Review - Falling Free
Falling Free, by Lois MacMaster Bujold, was originally published in 4 parts in Analog in 1987-8 and won the Nebula award in 1988.
The story follows Leo Graf, a zero-g welding instructor. Leo arrives at his next assignment to find that his students are genetically modified to better adapt to zero-g. They have muscles and bone density augmentations, and one very noticeable difference – they have arms instead of legs. The first generation of the four-armed ‘quaddies’ are just reaching maturity, and Leo is going to teach them more than just welding. Built to outperform regular humans in zero-g environments, the quaddies are rendered obsolete before they can even make it to their first assignment when a mechanism for artificial gravity is discovered. When the company decides to ‘terminate’ the quaddie program, Leo has to decide whether to stand by or stand up.
When I read this book, I didn’t know when it was written. I’m always up for new scifi, and if I see Hugo or Nebula award-winner, that’s enough to give it a go. I knew it wasn’t contemporary pretty quickly (Leo refers to communication as ‘electronic mail’), but it felt like a 1950s Asimov story. The story works, has all the right parts in the right order, but it doesn’t sing the way a masterwork does. But there is a faint murmur, that the best is yet to come. I haven’t read any other stories by Bujold, but I will make a point of searching them out. Very few writers have the sound that this book has, and it’s foolish to ignore good scifi when you find it.
As for the story itself, the climax is overly straight forward. As I said, the story hits the rights notes, but the timing is out just a fraction. It’s clear what everyone is trying to do; then everyone does it. If the climax was more surprising, this book would gain a level. There is some other clunkiness which I’m putting down to writing style, which happens when a book is 33 years old. Like reading Pride and Prejudice, don’t fight the style and find the rhythm to get into this story.
This book was a solid scifi read. It explored interesting ideas and has interesting characters.