“Falling Free” by Lois McMaster Bujold
review ©️ 1993 by P. Douglas Reeder
In this 1988 Nebula Award winning novel, a group of humans genetically engineered for free fall by GalacTech, a large corporation, are legally considered “post-fetal tissue cultures”, i.e. property, not people. Invention of practical antigravity has rendered them obsolete. The ‘quaddies’ (they have extra arms instead of legs) are led to revolt by Leo Graf, a normal welding and non-destructive testing engineer.
The characters are believable and well drawn, and their problems realistic, but they divide cleanly into good guys and bad guys, save for a few GalacTech employees (who play little role) who are loyal to the company but sympathetic to the quaddies.
Bujold’s most basic theme, people obsolescent by their genes, not their skills, is an important and fresh one. It forms the background for the work, but fails to have much impact because the only resultant is the good-guys/bad-guys conflict. Women with children are ill-represented in adventure stories, and Bujold shows why. She also shows an engineer at work, instead of having his results appear from offstage.
The only problem this reader had with the novel was that it fails to develop its material. Short shrift is given to internal conflicts and disagreements of the quaddies and the divided loyalties of normal employees, to whom the quaddies are both work and friend, but who have little power to help them. (Admittedly, that’s not the theme of the novel but…)
Further commentary on this work can be found in Nebula Awards 24, in “Themes and Variations: A View on the SF and Fantasy of 1988” by Ian Watson and “Free Associating About Falling Free” by Bujold. Watson describes this novel as a juvenile. Bujold wrote it as her Analog story, writing in a style that heavily influenced her (and contests the juvenile label). I found it a pleasant read, but on the light side.
%A Lois McMaster Bujold %T Falling Free %I Baen Books %C Riverdale, NY %D copyright 1988 %G ISBN 0-671-65398-9 %P 307 %K quaddies,Nebula Award,Analog %O paperback $4.99 %X This 1988 Nebula Award winning novel is set in the same universe as Barrayar, Borders of Infinity, and Ethan of Athos, and concerns the ‘quaddies’ - humans genetically engineered to live in free fall. It appeared as a serial from December 1987 through February 1988 in Analog.