Could he just stand there and allow the exploitation of hundreds of helpless children merely to enhance the bottom line of a heartless mega-corporation?
He hadn't anticipated a situation where the right thing to do was neither safe, nor in the rules. Leo adopted a thousand quaddies. Now all he had to do was teach them to be free.
©1988 Lois McMaster Bujold; (P)2009 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"Superb....Read, or you will be missing something extraordinary." (Chicago Sun-Times)
"Bujold's best work in my opinion." (Science Fiction Chronicle)
Life-long reader, 10 years listening
I wondered how well this would convert to audio format, but Grover Gardner has once again done an excellent job voicing the characters and story.
I am an avid eclectic reader.
This is my first Lois McMaster Bujold book. One of the people I follow recommended it. I am always willing to try an author I have not read before. This book touches on some interesting problems in sociology and genetic modification that are current issues in today's world. In this book Leo Graf and engineer is assigned to teach advance welding and its inspection at Cay habitat. When he arrives he finds that the Habitat contains 1000 genetic modified people designed to live in negative gravity. Their bones do not demineralize and they have four arms and no legs. The discovery of a way to produce gravity now makes them obsolete and as they are owned by the corporation that created them they were ordered to be eliminated. Leo sets off to save them and so begins an interesting story. There is really no battle scenes or even much violence in the story but it is a story of how they have to set about to modify the Habitat to travel in space and how to escape the corporation. There is some humor, a love story and lots of suspense. The story will keep you reading and leave you with some things to think about. Grover Gardner did and excellent job narrating the story. He is becoming one of my favorite narrators. I understand this is book one of a series.
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
The shock of the SF new in Louise McMaster Bujold's Falling Free (1986) doesn't come from the space opera stellar vista of its opening sentence: "The shining rim of the planet Rodeo wheeled dizzily past the observation port of the orbital transfer station." Instead, it comes from the interstellar corporation GalacTech's 25-year bioengineering project: four-armed humans designed to work and live in zero-gravity ("null-gee").
Bujold's protagonist Leo Graf meets the "quaddies" in the first chapter: "Leo blinked, and caught his breath in shock. The boy had no legs. Emerging from his shorts were [sic] a second set of arms." At first Leo thinks the youth is the result of a birth defect that would make him "a cripple, downside" (on a planet with gravity), but he soon learns that the 1000 quaddies (of both genders and of varying ages up to twenty) are "The first generation of GalacTech's new super-workers." Leo is impressed by how well suited they are for their null-gee setting on the orbital habitat they call home: "Leo thought of a flock of canaries, of flying squirrels, of monkeys, of spiders, of swift bright lizards of the sort that run straight up walls." The problem for Leo "wasn't the arms, or the quick, too-many hands. . . It was their faces . . . . They were the faces of children." For he senses that the kids have been engineered and educated to be obedient slaves ripe for exploiting by the company, which defines them as "capital equipment" and "post-fetal experimental tissue cultures." (The exploitation of obviously human "non-human" products of genetic engineering prefigures the bleaker Never Let Me Go )
"Crowding forty, sandy and square," Leo has been summoned to the orbital habitat to teach the quaddies null-gee engineering (welding, inspecting, etc.). During his long career as GalacTech engineer, Leo has trained many engineers and designed many efficient and safe space stations and the like. Despite his misgivings, Leo adheres to the remit of his job. What would he do were GalacTech to terminate the quaddie project for being unprofitable or obsolete? What would he do if forced to choose between company loyalty and his sense of what is right for the quaddies?
Complicating things for Leo is his former bad student Bruce Van Atta, now the executive in charge of the GalacTech project and hence Leo's boss. Van Atta looks down on the quaddies ("four-armed creeps"), and is quite the exploitive male chauvinist pig, calling females who displease him (like his ex-wife) "bitch" and the c-word and sexually exploiting a girl.
Despite depicting Van Atta negatively and some strong female characters positively, Bujold does engage in a little sexist ageism, painting two of the less pleasant female characters as middle aged and ugly, like the GalacTech VP: "Dumpy, on the high end of middle-aged, frizzy gray hair cut short, she might have been somebody's grandmother, but for her eyes." And, hey, I got a bit uncomfortable about a budding romance between a teenage girl and a man about forty. (I've never read a Bujold novel featuring a romance between an older woman and a younger man.)
Two other eyebrow raising points. First, I find it hard to believe that, among all the advanced, far future tech (artificial gravity, jumpships, wormholes, holovids, uterine replicators, etc.), condoms would still be in use. (Perhaps Bujold is educating or encouraging her circa 1986 readers to practice safe sex at the dawn of the AIDS era.) Anyway, she shouldn't tell her story so that at a crucial point I (who am no scientist or engineer) think of gasoline before Leo (consummate engineer improviser) does.
Bujold thoroughly imagines the inchoate vision and culture of a new type of four-armed human sub-species. The quaddies have been educated for "maximum socialization" to help them share limited null-gee living and working spaces. They use some special language, like "uppers" (for their upper arms) and "lowers" (for their lower arms, legs on usual humans), and instead of saying "the next step will be…" they say "the next reach will be…" (because they move about their null-gee habitat by reaching for handholds). The little quaddie kids play a dance-like game: "It involved creating a sort of duo-decahedron in mid-air, like a human pyramid only more complex, hand to hand to hand changing its formation in time to music." Bujold even imagines sex with a four-armed person in null-gee! Because the quaddies have never been on a planet (where the gravity would oppress them), they don't know much about how "downsiders" live (apart from what they can glean from contraband holovids like The Prisoner of Zenda). When some quaddies wind up on the planet Rodeo (about which their habitat orbits), Bujold effectively demonstrates what it would be like for people born and raised with four arms in null-gee to experience gravity on a planet.
In addition to exploring the nature of freedom, humanity, and home, the novel encourages us to make a difference by disobeying bad orders and following our consciences. At one point, Van Atta says to Leo, "There's only so much one human being can do." Not long after that, Leo begins wondering where his own limit for making a difference might lie.
Falling Free is read, like all the Vorkosigan books, by consummate professional and uber-Bujold-voice Grover Gardner. He reads every word and sentence in just the right way and with plenty of apt emotion and intelligence.
Although Falling Free is not so memorable and Leo is no Miles, it is a solid Bujold book-- entertaining, fast-paced, witty, unpredictable space opera comfort food with a political/social bite. I recommend it for fans of Bujold's Vorkosigan saga (for which it is a prequel), although readers new to her work should probably start with the early Vorkosigan books featuring young Miles, like Warrior's Apprentice (1986), or Miles' mother Cordelia, like Shards of Honor (1986).
Falling Free is interesting and worth a read if you want the whole Barayar story line, but not as good as her later work. still, it was entertaining.
What happens when an engineer is confronted with corporate evil? What is he willing to give up to fight for what is right and how hard must he fight to save his family and friends? This is the tale we see here and while being familiar it is extremely well done.
Like the book Ethen of Athos, this story has little baring on the rest of the Vorkosigan saga, but it is great background on one of the bio-engineered races mentioned in various books of the series. As usual, Grover does a great job with his narration.
I love to read, but I am time-limited. Audible allows me to keep up with all my favorite authors while on the hiking trail. Thanks, Audible!
This is my least favorite installment of the Vorkosigan Saga. Even with that, I still loved it. This book has very little to do with the rest of the Vorkosigan Saga; so, it is best to enjoy it as a separate and tangential but special novella.
When I drive, I read... uhm listen. I like SciFi, Fantasy, some Detective and Espionage novels and Religion. Now and then I will also listen to something else.
While the story is easy to follow, well-written and enjoyable, I found the storyline very straight forward, no real surprises. It is set in the same "universe" as the Miles Vorkosigan stories, but alas, it is not a Miles Vorkosigan novel.
I thought Grover Gardner did an excellent job of bringing the story to life. The main character is Leo, an engineer, who becomes a sort of freedom fighter for a new people that was genetically engineered to be the best engineers in zero gravity space. The problem is that the new people are legally not seen as people.
In Leo, Lois McMaster Bujold has created a sort of Sci-Fi Moses leading his adopted people from the proverbial "land of Egypt."
If you just want something to relax while driving on the road, this story might be just the the thing for you, but be warned, if you expect this to be a Miles Vorkosigan novel, you will be bitterly disappointed. (Audible might consider, removing it from the Vorkosigan saga.)
To summarise, a well narrated and written story, enjoyable despite a predictable storyline, playing off in the Vorkosigan universe but not a Vorkosigan novel.
Was an interesting story, good plot if predictable. The book shows its age in some places, especially the obvious and repeated sexism, but if you can struggle through there's some good characters.
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