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Literature / Farnham's Freehold

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"FARNHAM'S FREEHOLD: TRADING POST & RESTAURANT BAR — American Vodka, Corn Liquor, Applejack, Pure Spring Water, Grade "A" Milk, Corned Beef & Potatoes, Steak & Fried Potatoes, Butter & some days Bread, Smoked Bear Meat, Jerked Quisling (by the neck), Crepes Suzettes to order. !!!Any BOOK Accepted as Cash!!!! DAY NURSERY !!FREE KITTENS!! Blacksmithing, Machine Shop, Sheet Metal Work-You Supply the Metal. FARNHAM SCHOOL OF CONTRACT BRIDGE Lessons by Arrangement. Social Evening Every Wednesday.
Ring bell. Wait. Advance with your Hands Up. Stay on path, avoid mines. We lost three customers last week. We can't afford to lose YOU.
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Hugh & Barbara Farnham & Family, Freeholders"

Written by Robert A. Heinlein in the early sixties and published in 1964, Farnham's Freehold is one of his most Genre-Busting works.

The story can be broken into three acts. The first act begins with a sequence of events inspired by the Cuban Missile Crisis. The story is told from the point of view of Hugh Farnham, whose dysfunctional family is abruptly faced with nuclear Armageddon. Hugh's homemade fallout shelter provides them with temporary sanctuary... but one of the bombs — a secret Soviet super-weapon — drops directly on the shelter and sends it and and its occupants somewhere else.

The second act shifts gears to a survival story, as they arrive on what seems to be Earth, but they cannot tell if this is Another Dimension, the past, or the future. It doesn't help that there is no sign of humanity at all. As the family struggles to survive in this mysterious new world, the family begins to break apart.

Then hovercraft appear, abducting the survivor/settlers and ushering in the third act - which is set in a racist dystopia dominated by people of African ancestry, in which whites are slaves kept tranquil by drugs and, in some cases, butchered and eaten. The survivors become slaves of varying status... except for their former servant Joe, who as a black man is automatically entitled to 'free' status and parlays his experiences into high status. Hugh's wife and son become 'content' with their low rank, but Hugh and Barbara commit themselves to escape at any cost.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Ponse is a prime example of the trope. Hugh even acknowledges it, lamenting that Ponse is the worst kind of evil there is, simply because he's always incredibly nice, yet constantly reminding you how evil he *could* be if you cross him.
  • After the End: A nuclear apocalypse provides Book Ends - via time travel.
  • The Alcoholic: Hugh's wife, Grace. If she can't drink, she'll pop pills. If she can't find the pills, she makes everyone else miserable.
  • Alliterative Title
  • Brick Joke: At the beginning of the story, Hugh mentions a "bald-headed old coot" who appeared gaping at the front door before running away. Later (while caught in a time loop) he realizes HE was the old coot.
  • Broken Aesop:
    • The novel preaches the standard "be an independent man who is always in control and never listen to anyone else" Heinlein protagonist philosophy, but only applies it to Hugh and people who agree with Hugh's decisions. Anyone who disagrees with Hugh about anything is wrong and deserves whatever he does to them for refusing to just accept his authority, specifically his son, Duke.
    • The novel also tries to have an anti-racism message. Unfortunately, Heinlein was an upper-class white man who lived in pre-Civil Rights Era California and had no actual understanding of the actual issues of racism and instead wrote a story where hundreds of years in the future, black people from Africa have now enslaved white people and treat them like animals, including eating them. As one reviewer for The New Republic put it, Heinlein "resurrected some of the most horrific racial stereotypes imaginable", ultimately producing "an anti-racist novel only a Klansman could love."
  • Crazy-Prepared: Hugh Farnham. It is the source of much antagonism between him and his son Duke, who sees him as a Crazy Survivalist. Hugh's planning constantly paying off doesn't improve their relationship any.
  • No Need for Names: A female slave is assigned to Hugh Farnham, and she doesn't have a name. He ends up calling her 'kitten' after the cute way she curled up in bed when she was tired.
  • Parental Incest: Farnham's daughter mentions to him that, of the three men she's been stranded with, he's the one she'd prefer to father her child (if she weren't already pregnant just now). Her dad is completely undisturbed and in fact flattered by this.
  • People Farms: In the post apocalyptic society, lower castes of people are often used for food.
  • Persecution Flip: The members of a white family are the slaves of cannibalistic black masters.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality:
    • Hugh is always espousing about the need to be your own man - tough, independent, not taking orders from anybody. He also continually threatens his son Duke to get the latter to listen to him, at one point even being prepared to kill him by forcing him to leave the security of the group's fallout shelter while outside radiation levels are lethally high. This is completely Duke's fault for not accepting Hugh's authority. Being tough and independent is only a good thing if you have the right ideas. If you have the wrong ideas, you should shut up and follow the orders of someone with the right ideas and they're justified in whatever they do to make you.
    • Hugh starts a sexual relationship with his daughter's friend while they're in the fallout shelter, even though his wife is as well. This is perfectly fine. However, after they get out of the shelter and the villain captures them all, it's treated as utterly inappropriate when the villain states his intention of taking Hugh's wife as a concubine - not because she doesn't want to, but because she's still married to Hugh.
  • Rocky Mountain Refuge: Revolves around Farnham's fallout shelter located in Colorado Springs, Colorado. And by the end of the story, in an effort to avoid the Bad Future, Hugh and Barbara set up a commune in the mountains to serve a protected corner of humanity.
  • The Starscream: Duke is constantly on the verge of mutiny under Hugh's leadership.
  • Strapped to an Operating Table: Hugh Farnham and his son, Duke are strapped to an operating table where they're about to castrate both of them until Ponce decides not to have them do this. Later, they actually end up doing this to Duke.
  • Your Tomcat Is Pregnant: Barbara is quite surprised to find that the cat, named Dr. Livingston, is pregnant, since she'd believed the cat to be male. The five other human members of the group have known the cat a lot longer than Barbara has, and consistently use male pronouns, which probably adds to the confusion.