Monday, July 14, 2008

Review - Falling Free

Falling Free
by Lois McMaster Bujold
1988 Nebula Winner for Best Novel

And so we come to this, the last major award for my archnemesis: Lois McMaster Bujold. I mentioned this in a review of her other work but before I started my project I had never read a book by her and because of her propensity for winning awards for books that were direct sequels to other works I wound up reading 85% of everything she ever wrote. And while her works are in print hard cover editions are tough to come by. That has been changing with some omnibuses that have been released in the past two years (the cover to the right is one of those). I came to the conclusion that Bujold had been working to hurt me due to having to read so much of her output and the expense in acquiring the books in hard cover (and Brothers In Arms does not have any hard cover release).

Bujold has taken four Hugos for her novels and one for a novella. The novella was a double win with the Nebula as was her most recent win for a novel. Since the others were Hugo winners I've already covered them but Falling Free is a lone Nebula winner and so it is the last of her award winners to cover.

Needless to say this means that I've got a pretty good view of Bujold's work. I've seen its highs and lows. I consider her works to be entertaining but usually not particularly deep (which explains her popularity with Hugo votes but not Nebula voters). Falling Free is a tough call; it has perhaps Bujold's most creative concepts but her weakest narrative. It's almost a mirror image of her usual work where I'm not fond of her overarching concepts but her storytelling ability overcomes that.

A zero-G welder is called out to supervise construction on a new deep space facility. As a crew to man it the corporation in charge has created a breed of person with arms in the place of legs along with several other null gravity modifications. The first generation of these "quaddies" are just entering adulthood. They're treated reasonably well but certain members of the human crew including the administrator take advantage of their naivety. Unfortunately just months before the space habitat is read gravity control is developed and the quaddies along with their work become unnecessary. Unless the welder does something this unique group will be condemned to spend their lives in full gravity where their bodies will be unable to function.

The ideas behind the novel are the selling point. What does happen when a genetically engineered sentient being becomes obsolete? How much is owed to our creations? What would a zero gravity species be like both in its "natural" environment and in standard gravity.

The protagonist characters are also interesting view points for this. They understand the complications and are not shrill in their moral standings. The problem is the antagonists who are so generically evil they should be kicking puppies they find in their spare time. Their attitude toward their own creations is hostility and revulsion. It doesn't even make sense and putting reasonable people on the other side of the moral equasion of the protagonists would have been much more effective storytelling.

And that story really isn't that great. Once you get past the big concepts the actual story itself isn't that interesting. Once things go to the actual narrative it shifts to a mass of cliches. I provided very little in the way of actual story details in my description since if you've ever watched Star Trek or read science fiction then you'll be able to immediately describe 90% of the plot from any more information. Bujold offers few surprises.

Consequently I'd say that if there was any of Bujold's science fiction novels to skip its this one. Falling Free was one of her earliest novels and her writing improves considderably in the space of a few years. Just don't bother with this one.