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Beth Meacham, David Brin

Falling Free

Falling Free - Lois McMaster Bujold Falling Free is one of several Hugo winners for Lois McMaster Bujold, she is practically sci-fi’s counterpart to Meryl Streep in term of awards. This book is set in her popular Vorkosigan universe but does not have any Vorkosigan in it, not even a mention. In the time setting of this book Miles Vorkosigan will not be born for another 200 years. However, this does not mean this book is like a cup of coffee without any coffee in it, it is well worth anybody’s time.

Basically this is a story of a race of bioengineered humans called the “Quadies”. They have four arms but no legs, the lower pair of arms are placed where the legs normally are. This configuration is designed for living and operating naturally in freefall. They live in a space habitat where they carry out engineering and other work for no payment. Their needs are provided by GalacTech, the company that fund their creation and own them. As such the Quadies are basically lower than second class citizens, they are perhaps only a few steps above beasts of burden. They lack the most basic human rights, as these do not extend to transhuman rights.

As you can imagine the central theme of this book is about the right to live a good life, free from tyranny. A right which we would have to extend to any sentient beings we create, be they transhumans or artificial intelligences. Thematically it reminds me a little of Heinlein’s [b:The Moon is a Harsh Mistress|16690|The Moon is a Harsh Mistress|Robert A. Heinlein|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348768309s/16690.jpg|1048525]. However, Falling Free is not some heavy-handed propaganda, Ms. Bujold never loses sight of her role as a storyteller. The story of the Quadies’ struggle for independence and freedom is told in Bujold’s dependable breezy and graceful narrative style. The ethical aspect of the story is for the readers to infer at their leisure or completely ignore if they just want to kick back and soak in a few hours of escapism.

As always Bujold is able to create a cast of relatable characters, the hero Leo Graf (human with legs) is suitably resourceful, honorable, slightly insecure and humble. The main Quaddies characters are very likable and tend to have a childlike earnestness to them. The villain of the piece, Mr. Van Atta, the general manager of the space habitat project, is not one of fiction’s most formidable antagonists. He lacks the competency, his villainy is more of a “boo-hiss” variety. This is not a densely plotted novel, but it does move along at a fair clip.

The Vorkosigan series is often classified as “military science fiction” but Falling Free does not have any military in it, just a few ineffective security guards. This is closer to being a “hard SF” novel than a military one. In fact the science or the “SFnal” aspect of the book may be its best features. The advantages of having four arms and no legs is vividly depicted, as is the Quaddies’s first experience of a planet with gravity, how mobility suddenly becomes much more of an issue. I can just about imagine being a Quaddie. The outcome of the book is fairly predictable but given the plot trajectory I do not see that Bujold had any choice. If you are new to the Vorkosigan series Falling Free is not a bad start, it works 100% as a standalone book, though I believe there are some better books in the series.

About 4.5 stars.