Lois McMaster Bujold 1988: Vorkosigan Saga #4 in publication order, #2 in chronological order
I’m used to (and love) Bujold’s high fantasy epics. Falling Free is included in my Audible Plus membership so I snagged it, not realizing that it’s part of the Vorkosigan Saga series, and haven’t read other books in this series. I’m a Vorkosigan newbie.
So, quaddies. They are engineered ‘humans’ with two sets of arms (as opposed to arms and legs), ideal for life in a zero-gravity environment, and the oldest of them are in their mid-teens. Bred and trained to be intelligent and obedient, they are exploited by GalacTech, the corporation that has created them, as they work and live on the Cay Habitat, a space station circling the planet Rodeo.
This is the story of quaddie – well, not really revolt. Their action, guided by teacher/supervisor Leo Graf, is more of an exit – a rejection of their fate, once it’s learned that the initiative for which they’ve been created is cancelled in order to divert funds to a new development involving artifically created gravity. Their escape is threatened by Bruce Van Atta, a crass, short-sighted GalacTech executive with a penchant for cruelty.
This Nebula Award winner (that’s what the starburst on the cover says) is heavy on the tech and engineering talk, which I never like even if it’s pretend tech and engineering, but the real story is easy to follow without a huge focus on the mechanics. In the end, it’s about people. Unlike the Bujold’s World of the Five Gods series, there is little beauty in this pragmatic story – but beauty does exist, most poignantly in an interaction in which a musician plays a vioin for a quaddie who has never before heard music that wasn’t synthesized.
Narrator Grover Gardner has the perfect voice for sci fi. His characterization of Bruce Van Atta’s obscenity-ridden rants is a thing of beauty, and his narrative style has a 1950’s feel.
Overall, I prefer Bujold’s fantasy to sci fi; this is space-age swashbuckling. This is a matter of taste though, and the dialogue is excellent, so I’m rating this book at four stars, in spite of my slight disbelief that Lois McMaster Bujold created this saga.