Lois McMaster Bujold
Falling Free (1988)
Winner of the 1988 Nebula Award for Best Novel.
Although set in the same universe as the author's popular Vorkosigan saga, this novel takes place some 200 years before Miles's birth and is generally unrelated to the series.
Newly transferred to the GalacTech division in charge of the Cay Habitat, Leo Graf is the stereotypical engineer: he immerses himself in his job, takes pride in his workmanship, prefers to avoid the entanglements of administration or politics, and generally minds his own business. His new assignment takes him by surprise, though. He is to train quaddies, human workers of type Homo quadrimanus, gengineered for free-fall construction and the result of a secret two-decade long company experiment. Overcoming his initial queasiness, Graf quickly takes a liking to his young students and firmly dismisses any critical thoughts about the Cay Project or its handling.
In a chance historical development, technological progress renders the quaddies obsolete at just the time they are about to embark on their first assignment, and GalacTech HQ decides to abort the experiment. Due to a particular legal constellation, the quaddies don't count as humans and are to be "disposed". Horrified at the prospect, Graf must break with his comfortable absorption in engineering and teach his students to fight for their freedom.
Typical of Bujold, Falling Free is driven by its characters rather than nifty ideas. Don't expect genre innovation, what you get is no more or less than a very engaging adventure story. Smoothly flowing, inoffensive and dreamlike like a children's book, and nevertheless gripping right to the predictable end. There is a very serious issue at the core of the book: the choices we have to make in the face of large corporations (substitute at will: institutions, governments, ...), and whether we are willing to accept individual responsibility with all the consequences. Not exactly a new theme though, and so it is hardly surprising that Bujold doesn't offer any new insights. This novel is most of all a comfort book.
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