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Lois McMaster Bujold – Falling Free

December 17, 2010

134. Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold (1988)
Vorkosigan Saga, Prequel

Read my review of book:
1. Shards of Honor
2. Barrayar
3. The Warrior’s Apprentice

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.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
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First Line: The shining rim of the planet Rodeo wheeled dizzily past the observation port of the orbital transfer station.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. December 18, 2010 11:36 am

    this is the first Mcmaster Bujold title I read, and it turned me into a fan!

    yes, it’s unsubtle. yes, it bashes you over the head. yes, some of the characters aren’t developed. but i could see the potential, and where she wanted to go in her universe, and i really latched on to that.

    are they reprinting everything of hers? about damn time! this stuff is impossible to find!

    • December 18, 2010 11:45 am

      Yay, another Bujold fan! It seems like there are far too few of us compared to how many there *should* be.

      I’ve been listening to the Blackstone Audio versions, which they’ve been releasing over the past few years. Amazon’s also got MMPs of most if not all of the books available for about $8 a pop.

      …also, I know you hate ebooks with a fiery passion, but if you ever change your mind, you can get the entire Vorkosigan saga for free(!!) at the Baen Free Library:

      • December 18, 2010 11:45 pm

        arrgghh, offering the entire Vorkosigan saga for free as an E, that is so cheating! ;) If it’s a PDF I supposed I could print the whole damn thing out. Wonder how many reams of paper it would take?

      • December 21, 2010 10:26 am

        The CD has it in various e-formats. No PDFs, I don’t think, but definitely .rtf, which would print just as well… although it would probably take an entire box of paper!

  2. December 18, 2010 2:41 pm

    I agree – this one wasn’t my favorite, but it’s great for anyone who loves the series. I’m SO excited there’s a new Vorkosigan novel out, finally. So much so that I’m a bit hesitant to read it – then I’ll be so sad when it’s over. I’m sure I’ll hold out about as long as it takes for my name to come up on the waiting list for it at the library!

    • December 21, 2010 10:41 am

      Darla – I’m lucky on that front, I guess – I’m just coming into the series this year, so no waiting for me! Or, at least not until I’m all caught up; then I’ll be anxiously awaiting new installments with the rest of you!

  3. December 26, 2010 1:30 pm

    I’m a big fan of Bujold, but her books aren’t currently published in the UK (apart from the two Chalion books), so getting hold of them here is more tricky than it ought to be. My recent purchases of Komarr, A Civil Campaign and Diplomatic Immunity were all US editions through Amazon (and I can’t get the Sharing Knife books on Kindle, either).

  4. May 19, 2011 1:27 am

    This was the first Bujold book I ever read, and it made me want to try more. It is rather predictable, but it’s just SO much fun!

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