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Thursday, January 25, 2007
Book Thoughts: Farnham's Freehold
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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posted by Michael Hickerson at 1/25/2007 11:12:00 AM | |
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