Lois McMaster Bujold – Falling Free
Read By: Grover Gardner
Length: 8 h 45 min (320 pages)
Genre: Science Fiction
Started: 20 October 2010
Finished: 28 October 2010
Where did it come from? From the publishers for review.
Why do I have it? I’ve been converted into a big ol’ Lois McMaster Bujold fangirl, and am planning to read all of the Vorkosigan books eventually.
People are people,
and they should seize freedom with
both hands… or all four.
Summary: Leo Graf would be one of the first people to tell you: he’s just an engineer. A very skilled and accomplished engineer, for sure, but otherwise just an ordinary middle-aged man. He’s been summoned by his employer, GalacTech, to travel to the remote space station known as the Cay Habitat, and to teach safety inspection and welding to a new bunch of workers there. When he arrives, he’s shocked to discover that the workers are not your average students, but are instead have been genetically engineered to be ideally adapted to working in zero G: bones and muscles that don’t lose density while in free-fall, inner ears stabilized to prevent the nausea that so often afflicts “downsiders”… and, most noticeably, a second set of arms where their legs should be. This extra set of hands allows the Quaddies to be twice as efficient at most tasks in zero G, thus making them the perfect workers… especially since they’re not technically human, so GalacTech can treat them as mere inventory: tools to be used as they are needed.
The other members of the Cay project, particularly its boss, Bruce Van Atta, see nothing wrong with treating the Quaddies as property. After all, hasn’t GalacTech spent incredible amounts of money creating, raising, and housing them? But the more time Leo spends aboard the habitat, the more uncomfortable he grows with the Quaddies’ nebulous legal status – because while they’re not technically human, they are undeniably people. Although he might wish things were different, Leo is just one man – just an engineer – and what can he possibly do to change things for the Quaddies?
Review: Falling Free is one of Bujold’s earliest books, and it shows in the general lack of subtlety and finesse that she would later develop. That subtlety is certainly missing from the plot, which practically beats the reader over the head with its Message of “slavery is bad, okay?” I did spend the first half of the book shocked and disgusted by the variety of callous and cruelly dehumanizing ways the Quaddies were treated, which I’m sure was Bujold’s intent. But after a while, I started to go “yes, okay, I get it, the Quaddies are people too; owning people is wrong; can we move on?”
It didn’t help that a lot of Bujold’s characterizations were also rather shallow (which is surprising, for her). Leo was a believable if not particularly complex character, and the main Quaddies with which he interacted all had interesting and unique personalities. Where things fell down, I thought, was with the villain of the piece, Bruce Van Atta. He was just so unrelievedly nasty about everything that it was hard to take him seriously as a threat, because I couldn’t imagine Bujold letting him win. Just like the plot lacked any interesting moral grey area, so too did the characters: the good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, and that’s the end of the story. And really, Graf was the only person in the twenty-year history of the Cay project that had both a moral compass and the will to act on it? Really?
But, despite all that, I did mostly have a good time listening to Falling Free. Bujold’s lively dialogue and bright spots of wit are as present here as in any of her books. The whole thing is very fast paced, with the second half of the book moving breathlessly from crisis to crisis. It’s a little bit more tech-heavy than I usually prefer my sci-fi, but that’s only to be expected when your main character is an engineer, and Bujold handles it smoothly. It certainly served as a jumping-off point for thinking about some interesting questions about the ethics of genetic engineering, some of which scientists are already beginning to face today. Grover Gardner’s narration was as enjoyable as always, managing to inject some emotional realism into the mix without over-acting. So, while this wasn’t Bujold’s best book by a long shot, I’m still glad I read it. 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: It’s set in the universe of the Vorkosigan Saga, but several hundred years before Cordelia Naismith or Miles Vorkosigan showed up on the scene, so it could easily be read independently of the rest of the series… although I don’t think I’d hand this one to a newcomer to Bujold’s work, since it doesn’t show off her skills at top form.
Other Reviews: Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.
First Line: The shining rim of the planet Rodeo wheeled dizzily past the observation port of the orbital transfer station.
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