Old Sci-Fi, From a Historic Perspective

As I have mentioned, recently I acquired a handful of science fiction books mainly from the fifties and have been reading them over the last few weeks.

Now you have to understand that, for the most part, I have never really considered myself a sci-fi person when it comes to novels.  Sure I read the Martian Chronicles and Dune series back when I was young, yet mostly I was drawn to Fantasy.  The one exception of sorts would be Anne McCaffrey's Pern books, because technically they were science fiction.  And even though it was later in the books that it was revealed they started off as space colonists, to my young mind the Dragonrider and Harper Hall books seemed more like fantasy.

One of the latest books I have read is Robert A. Heinlein's Day After Tomorrow (originally titled the Sixth Column).  Briefly it is the story about how the United States is taken over by the PanAmericans, and a group of six people use a new tech to fight against their oppressors.  The line on the back reads "6 men against 400,000,000!"

Is it the most brilliant piece of science fiction ever written?  No.  But what is interesting about the story is the fact that it was originally penned in 1941--before Pearl Harbor was bombed and the USA entered WWII.

The PanAmericans are a fictitious group that are a mix between Chinese and Japanese.  Our heroes find that one of the dead researchers had come across a new type of radiation, which is the result of a Unified Field Theory (see, even back in 1941 they wanted one--before all this string theory), and this new technology allows them to do incredible things.  Like cut through stone, transmute metals to gold, anti-gravity, and a number of other things.

As the new rulers of the US allow the lower class to keep their gods (similar to how Rome spread), this off-the-cuff military group decides to form a new religion based on the god Mota (atom spelled backwards--thanks wikipedia).  And through this new religion they build up their sixth column to take out the invaders.

My first thoughts, based on things they were doing with this new technology, along with the fact they built their first weapons into staffs was, "Holy crap, we have found the origins of the Ori!  Contact Colonel O'Neill!"  But this was a false alarm, as they were not ascended beings from a different galaxy.

What did strike me was that the whole premise on how they planned to defeat the enemy was very much like Arthur C. Clarke's law "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic".  Except that Clarke penned that line in the 1973 revision of his Profiles of the Future paper.

Overall the story was very 1950's sci-fi in its own way.  But it was interesting to read from a historical perspective since it was published over a year before the United States entered World War II.

On a side note, the current novel of Heinlein's that I am reading, Beyond this Horizon, actually had one of my favourite Korzybski quotes in it: The map is not the territory.