Friday, March 18, 2011

Farnham's Freehold by Robert A. Heinlein

Farnham's FreeholdI was fact-checking on some names in Farnham's Freehold when I was writing a review of another book, and I thought it would be a good idea to give it the old and review. I don't think anyone who didn't live throught the sixties and seventies can fully appreciate the (totally valid) paranoia we all had about global thermonuclear war, but this novel by Heinlein from 1964 may give you an approximate flavor.

Hugh Farnham and his family are enjoying a nice weekend evening together playing bridge. His daughter, Karen, has brought a friend, Barbara, home from college to visit her dad and mom, Grace. Their son, Duke, is a lawyer who lives on his own, and he's stopped by for the family gathering. Rounding out the cast of characters is Joseph, their negro houseboy, and Doctor Livingston I Presume, their cat.

The Kremlin has been making threatening noises, and Hugh keeps an earbug live to be ready in case an attack is launched. Their home is very close to Colorado Springs, which would become a high value military target if war breaks out. Sure enough, the missiles are launched, and Hugh and the others scramble to get into his bomb shelter, which he has very thoroughly equipped for surviving the fallout and aftermath of a nuclear war.

The bombs fall. First strike, second strike, and then a Grand Slam. After the third strike, things get strangely quiet, and Hugh and the others decide to poke their heads out of the shelter to see what has happened. At this point, we get the twist that separates this from your usual post-apocalyptic novel of the time, in that the entire bomb shelter turns out to have been twisted through some sort of warp in space time caused by being at ground zero in a nuclear explosion, and they are cast about 2000 years into the future, to a time and place where it appears that nature has been unspoiled by humans.

They begin to use their survival skills to eke out a life and a place to live for themselves, when the second big story twist occurs - they are not alone! It appears that after the superpowers wiped out most of the people from the northern hemisphere, the folks in the southern part of the globe, mostly blacks or dark-skinned races, took over the world, and have ruled it ever since. Their shelter actually landed in the middle of a game preserve belonging to the ruler of North America. They are taken captive and forced to live as servants, mostly, although they acquire a special status as curiosities, having come from the long-dead past.

After having read Patterson's Heinlein bio recently, I had a bit more insight into the things Hugh had to say about his wife, Grace's alcoholism. Heinlein was at that point either still dealing with his first wife's addiction, or had recently been divorced from her. Heinlein, as usual, delivers his lectures on leadership, freedom, love, genetics, and other topics fairly smoothly in the course of the story. He's pretty well adopted the ever-present alpha male that permeates most of his stories, and Hugh Farnham is alpha in spades. This is a great, quick read that provides a window into both Heinlein and his era.

For you fellow bibliophiles, as Hugh is contemplating the books he included  for TEOTWAWKI,
"Books had always been his best friends. In a hundred public libraries they had taught him. From a thousand newsstands they had warmed his loneliness. He suddenly felt that if he had not been able to save some books, it would hardly be worthwhile to live."

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