Friday, February 18, 2011

Falling Free (Book)

The 1988 winner of the Nebula Award, Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold, has everything an enjoyable science fiction novel should have: a little bit of a love story, plenty of science and engineering, a little humor, a lot of “can everyone work together and overcome obstacles before time runs out?” It kept me engage from the opening until the very end.

Briefly, a company decides to create genetically engineered workers for the purpose of efficiently operating in zero gravity in space. The Quaddies have four arms, the usual two plus arms instead of legs. Who, after all, needs legs in zero gravity? The Quaddies are very intelligent but trained to be emotionally childlike and docile. (This reminds me of Cyteen.) From a legal standpoint, they have no rights and are not even considered live beings. The company uses them as slave labor. Leo, an unlikely hero, first encounters the Quaddies on the Cay Habitat where he is assigned to teach them advanced techniques in welding. As one of the few adults onboard, he slowly becomes involved in their lives as a type of parental/teacher figure. When a technological breakthrough makes the Quaddies obsolete, he decides to rescue them from the company’s plans to dispose of them. The plot also shows the Quaddies growing up and taking their lives into their own hands.

The Hugo voters seemed to go through a long phase where they favored series. In order to appreciate the winning novel, the reader pretty well has to read at least a couple of books in the series. Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga has made this even more complicated. Three of the novels won Hugo awards for best novel of the year. But—oh a big but—they were not written and published in the order of the series' overall plot chronology. Luckily, the books have a handy chart in the back showing the plot timeline and the corresponding book titles. There are also some short stories in the mix. Falling Free is the first book in plot order. I have given up trying to figure out which years the books were written. Anyway, so far so good!

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