Friday, 9 March 2018

Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold

Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold occupies a somewhat confusing place in the Vorkosigan universe chronology. It was the fourth book published — which is interesting to consider in itself — but is a prequel set about 200 years before the other books in the series. Aside from anything else, that means it stands entirely on its own with no character connections to any other books in the series. It does, however, lay some background for a race of genetically engineered people that appear in a couple of other books.

Leo Graf was an effective engineer...Safety Regs weren't just the rule book he swore by; he'd helped write them. All that changed on his assignment to the Cay Habitat. Leo was profoundly uneasy with the corporate exploitation of his bright new students—till that exploitation turned to something much worse. He hadn't anticipated a situation where the right thing to do was neither safe, nor in the rules...

This story follows an engineer who has been sent to a space station to teach a bunch of genetically engineered humans how to weld safely. Through his point of view we encounter the quaddies, who have two extra arms instead of legs for better manoeuvrability in free fall. We also see how the quaddies are questionably owned by the corporation that created them and the extent to which they have been psychologically conditioned to keep working for the corporation. Also, how ripe for exploitation they are as a group. We also see some of this exploitation from the point of view of one of the quaddies, Silver, although she doesn't entirely realise she's being exploited.

This was an odd re-read because the first time I read this book, at roughly the same place in terms of which books I read before and after (thanks to the Baen omnibuses), I had no idea what to expect. The second time, I knew what to expect, remembered not disliking the book but was still disappointed that Miles and/or Cordelia weren't in it. Also, the aspect of the book I remembered disliking was, of course, still there, for all that I came at it from a slightly different perspective. I also noticed that pretty much all the bits I didn't really like were very carefully written and challenged within the narrative itself.

Falling Free is one of the most hard science fictional books in the Vorkosigan Saga. There's a bit of hand-wavey science, but for the most part those bits of science aren't the focus of the story. The story very much deals with the scenario of convenient genetic engineering and the possible consequences of obsolesce thereafter.

This is a good book to read as a standalone if you're not sure whether Bujold's writing is for you. Since it stands alone there's not obligation to keep reading the other books, but they remain an easy possibility for readers who enjoyed this book. And although the iconic character of Miles doesn't appear in this book, the story is still feels like a part of the same universe. It's not my favourite Vorkosigan universe book, but it's not a terrible place to start (for all that I've only ever read it in the middle of the series) and it's a darned good read either way.

4 / 5 stars

A bunch of alternative covers, because it's my blog and I can do what I want (and they don't suck as much as usual):

First published: 1987 serialised in Analog and as a fully collected novel by Baen in 1988
Series: Vorkosigan saga, fourth book written, first chronologically speaking
Format read: ePub as part of the Miles, Mutants and Microbes omnibus
Source: Purchased from Baen several years go

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