Book number 11 in my latest reading project is Falling Free (published in 1988) by Lois McMaster Bujold. She is probably best known for her Miles Vorkosigan books.
Leo Graf, a master engineer and welder, is invited by a former student to visit planet Rodeo. The student, Bruce Van Atta, is now managing a zero-g habitat project on orbit and wants Graf to teach the engineers in his new workforce. This 1,000-person-strong populace known as quaddies turns out to be people with two pairs of arms instead of a pair of arms and a pair of legs.
The quaddies were created through experimental bioengineering. They’re defined as “post-fetal experimental tissue cultures” and as such, in the legally ambiguous state that Rodeo is in, considered to be property of GalacTech. They’re quick, intelligent, agile, and much more suitable for weightless conditions than unaltered humans.
Producing them has been tremendously expensive, however, and when GalacTech finds out that a competitor has developed commercially viable artificial gravity, Van Atta is tasked with shutting down the Cay Project and reallocating or destroying the related property, including quaddies, with as little expense as possible. Graf, who’s forged a connection with his students, is appalled and comes up with a daring plan to not just save the quaddies for now, but to set them free forever.
Falling Free reminded me of James Tiptree, Jr.’s The Starry Rift in that the human protagonists were characterized very effectively and economically; they’re all distinct and memorable. Unfortunately, the quaddies don’t rise quite as high as characters in their own right: of the main quaddie characters, Tony is the father, Claire is the mother and Silver the girl trading sexual favors for contraband.
Plotwise the book is well-paced and engaging. Again, Bujold’s high reputation is clearly well deserved, like Tiptree, Jr.’s. Not exactly a full-on Adventure! story, Falling Free has nevertheless a good dose of action, tension and scheming, and opens up a whole universe of possibilities for the quaddies.
Falling Free is set in the same universe as the Vorkosigan saga. The events take place 200 years before the birth of Miles. There was a handy timeline at the end of the book for placing the Vorkosigan novels in context. Not having read any of them, though, I’m still unsure of which events or details (if any) in Falling Free were of special significance. Nevertheless, I’m sure I’m in a good place should I want to go on with reading Bujold – and I well might!
As a sidenote, in 1988, we finally have data disks. (Every single book that I’ve read for this project so far that has had computers has mentioned tapes or cassettes for data storage.) Wo-hoo for catching up with technological development!
P.S. Find all posts in the project with the 21 authors tag.