On his blog Stainless Steel Droppings blogger Carl V. Anderson reviews SF/F books and movies, conducts author interviews and even hosts his own reading challenge: The 2012 Science Fiction Experience. This is Carl’s fifth GMRC review to feature in our blog.
6 Men–against 400,000,000
So the dramatic language of the back cover states, a battle against impossible odds, “the adventures of a handful of soldiers of the future, fighting to save America from a deadly invasion”.
Major Ardmore has just arrived at the secret location of a small scientific enclave as the news is broken that the United States has been summarily defeated by a combined Japanese/Chinese force referred to in this undisclosed future as the PanAsians. In an effort to stay protected from the spread of communism in Russia the United States had spent decades essentially ignoring the world outside its borders only to see Europe fall and the red menace coalesce the Asian and Indian continents into a juggernaut of world power. The PanAsians look upon the Americans as a lower species and with superior forces occupy and enslave the American people, creating a system in which the citizens of the United States are by and large an impotent and cowed populace.
Ardmore arrives to find that this group of scientists has discovered, through an accident of testing, a weapon that may provide the key to the return of freedom to the nation. That is, if Major Ardmore can marshal this 6-person team into a strategic force to infiltrate and reclaim America.
Robert A. Heinlein’s tale, originally published in serialized form in the early months of 1941 as a story entitled “Sixth Column”, could be accused of being a racist jingoist tract or is quite possibly one of the most eerily prescient stories ever written. Given the complicated nature of Heinlein and the curious origins of this story, I suspect that both are fair assessments of what is a compelling and highly readable novel, especially when considered in the light of the history of when it was written.
America had not yet entered the conflict of World War II when Heinlein’s tale was published over the first three months of 1941 in Astounding Science Fiction. According to Wikipedia the story goes that Heinlein’s editor, John W. Campbell, had suggested this story after Campbell himself had written a story that was deemed unpublishable. Heinlein stated that he “had to reslant it to remove racist aspects of the original story line”. Given the story as it exists today, one can only wonder just how overtly racist Campbell’s story was.
The Day After Tomorrow presents this future amalgamated “Asiatic” nation as highly racist in their own right, enslaving and degrading the “whites”. In turn the language used by the Americans featured in the story points to the PanAsians as “yellow” and frequently uses variations of the words “monkey” or “ape” to describe them. If taken on a solely surface level one could start reading The Day After Tomorrow and quickly dismiss it as a racially insensitive, slur-filled piece of fiction from a time when those viewpoints were considered okay. Personally I think that is selling the novel short and I believe that Heinlein, even when he wrote it, realized its potential to incite a negative reaction and took steps to subtly tell the audience to look a little deeper.
America had already been part of one World War a scant two decades before and it was apparent that they were going to be drawn into a conflict again based on what was going on in Europe at the time. War was inevitable and in a time period in history when you saw nations wholly invading and occupying other nations, American fears that “we could be next” had to be understandable. There was no love lost between America and many other countries at the time including Asian nations. Heinlein very quickly establishes in the story that this imagined future was not one in which America was being invaded solely for its wealth or resources but that the PanAsian forces had no other aim than to obliterate the whole of the United States and its people.
“Even more depressing than the miseries he saw and heard about were the reports of the planned elimination of the American culture as such. The schools were closed. No word might be printed in English. There was a suggestion of a time, one generation away, when English would be an illiterate language, used orally alone by helpless peons who would never be able to revolt for sheer lack of means of communication on any wide scale.”
As he lays this groundwork and introduces a decidedly biased American view towards its invaders, he includes a very brief scene that I believe encourages the reader to keep the events of the story in perspective by having one of the lead characters run across a fellow American on the run who did not have a “whites” vs “yellows” viewpoint.
“…since the anarchist believed that all government was wrong and that all men were to him in fact brothers, the difference to him was one of degree only. Looking at the PanAsians through Finney’s eyes there was nothing to hate; they were simply more misguided souls whose excesses were deplorable.”
After establishing the state of affairs, a portion of the novel is taken up with the scientific explanations of the potential weapon that was discovered and the highly imaginative way in which Heinlein’s protagonists set about exacting their revenge while regaining power. Without going into the kind of detail that would spoil the story, Heinlein uses religion as a potential vessel for American victory. I give him kudos because he did this in such a way that I felt was respectful to organized religion while at the same time being somewhat ludicrous and funny, one of those “so crazy it just might work” ideas.
Robert A. Heinlein was never one to shy away from trying to include plausible scientific/technical explanation in his works of fiction in a way that does not dumb it down for the audience but at the same time doesn’t overwhelm the story with mind-numbing jargon. He does this in The Day After Tomorrow with varying degrees of success, cleverly placing the reader in the hands of a protagonist who is not a scientist and can be counted on to tell the other cast members to “get to the point” when the narrative teeters too close to losing the audience.
The Day After Tomorrow is a short, 160 page novel that spends most of its time on set up making the final confrontation a more brief part of the story. The novel succeeds in that the moment isn’t too brief. Action is interspersed within longer periods of dialogue-based explanation in a manner that maintains a good strong pacing. There is the presence of subtle moments of humor that I suspect resonate more strongly with those who are old enough to remember the world in the pre-internet days.
If you have not experienced the early works of Robert A. Heinlein (pre-late 1960′s) then you are missing out on a real treat. The Day After Tomorrow is not my favorite Heinlein novel, but even with its character flaws it is vintage Heinlein replete with his consummate skill in telling a good story. I have read quite a bit of engaging classic science fiction lately from talented, highly respected authors and when I pick up a Heinlein and start reading it there is something about it that sings. He was very good at what he did. The Day After Tomorrow is interesting in its own right but as a story that was published just months before the Japanese attacked America at Pearl Harbor, drawing this nation inexorably into World War II, it is fascinating. I cannot imagine what readers must have felt who experienced this serialized story in early 1941 and then sat stunned on December 7th of that same year. Wow!
If you can get past the “us” vs “them” racial issues of the story this is a piece of history that should be experienced.