Monday, November 22, 2010

1988 Nebula - FALLING FREE by Lois McMaster Bujold

Lois McMaster Bujold is going to become a very familiar name on this blog. She’s tied with Robert Heinlein for the most “best novel” Hugo wins ever (if you don’t count his retro-Hugo). Most of these wins are for the space opera Vorkosigan saga, which takes place in the same universe as Falling Free, but a couple of centuries later.
In Falling Free, engineer Leo Graf takes a job at a GalacTech space facility near the planet Rodeo. He quickly learns that the station is populated by genetic experiments called quaddies who have been designed to operate efficiently and effectively in a zero gravity environment (they have a second pair of arms instead of legs). Leo adjusts quickly to the strange and naïve quaddies, but grows concerned when he learns of the heavy restrictions placed on their freedoms by the experiment’s corporate sponsors, who view the quaddies as disposable assets rather than human beings.

It’s a fast-paced, short novel. I like the efficiency of what Bujold does here – she sets up the quaddies, introduces a loving quaddie couple, and in the same chapter shows how horrible GalacTech’s control over them can be. There’s also some fairly interesting commentary on reproductive rights going on – as genetic experiments, breeding is prioritized over love for the quaddies. It may be a little too simple and efficient though. The morality isn’t particularly challenging, and the villainous station manager is a cartoonishly callous baffoon. It’s entertaining though, and sometimes it’s fun to watch the good guys pull off a caper that humiliates the bad guys. I’m looking forward to getting deeper into Bujold’s world.

I’m kind of surprised that it won a Nebula, an award which I’ve come to associate with dense prose and risk-taking over straightforward narrative. This novel is quite the opposite.

Grade: B+

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