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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.
  • 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 The story was a reworked version of John W. Campbell's unpublished All.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. 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.
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  • 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.
  • 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 euphamistic title for the Japanese Empire. The description of the American occupation is a bowdlerized depiction of Japan's occupation of China.
  • Day of the Jackboot: The PanAsians have taken over.
  • 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.
  • 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 WW 2 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 Résistance: The eponymous Sixth Column.
  • 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.
  • Safely Secluded Science Center: After the Pan Asians 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.
    • This in turn inspired the fannish pseudo-religion, the True Faith of the Sacred Cat. TFSC is governed by the holy Catma.
      1. The Lord Mota resides on Mars in the form of the sacred green cat.
      2. If you believe that, you'll believe anything.
  • Simple Staff: The "priests of Mota" bear a staff with a multi-colored cube on top. They claim it as a holy item to get around the occupiers' ban on weapons. The cube is the Ledbetter projector and the staff has concealed controls to choose the desired effect from a wide range of options.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Both the main protagonist and the PanAsian commander play chess.
  • 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.
    • Given the crimes of the East Asian front of World War II were fresh in living memory, the "Yellow Peril" could have been considered a very real thing. Especially to the peoples of Korea, China & The Phillipines.


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