Michael's Reviews > Farnham's Freehold

Farnham's Freehold by Robert A. Heinlein
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's review
Aug 14, 2008

it was ok
bookshelves: science-fiction, read-in-2007
Read in January, 2007

One of the things about being a book geek is that, sometimes, you enjoy getting together with other book geeks and, well, geeking out about books. Part of this is that you it makes you feel better to know others enjoy reading a particular type of novel or genre as much as you do and that while most of your friends and family find your zealousness for said books frightening, there are others out there who understand. And another big part is that you get recommendations for new books you might not normally read.

Last night, I ventured out to my first meeting of the science-fiction/fantasy discussion group at the Linebaugh library in downtown Murfreesboro. I've known about the existance of the group for a while now, but hadn't been able to make a meeting. I'd read a few of the books they'd selected but somehow life always seemed to interfere with my good intentions of actually getting there.

This month's selection was the Robert A. Heinlein novel, Farnham's Freehold. Let me preface this by saying that as a science-fiction reader, I find Heinlein vastly overrated. He may have been great in his day, but I've found the large majority of his work to be vastly inferior to other contemporaries of his day such as Issac Asimov or Arthur C. Clark. I've read a fair number of his bigger works such as Stranger in a Strange Land, just becuase it seems you can't be a sci-fi geek without having plowed through the book. But apart from Starship Troopers and The Puppet Masters, there's not been a lot of Heinlein I've come away really enjoying or thinking I'd actually want to re-read it again someday.

Alas, Farnham's Freehold feel in the category of how I feel about the majority of Heinlein's work--vastly overrated.

The front cover states this is "science-fiction's most controversial novel." Maybe in 1964, it was but the story is really showing signs of age. The story centers on Hugh Farnham and his family. Hugh has built a nuclear bunker under his house, which comes in handy when the U.S. in nuked by the Russians. Hugh, his family, a friend and their servant all hide out in the bunker, emerging to find that the bombs have somehow shifted them forward in time. The book then becomes a survivalist type of story about forging their way in a new world, until it takes an abrupt left turn about 150 pages into the book. The group is discovered by the new rulers of this world, all of whom are African-American. In a role-reversal of the time it was written, all the white people are treated as slaves, with the men nuetered.

Now, all of this may have seemed edgy, contemporary and brilliant social satire in the mid-60s, but today it all seems dated. The story lacks focus and abruptly shifts in tone and focus too much as the story unfolds. Even though the book barely hits the 300 page mark, it feels too padded and long, with Heinlein spendng a lot of time on the initial days in the new world and only hinting at the better novel that could have been in the last two pages. This is a novel that could have been a better novella.

But the biggest thing is that in a story about the survival of humanity, there should be at least one person you want to survive. That's not the case here. It's hard to identify with any of them or really care if they make it or not.

That said, as much as I didn't enjoy the book, it was interesting to be part of a discussion with people who had different views. One person shared my view on the lack of enjoyment in the book but others did like it and were able to share why. It didn't change my overall feeling on the book, but it was interesting to think about.
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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Mad Russian the Traveller Have you tried Heinlein's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress"? It is a much better novel involving social philosophy.

Katherine You seem to be of the same opinion about Heinlein as myself. I'm just starting this book though so we'll see how it goes. Definitely more of a Clark and Asimov fan myself.

Aaron Wallentine Hehe. This was the 2nd Heinlein book that I read and I loved it. Now, I also love Clarke and Asimov, in fact I read quite a bit of Clarke as a child, but didn't actually read any Heinlein till around my 30th birthday. I'm currently reading this for the second time.

I find reading Heinlein to feel delightfully old-fashioned. I hear you about it being dated, but that's part of the appeal for me. Nostalgia for a time I've never known.

And I quite like the character of Hugh Farnham myself; I admire his discipline, his straightforward authoritativeness, and "old-fashioned" "manliness", for lack of better terms. Perhaps because I feel I'm almost the opposite, sometimes.

I admit my favorite part of the book is the survival in the wilderness part; but I find the craziness of the future society to be somewhat interesting as well. When Hugh gets bent on escape it becomes a bit of a thriller for a bit, it's interesting to see it turn differently like that. It's sad to see what happens to his son and wife, though.

And I just enjoy Heinlein's prose and dialogue; I enjoy reading and considering his opinionated pontificating through his characters, even if I don't always agree.

And his alternative take on sexual mores is certainly refreshing; and he manages to write in a suggestive way without being at all explicit.

Anyway, there's my bit. :) As I write this, I'm almost done reading Farnham for the second time.

Andrew Obrigewitsch For some reason his more famous books are terrible, and the little known ones are great. The Forth Column is very good, so the Moon is a Harsh Mistress (that one is famous), and most of his YA books are good. Stranger in a stranger land was really bad, and pretty much everything he wrote after that only got worse.

Michael Andrew wrote: "For some reason his more famous books are terrible, and the little known ones are great. The Forth Column is very good, so the Moon is a Harsh Mistress (that one is famous), and most of his YA book..."

I've got Moon on my TBR pile and need to get to it at some point. I've also heard some of his short stories are good.

message 6: by Andrew (last edited Dec 03, 2013 03:30PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Andrew Obrigewitsch Yeah his shorts are pretty good, I've read quite a few books by him, but before I read a new one I check to see if the book gets into the weird sex stuff before I buy it by reading reviews here.

I personally liked:
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (the best book he's written in my opinion)
Starship Troopers
The 4th Column
Starman Jones (a YA short book)
Orphans of the Sky (a YA short book)
Tunnel in the Sky (a YA short book)

I think his YA books where constantly good and Stranger in a Strange Land and everything written thereafter was consistently terrible old man pervert, at one point he bought into a whole lot of crazy psych theory about everyone secretly wanting to have sex with their parents and each other.

Michael Andrew wrote: "Yeah his shorts are pretty good, I've read quite a few books by him, but before I read a new one I check to see if the book gets into the weird sex stuff before I buy it by reading reviews here.


Heinlein does enter his "dirty old man" phase later in life. I also feel like a lot of his later books serve little more than to give Heinlein characters to rant on about his political and personal views.

Aaron Wallentine That's not entirely accurate, as "Moon Is A Harsh Mistress" (1966) came after "Stranger in a Strange Land"; and he was reportedly working on "Stranger" for over 10 years in between other things.

I think that later in life, he just felt more free to express his views on sexuality, etc. Actually, in his very first written (but only posthumously published) novel, "For Us, The Living" (1930-something), he outlines many of the major themes that he explores in his later work, including themes of free love and sexuality.

I've enjoyed everything I've read by him so far, including the juveniles, though I admit that some of them have felt a little cheesy to me on the second readthrough (incl. Stranger and Farnham).

But I can see where you're coming from about the "dirty old man phase" as well as his tendency to rant and philosophize through his characters. Just par for the course I suppose. : )

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