Friday, January 10, 2014

Pipe Down! War Ain't for Sissies!

The Day After Tomorrow by Robert A. Heinlein is only the second novel I've read in full by the "Dean of Space-Age Fiction." Originally serialized in Astounding Science Fiction in 1941 as "The Sixth Column" and loosely based on a story by Astounding's editor, John W. Campbell, it's a future novel of America after falling to an attack by an alliance between Japan and China.

Signet Books - paperback
I'm not exactly the biggest Heinlein fan around. I know he was hugely popular for many years and I remember seeing plenty of people with their noses in paperback editions of his novels, but I could never get into his stuff. One thing that always annoyed me was the dialog of his characters. To me they always came off sounding like the same person speaking, a sort of smart-alecky version of Heinlein himself. Maybe my mistake was trying to read the wrong stuff, like The Number of the Beast. Or maybe my taste wasn't sophisticated enough to get it, I don't know. It's not like I haven't given his work enough attempts. There have been the handful of short stories by Heinlein that I've liked, but mostly his stuff is a miss for me.

I picked up this novel because I liked the cover, simple as that. And it wasn't a novel that I immediately recognized by him. For the price, what the hell, if I didn't like it at least it will look nice with some of the other vintage sci-fi paperbacks I own.

I'm happy to say that I mostly enjoyed The Day After Tomorrow. I had some issues with it, but for a brisk pulp era science fiction novel I got a kick out of it. Basically, it's the story of 7 survivors after the fall of America to the PanAsians who've taken shelter underground in the mountains of Colorado. Together they plan a revolt against the rule of the evil empire of PanAsians by utilizing a gizmo that operates on what they refer to as The Ledbetter Effect. There is some explanation early on how the Ledbetter Effect works, but it all went right over my head. Essentially, it's not much different from Green Lantern's power ring. And like GL's power ring doesn't work on anything colored yellow, The Ledbetter Effect is designed to not work on anything white, meaning Caucasians. To expedite matters, they decide to create a religion by which they can communicate and recruit the surviving Americans, train them in using the Ledbetter Effect and overthrow the evil PanAsians. The plot gives room for Heinlein to comment on religion, war, politics and race. The problem is that the novel teeters on that uncomfortable edge of racism in doing so. Also, much of the action, (battles and massacres, etc) occur offstage. There is enough action to keep the pace moving quickly, but I like a little more "wetwork" in my war/spy novels. Also, there isn't a single female character of importance in the story. To me, that's something of a missed opportunity. Then again, maybe it's better that sexism was left out here.

So, if you appreciate golden age science fiction, then this might be one you'll enjoy, keeping in mind the time and place it was written.

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