A secret research facility in the Colorado mountains is the US Army’s last outpost after defeat by the PanAsians. The conquerors had absorbed the USSR after being attacked by them & had then absorbed India. They’re ruthless, having crushed a rebellion by killing 150,000 civilians as punishment.
The lab is in turmoil. All but six of the personnel have died due to unknown forces released by an experiment operating within the newly-discovered magneto-gravitic or electro-gravitic spectra. Survivors learn they can selectively kill by releasing the internal pressure of cell membranes. This weapon can kill one race while leaving others unharmed.
They devise more uses for the forces discovered, but how do a handful overthrow an occupation that controls all communications & makes it criminal to print English? Noting the invaders have allowed religious practice to pacify their slaves, they start a church & act as Priests of Mota (atom backwards) to build a resistance movement which Major Ardmore, the protagonist, refers to as the 6th Column–as opposed to a traitorous 5th.
Originally published in 1941 as “Sixth Column” this came to me from my bookgroup under it’s alternate title of “The Day After Tomorrow”. I hadn’t read Heinlein, or any other books from this era, in years, so picked it up.
The story starts with Major Ardmore arriving at The Citadel, to find that all but 6 members of the section are dead, via unknown methods. To all intents and purposes it’s an Military (Army) base, but the remaining staff are science types or low grade army recruits. Ardmore finds himself having to take over command and not only deal with the temperamental staff but how to react to the enslavement of the American people by a combined Far East contingent.
“But the PanAsians arent Japanese” “No and they’re not Chinese. They are a mixed race, strong, proud and prolific”.
50 years of non interaction with the far east had resulted in America being invaded by an group of people they had no understanding of.
The Nonintercourse Act had kept the American people from knowing anything important about their enemy. […] The proponents of the measure had maintained that China was a big bite even for Soviet Russia to digest and that the United States had no fear of war […] we had our backs turned when China digested Russia
They then go on to absorb India as well and it is many of the veterans of the India campaign who are brought over to control the Americans.
The invaders are depicted as ruthless and cruel—for example, they crush an abortive rebellion by killing 150,000 American civilians as punishment.
Under Ardmore’s instruction the scientists soon find what killed their colleagues, and the rest of the book is a way of overcoming the obstacles of being a small group overcoming a whole continent of enemies. They make the best use of their new weapon despite the limits on communications and travel. 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 in order to build a resistance movement—the Sixth Column (as opposed to a traitorous fifth column).
This is a short book (145 pages) and so the writing is sparse and there is little exposition of the things that are different. The Scout cars – high speed flying cars, manoeuvrable like helicopters, but faster and virtually undetectable – are used where travel over long distances is required. There is some description of the new weapon, but that is kept to a minimum but having Ardmore as a non-scientist quickly bored with things he doesn’t understand.
It’s difficult to decide whether it’s the author or the characters themselves who are inherently racist against the invaders. Several characters refer to them as “monkeys” or “Flat faced Bastards” but outside of speech they are most commonly referred to as “PanAsians” or “Asiatics”. A few of the characters are slightly more charitable, saying things like the following:
“Don’t make the mistake of thinking of the PanAsians as bad – they’re not – but they are different. Behind their arrogance is a racial inferiority complex, a mass paranoia that makes it necessary for them to prove to themselves by proving to us that a yellow man is as good as a white man, an a damned sight better. Remember that, son, they want the outside signs of respect more than anything else in the world.”
Ardmore is the most complete character, but even he isn’t an in depth person. The secondary characters are a little one-dimensional, but that’s a side effect of such a short book. The characters who appear early in the book are dropped early, only for some of them to appear later in the book – Dr Calhoun disappears as soon as the weapons are developed, and only appears again having a breakdown and running amok in the Citadel. The intelligence gathering trip by Thomas was interesting, and provided the most rounded description of the changed world state.