48 Following


Sixth Column

Sixth Column - Robert A. Heinlein Abandoned on page 100.This book manages to be both silly and offensive, which is a combination I'm not used to seeing. SILLY1) "The entire military establishment" of the United States- save six men- has been wiped out by surprise atomic bomb attacks on New York and Washington DC.(NOTE: There are plenty of military assets outside of those two cities, and there were in 1940, when this was written, but nevermind that.)As a result, the US is now being occupied by the forces of the "Pan-Asian Empire" (which is a fairly transparent stand-in for the Imperial Japanese Co-Prosperity Sphere of the day.)2) Despite this grim situation, the six remaining military men have decided not to surrender, but to continue prosecuting the war against Pan-Asia. A better title for the novel may have been It's So Crazy, It Just Might Work.3) Said six men happen to find themselves in a secret research facility, which appears to have been on the verge of a big discovery. None of them understand the basic science behind the super-weapon that was being developed here, but they are attempting to continue work on a device, which would successfully apply this unknown science.4) With no modern communications available, and not knowing how the rest of the entire nation is faring under Pan-Asiatic domination, the six send out one of their own: a Harvard lawyer who decided to become a hobo before joining the army as a Private- on a 7 day reconnissance mission by foot.5) How does the new super-weapon work?"Brooks says that the basic radiation affected the colloidal dispersal of living tissue; those that were killed were coagulated by it." (p.50)...but apparently you can set this radiation-based weapon which "coagulates" people to a lesser setting, in which case it merely puts its victims to sleep. Oh sure, that may sound crazy to you and I, but it's incredibly convenient to the plot.6) This book- even in just the first 100 pages I read- has a hell of a lot of "rigging up" complex and untested technologies on the fly. "They'll be monitoring for radio waves, so I need you to rig up a communication device based on gravitometric waves.""No problem- give me a few days and I'll have gravitometric walkie-talkies for everybody on the team."(delivers the goods in a few days, with no hitches)"Oh, can we use the Ledbetter effect to fashion a device to generate a force field around this mountain?""Hmmm- I see what you mean. In theory it should be possible. Give me a few days to work on it." (produces a perfectly functioning, 100% reliable, first-of-its-kind, mountain-shielding force field in a few days)7) "What if they ask for my ID card?""If you carry yourself with enough arrogance, they'll never dare to ask you for ID."The plot depends too much on this sort of thing.OFFENSIVEI had a list, but it all boils down to prodigious use of anti-Asian slurs and stereotype.SILLY AND OFFENSIVE1) "Ardmore showed Thomas how to operate one of the outer doors of the Citadel; two bars of 'Yankee Doodle', breaking off short, and a door appeared in what seemed to be a wall of country rock- simple, and yet foreign to the Asiatic mind." (p.28)2) "[Finny] was an old anarchist comrade who had served his concept of freedom by engraving really quite excellent Federal Reserve notes without complying with the formality of obtaining permission from the Treasury Department." (p.35)(NOTE: the Federal Reserve doesn't get permission from the Treasury Dept to print money now.)3) The Pan-Asians took over India.(Huh? India isn't part of Asia? Or were they called the Pan-Asians, without actually being Pan-Asian?)4) At one point, the story requires the "sixth column" to start a new religion. (!)"How are we going to get this underway? Won't the Asiatics be suspicious?""No- all our religions look the same to them. They can't keep all our screwy traditions straight." (p.76)I shouldn't be so distracted by the ridiculous story. The point of even picking this book up is to explore it as a work of war propaganda. It was written in 1940, but the introduction clarifies that 10,000 words were added in 1948, which explains a passing reference to atomic bombs- which I think were not a familiar idea in 1940, as well as a mention of the Holocaust (without actually using the word)- which I also think was probably not common knowledge in 1940.Manny recommended this book to me, after reading my review of Prayers for the Assassin. What is striking to me is how similar the characterization of Asians (i.e. Japanese) in 1940 was to the present-day characterization of Muslims.1) Their unfamiliar customs are barbaric.2) They have no regard for human life, either their own or others'. (think kamikaze pilots and suicide bombers)3) Their motivations are either unfathomable, or they delight in Evil for Evil's sake.4) They want to get with American (read: Caucasian) women.If you look at our current relationship with Japan: the commerce, the cultural interchange, and our current close military and political alliance- it's pretty clear that these images were just turned on and off by the propagandists, as it suited the needs of the moment. There are no enduring truths here; not even enduring opinions; just a bunch of disposable hate fodder to whip people up into a fighting mood. I'm not saying we shouldn't have fought militarized Imperial Japan of the 40's; I'm just saying we should have fought them for the right reasons, and slanted eyes and unfamiliar food aren't the right reasons. I just don't get why this stuff works on some people.REDEEMING POINTSI would be guilty of cherry-picking for the negative if I did not begrudingly admit a few positive points which I came across:1) The character Finny rejects the racial slurs and stereotypes above, and finds it is enough to fight the Pan-Asian occupiers to reassert his violated basic rights, to throw off the yolk of oppression, and to drive the occupiers from his homeland.2) "...I want to remind you that we derive our obligatgions not from our superior officers who were killed in Washington, but from the people of the United States, through their Constitution. That Constitution is neither captured nor destroyed- it cannot be, for it is not merely a piece of paper, but a joint contract with the American people." (p.9)3) Heinlein includes an Asian-American character among the freedom fighters... you know, to show he isn't racist or anything. I'm being a little generous including it here, but let's call it "benefit of the doubt".4) There is a rambling but thoughtful Afterword, by a Heinlein fan whose credentials aren't elaborated on.That bumps it up a star, but overall, this book was just horrible.