Thursday, 13 December 2007

Review: "Farnham's Freehold" by Robert Heinlein

I ran into a friend at a conference in California, he recommended "Farnham's Freehold" by Robert Heinlein, but pointed out that he had repeatedly failed to make it through the work (I now understand why, in addition to race issues, there is a conversation between father and daughter that most would read as "creepy").

The work deals (as much of the best Science Fiction does) with the end of the modern world and the beginning of something new. Heinlein in particular has used this device at least three times (in this work, in "The Doorway into Summer", and in "For Us the Living: A Comedy of Manners"). "Farnham's Freehold" reminded me most closely of "The Doorway into Summer". The main character in each travels back and forth through time, allowing a dual comparison in which the man of the present makes sense of the future and in which the man of the present, aware of the future, returns to make sense of the past.

The future in which Farnham finds himself inverts the historical race division of the United States such that whites are now slaves whose lives are controlled absolutely by "The Chosen" (who are the dark-skinned ruling class primarily of African descent). Whether you enjoy this book may boil down to the spirit in which you believe the work was written. If (as I do), you believe the work is a study in the tendency of power to corrupt, and the willing ignorance of the dominant culture of the abuses their power lends itself to, then the work is enjoyable. If instead you believe (as I have read elsewhere) that the work is an exercise in validating negative stereotypes, then at best you probably won't get much out of it, and at worst you may actively dislike the work and by extension the author.

If you want to find more discussion about the book, I'd suggest starting with the "Farnam's Freehold" entry in Wikipedia.

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