Farnham's Freehold

Robert A. Heinlein
Denis Dobson (Great Britain)1965/Orbit 1991
ISBN 1 8572 3000 0

This book came up during a discussion on the Traveller Mailing List and, as I hadn’t read it for over a decade, I decided to dig it out and read it again.

What a surprise. I had forgotten most of the details of the characters and plot so re-reading ‘Farnham’s Freehold’ was very much like reading it for the very first time. If the ‘aliens from outer space’ motif of the 1950s is symptomatic of the West’s underlying concern about communist subversion, then the Cuban Missile Crisis and the deepening possibility of an all-out nuclear war during the 1960s and early-to-mid 1970s feeds the stark post-apocalypse vision that dominates a number of science fiction novels from that later period.

Heinlein, as is his want, starts from this bleak scenario of impending doom, and even has some of his characters preparing to weather the storm. But then he reveals that the entire set-up is but a McGuffin to get his characters to where he really wants them – a place where, with Swiftian insight, Heinlein can poke a sharp stick at the preconceptions and prejudices of his audience, and make them truly examine their own secretly held views.

Some of the ‘shock’ value of Heinlein’s story has diminished over the years – we now have an elected African-American President of the United States, for example – but enough of the strangeness and exoticness of the world Heinlein describes remains that, as either analogy or yarn, the story still works.

Wikipedia has a concise synopsis of the story, as well as some interesting snippets of information (for example, Heinlein built a fallout shelter at his house in 1950) that show some of the sources of the ideas that Heinlein was to later explore in this book.

Other books by Robert Heinlein: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress


Thanks to Berka at The Zhodani Base for the background nebula on this page.