Book Review: Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold
Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera, Biopunk
Series: Book 4 of the Vorkosigan Saga
Author’s Information: Website
Tiara’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Leo Graf a talented engineer who finds himself pulled from his current station to a habitat operating in a system on the fringes of intergalactic law. Leo is chosen to teach welding to a group of special cases. He doesn’t learn how special until he reaches the habitat and witnesses just how loose and fast his employers have played with genetics. Soon, Leo finds himself placed in the center of a revolution, forcing him to confront the ambiguous morality that plagues the Cay habitat, forcing him to take a stand where he’d once only wanted to do his job and stay under the radar.
The quaddies (the experimental humanoids who are classified as “post fetal experimental tissue cultures”) are considered little more than inventory, and the company who funded the project to create them are equally as anxious to find a way to get rid of them once they’re proven to be obsolete. They don’t have standings as human beings. They shouldn’t exist and aren’t protected under intergalactic law. Leo, who has only worked with the quaddies for a few months, seems to be the only person who acknowledges that they are people despite their appearance. He hatches a plan to save them and allow them to live life on their terms. Leo’s plan to help the quaddies gain freedom is enormous in scope and seems a bit too ambitious, but the alternative is far worse.
This is actually the fourth book in the series, but I’m reading the series in chronological order as suggested by the author herself. My first jaunt with Bujold was with her book The Curse of Chalion, which I loved because it played with many interesting ideas about things like godship and wit being a far more capable weapon than swords. I wasn’t quite as taken with this story or its characters. While I undeniably did care about Leo and the quaddies. I never connected to them in the same way as I did with Cazaril and company in The Curse of Chalion.
However, that doesn’t mean the characters are shallow by any stretch. I just felt like I didn’t get enough time with them. Bujold has a wonderful hold on the characters regardless. Even when I may think the story is dragging a bit, the characters make up for the lull. Leo is a good man. He’s a hardworking engineer who says what he means without tiptoeing around the truth. He has a sense of honor that won’t allow him to remain passive in the face of the injustice he’s witnessing on Cay. And she did such a wonderful job portraying the precociousness and innocence of the quaddie.
One thing that threw me off was how we don’t really see the pivotal point Leo made his decision to help instead of standing by idly. One page, he’s saying that he’s not going to risk his retirement, and literally, the next page Leo has decided to be involved. True, readers already know that Leo doesn’t appreciate the politics and word mincing involved with the assignment, but he’d resolved to be a bystander and leave well enough alone. We don’t get to witness that moment when he decides that he will not be an observer. It’s not even touched on briefly in the prose.
Even though this is only the second book I’ve read by Bujold, I’ve noticed that May-December romances seem to be a thing with her writing with the man lamenting how old he is in comparison to the woman he desires. With Leo and Silver, there were echoes of Cazaril and Beatriz. There is certainly nothing wrong with that, especially since the romance is nicely understated, but it was just something I noticed. I guess all writers have their formula they have to sneak into their stories.
Anyhow, this was a very interesting premise. I enjoyed the story for what it’s worth and found the plight of the quaddies and Leo’s dilemma of helping them compelling and fast paced. I will say that this story felt as if it went much quicker than The Curse of Chalion, which had bits that felt like filler. Also, Bujold doesn’t bog readers down with too much “science.” I don’t mind it, but some people find it a bit daunting and confusing. Bujold explains the scientific elements involved very well and in a manner that’s understandable even by those who may not be big on sci-fi.
I’m very interested in seeing how this fits in the grand balance of the Vorkosigan universe based on what little I already know of the series.