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The Day After Tomorrow — Robert A. Heinlein

Day After Tomorrow

The Day After Tomorrow is an alternate title for Robert A. Heinlein’s mercifully standalone Yellow Peril novel, Sixth Column.

Fifty years after the Noninterference Act ended contact between America and PanAsia, PanAsia launches a sudden and overwhelming attack on the US. Armed with superior military intelligence and impressive weapons, the PanAsians crush the Americans. Having won the war, the PanAsians move onto the next phase of their plan: reducing white Americans to slaves in a land they once called their own.

All is not lost. The Citadel remains, an advanced military research facility overlooked by the PanAsians. It is America’s last hope.

If only most of the personnel were not dead.

Major Ardmore arrives at the Citadel with orders to carry on the war effort. Instead of the small army of researchers he expected, he finds six survivors: scientists Calhoun, Brooks, Wilkie, and enlisted men Scheer, Graham, and Thomas. The brilliant Doctor Ledbetter’s research into alternate spectra proved all too successful, sending mysterious rays through solid rock to kill virtually every person in the Citadel, including Ledbetter himself.

Seeing no alternative, Ardmore takes command of the Citadel himself. He sets the team to turning Ledbetter’s discoveries (many, from tractor beams to death rays) into weapons to be used against the PanAsians. They will also have to work out how to do this, given that the PanAsians hold the entire surviving white population of the US as hostages.

The team finds a loophole. The new tech is so advanced that it seems miraculous to anyone not in the know. The resistance will therefore propagate itself as a religion. PanAsia has allowed freedom of religion, believing that there is no way it could be used against them. They have not met the great god Mota.

Mota’s first temple appears on an isolated mountain top overnight. Mota’s temples begin to spread across America, paid for with transmuted gold (another of Ledbetter’s miracles). The conspirators have time and secure redoubts from which they can recruit followers. Some recruits will be useless, some will be spies. No matter; they will be sifted and the trustworthy, useful recruits will be brought into the inner circle.

Will the resistance have enough time to build their secret army before the PanAsians finally notice what is going on under their noses?


I dithered a bit over which title to use but the edition I am familiar with is the Signet one with the, uh, eye-catching Gene Szafran cover so I went with that.

A detail I missed the last time I read this: the Nazis either won or destroyed Europe. Either way they play no role in US affairs. South America is mentioned in passing as still independent, but the situation in Africa is never mentioned. Although it’s probably not good.

I could argue that this is one of a two-book series: Super Racist Heinlein Novels for which his fans try hard to find excuses1. The books: The Day After Tomorrow and Farnham’s Freehold. There’s something of an excuse for the first: it was written at the request of the notoriously racist Campbell. It was based on a Campbell story that was even worse than The Day After Tomorrow. That is, it’s an excuse if you think “wanted a paycheck” excuses writing a Yellow Menace novel because the editor wanted one.

It’s traditional to closely examine Heinlein novels for hints that this character or that isn’t a WASP. I did find one such hint (in addition to Frank Mitsui, whom I will discuss later). One of the enlisted men at the Citadel, Herman Scheer, has “dark, brown hands.”

One of the book’s major conceits is that one of the various death rays can be tuned to kill specific races while sparing others. Is it possible Scheer survived because he was black? Probably not. There are no direct references to black people that I could find in this text. The language used suggests everyone in the Citadel is white. In fact, the US as a whole is discussed in terms that suggests it’s essentially white. It’s as though black people never existed in this America.

The primary exception to American = White is Frank Mitsui, an Asian American whose family is exterminated because Asian Americans do not fit into the PanAsian way. He is also regarded with suspicion by the whites. Poor Frank! He exists so that Heinlein can say “See, not every Asian in this book is bad! I had one good one, who gets to die saving his new friends from a nutty scientist.”

Frank aside, the Asians in this book are driven by inferiority complexes that impel them towards conquest and oppression. They breed without restraint, submit to an authoritarian, cruel government, kill themselves on a whim, are frequently corrupt, and are just plain not nice.

(Oddly, PanAsia seems to have managed to combine being sovietized while retaining or reinstituting a formal Emperor, revered as a god, not just as Dear Leader. How that happened is not clearly explained.)

The book also assumes that the human races are sufficiently different that it’s possible to design a death ray that will somehow kill only PanAsians (who include populations from Russia to India to China to Japan) without killing white Americans in significant numbers. Let’s not think about the possible uses for such tools after the PanAsians are driven out of North America.

Racism and bad science aside, this book is slickly written by the standards of the 1940s. Having handed his stalwarts super-science sufficient to transform the world, Heinlein keeps the game interesting by killing off all but six Citadel staff, half of whom are not scientists. So it’s a bit of a cliffhanger. And it’s a very short novel. Not the zero length one might wish, but no more than novella length.

1: For example, Wikipedia says

The book was serialized in early 1941, the same year as the attack on Pearl Harbor,

Another way to put that is “the book was serialized nine to eleven months before Pearl Harbor.” Unless Wikipedia thinks that Heinlein had a time machine, Pearl Harbor played no role in the genesis of The Day After Tomorrow. It’s more likely that it was inspired by racial resentments that had brewing in the US for decades and had resulted in immigration restrictions, unjust laws, and race riots.

It’s also not an anti-Japanese novel because PanAsia is better seen as China-plus (having overrun and assimilated Asia from Russia to India to Japan). China was an American ally in 1941.


  • Sophie Jane

    It’s worth remembering (in terms of anti-Japanese-ness) that Japan was occupying Manchuria at the time, and that one standard “Yellow Peril” scenario (as set out in Jack London’s 1904 essay of the same name) was Japanese technical and military skill put in charge of the Chinese Hordes and bent on world conquest.

  • Betty

    Also one of the most "LOL speaking parts for womens!" Heinlein novels.

  • DemetriosX

    Somewhere or other (I think in Expanded Universe) Heinlein talks about writing this. He claims to have hated it from the ground up, but took it so Campbell wouldn't foist it onto some other writer who might give it the really horrible spin Campbell wanted. I suppose one could argue that naming the protagonist Whitey was so over the top it has to be satirical.

    The best face you can put on Farnham's Freehold is that it was an attempt to show that racism is bad by putting the shoe on the other foot, but suffered catastrophic failures on every level down to the quantum state.

  • Trey

    I'm reminded of the original Buck Rogers and the Han for some reason.

    • James Nicoll

      Both are about Americans resisting death-ray wielding Asians?

  • Trey

    I guess it was a thing in the early 20th century...

  • Peter

    I read Sixth Column and Farnham's Freehold around 50 years ago, in my mid teens. Already working my way into psychology and sociology at the time, these books in a way gave me an early glimpse into an American mindset (tropes, memes, whatever) that seems to culminate in survivalists digging out their bunkers and preparing for teotwawki in Iowa and Montana (and, presumably, other places, but those are the ones I have testimony of). The mentality is puerile (maybe not Heinlein, but certainly the world he builds here reminds of 8 year olds playing war games in their sandbox), but it's time machine dog-whistle stuff looking at parts of American society today, and it's led to, well, you know, a certain puerile person being voted into a position someone like him should never have ended up occupying.

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