easily they resort to executing captive Americans. To avoid unnecessary loss of life, the Americans decide to set up a fake religion to take advantage of the only freedom given to American people anymore, and start working covertly to overthrow the Asian rule.

Provides Examples Of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The original didn't bother to explain the racial bioweapons, and Heinlein had to come up with some sci-fi Hand Waves and Techno Babble.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: "The Ledbetter effect", which is explained via technobabble as the unifying principle of matter and energy, grants nearly godlike powers to the protagonists.
  • Ambiguously Brown: Sergeant Scheer has "dark, brown hands," but several passages imply that everyone in the bunker is white.
  • Author Appeal: More like Editor Appeal. The story was a reworked version of John W. Campbell's unpublished All. Campbell was adamantly of the opinion that Northern Europeans were the best of races. Campbell was the editor of Astounding Science Fiction and at the time thoroughly dominated the field of Sci Fi. Heinlein was uncomfortable with the racism and published Farnham's Freehold sixteen years later, inverting racist tropes (or at least attempting to). Given that Heinlein was of the opinion that he had removed the racist aspects of the story, consider what the story originally must have been.
  • Author Tract: Heinlein pulls no punches with his opinions regarding the likely outcome of a United States that fully embraces isolationist politics.
  • Back from the Brink: America is almost completely held by PanAsians, and the main characters are most of what remains of the United States Army. They do survive, though.
  • Brown Note: The Ledbetter effect can be used to disorient, incapacitate, or kill organic life, and can be tuned to the point where it affects only people of specific races. Point your staff at someone and make them crap themselves, pass out, or flee in terror? Done. The pistols handed out by the protagonists to their rebel recruits are specifically designed to kill only PanAsians.
  • Cardboard Prison: The "priests of Mota" allow themselves to be imprisoned, knowing that they can use their powers to escape with ease. This has the intended effect of simultaneously emboldening their "congregation" while demoralizing the PanAsians.
  • Chekhov's Skill
    • Ardmore privately admits that he's an advertising executive and not a professional soldier. This skill is useful for promoting the Scam Religion.
    • Graham was an artist before he got drafted and designs the robes for the scam Religion's priests.
  • Chess Motifs: The main protagonist confuses the PanAsian commander in chief by presenting him with an insoluble chess problem.
  • China Takes Over the World / Japan Takes Over the World: PanAsia, an amalgamation of Asian cultures, uses the opportunity of a severely isolationist American foreign policy to develop superweapons and make a surprise invasion.
    • This is likely a reference to Japan's Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, a highly euphemistic title for the Japanese Empire. The description of the American occupation is a bowdlerized depiction of Japan's occupation of China.
  • Covert Group with Mundane Front: To explain why people will be entering and leaving the Citadel, essentially inside of a mountain, they put the fake religion's flagship temple on top of it, so it's just people going in and out of a church.
  • Day of the Jackboot: The PanAsians have taken over the U.S. and rule it in a harsh, cruel, and ruthless manner.
  • Elaborate Underground Base: The Citadel is buried inside of a mountain.
  • Expy: It's thought that Calhoun (the one who goes crazy and thinks he's actually divine) was a parody of Campbell, the racist editor. As Calhoun was also the name of an inveterate defender of slavery in the nineteenth century and Campbell, rather infamously, also defended the practice...
  • A God Am I: All of the main characters have near-omnipotence thanks to their weapons, but Calhoun is the one who eventually goes crazy about it and actually thinks he's a divine in their scam religion.
  • Gone Horribly Right: When Ardmore arrives at the citadel, he discovers all but six of the people there were killed. Did the enemy do this? No. They did it to themselves. He is informed that the test of the Ledbetter effect killed almost everyone there.
  • Hobos: One of the first people the protagonists recruit as a priest is a self-proclaimed hobo and helps recruit more to their cause.
  • Holy Halo: The "priests of Mota" wear turbans that conceal a holographic projector. This projector generates a constant halo over the priest's head, to exaggerate their superstitious impact.
  • Impact Silhouette: Invoked for dramatic effect. When the "priests of Mota" stage a prison breakout, they use their staves to carve man-shaped holes in the walls, complete with halo.
  • Interchangeable Asian Cultures: The entire Asia has amalgamated to a massive nation of PanAsia, with most elements resembling Japanese culture. The story was originally written during WW2 when anti-Japanese propaganda was understandably strong... and the Chinese had already been fighting the Japanese for years.
  • Invaded States of America: United States is taken over by Asians via surprise attack, with nukes thrown in.
  • La RĂ©sistance: The eponymous Sixth Column.
  • Master Forger: While scouting the outside world, Thomas visits Finny, a former anarchist forger who gives him a phony registration card and is also known for making counterfeit five-dollar bills. Finny merely requests that Thomas "help your brother when you can" as payment.
  • Nuke 'em: The PanAsians' Superweapon Surprise that allowed them to conquer America was for all intents and purposes the atom bomb. The threat of more destruction is what forces the resistance to operate so surreptitiously.
  • Old Shame: The novel is actually a version of John W. Campbell's All with the racism toned down. Heinlein considered Sixth Column an Old Shame that he wrote to garner the favor of the racist but influential Campbell.
  • Ominous Cube: The "temples" created by the priest are simply giant empty cubes, which are simple to create using their technology, with the emptiness more awe-inspiring than trying to fill it with stuff.
  • Overnight Conquest: The war with PanAsia was over in little more than a day, after they nuked all the major command and control centers in a surprise attack.
  • Pig Latin: The protagonists use this as a secret language to fool the PanAsians, as they observe that it is incomprehensible to someone who is not a native English speaker.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Heinlein did what he could to tone down the racism of the original story.
  • Press-Ganged:
    • Thomas is a local farmworker who, when he stumbled across the military base, was drafted as a private due to the need to preserve secrecy.
    • Calhoun was "jerked out of a university" due to having research skills the army needed.
  • The Remnant: The book follows four soldiers and three army researchers safely hidden in a research bunker during the invasion of the United States. They consider a series of hit-and-run attacks with the weapons in the bunker before realizing this would get thousands of hostages executed. Instead, they scheme to undermine the new regime with a Scam Religion.
  • Safely Secluded Science Center: After the PanAsians destroy the U.S. government and occupy the U.S., a secret government laboratory underneath the Rocky Mountains is tasked to develop superweapons that can defeat the invaders.
  • Scam Religion: In order to fool the Asians, the Americans set up a temple of Mota. Using staves fitted with omnipotence-granting weapons, they even perform miracles to keep the Asians away from the temples - in which the revolution is planned.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Both the main protagonist and the PanAsian commander play chess.
  • Sole Surviving Scientist: The book begins with Major Ardmore arriving at a secret base hiding 200 top scientists during the borderline genocidal invasion of America. He finds all of the scientists dead from the testing of a Doomsday Device except for a young physicist, a mathematician, and a biologist, although those three manage to finish the device and use it against the invaders.
  • Super Weapon, Average Joe: The Americans have Applied Phlebotinum that allows them to manipulate matter and energy on a fundamental level. They use this along with some old-fashioned subterfuge to turn the tide on an overwhelmingly powerful enemy.
  • Token Enemy Minority: Frank Mitsui, the only good Japanese-American character in the book. Which is still saying something, considering how Japanese-Americans were treated back then.
  • Yellow Peril: In 1941 you could get away with writing novels about evil Asians conquering the USA.