Falling Free, written by Lois McMaster Bujold and published by Baen Books in 1988, was the fourth book written in the Vorkosigan Saga. It was first published by Analog as a four-part serial from December 1987 to February 1988 and has been collected in the omnibus edition Miles, Mutants and Microbes. The Reader's Chair published an audio version in 1996, read by Michael Hanson and Carol Cowan.
Chronologically, it takes place about 200 years before the events of the main sequence of books. It is not, however, the earliest story; that is "Dreamweaver's Dilemma."
Falling Free won the Nebula Award for Best Novel, was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel, came in ninth place for a Locus Award for best Science Fiction novel, and was nominated for a Prometheus Award, all in 1989. It also won a hall of fame Prometheus Award in 2014.
The Reader's Chair audio production won the Publishers Weekly "Listen Up Awards" in January 1997 and the AudioFile "Earphones Award" in Nov/Dec 1996.
Leo Graf was just your average highly efficient engineer: mind your own business, fix what's wrong and move on to the next job. Everything neat and according to spec, just the way he liked it. But all that changed on his assignment to the Cay Habitat. Could you just stand there and allow the exploitation of hundreds of helpless children merely to enhance the bottom line of a heartless mega-corporation?
Leo Graf adopted 1000 quaddies – now all he had to do was teach them to be free.
When Leo Graf arrived at his new GalacTech job, teaching welding engineering techniques to trainees at the Cay Habitat, a space station orbiting the planet Rodeo, he had no knowledge of what this new job entailed or what new ideas GalacTech had gotten for entering the brand-new world of bioengineering.
- "The name of the game, Leo, is bioengineering. And I intend to win."
- ―Bruce Van Atta's view of the new technology[src]
Teaching quaddies, humans genetically engineered to live in freefall with, among other alterations, four arms instead of two arms and two legs, turned out to be a great pleasure; they were young, energetic, enthusiastic, bright, and conscientious – everything a teacher would want to see in students. However, Leo was troubled by the restrictions under which they lived: the legged people who functioned as the quaddies' parents and supervisors watched their every action, severely limited their access to information, and told them exactly when and with whom they should have sexual relations. Sondra Yei referred to this as "behavior shaping." Leo was even more troubled by watching their self-centered manager, Bruce Van Atta, sabotage the quaddies and the entire project through sheer incompetence.
Barely three months after he arrived, matters went too far. Leo's best welding student, Tony, ran away with his partner, Claire, and their baby, Andy, because they did not wish to accept their new "reproductive assignments" with other quaddies. Van Atta set off a bit of a panic in sending planetary security after Tony and Claire, during which Tony was seriously injured and ended up hospitalized on the planet. They picked a very bad time for this; a company vice president had just arrived for an inspection. Vice President Apmad came from a planet that had experienced troubles with mutations; as a result, she was not immediately favorably inclined to the quaddies. The events that she witnessed did not improve her opinion of the project. Worse news came a few days later with the announcement of the invention of artificial gravity, which made the quaddies obsolete. They had been designed for free-fall, and the bulk of their cost-effectiveness came from their ability to spend longer and more continuous periods working in that environment than legged humans.
- "Moral obligation indeed," agreed Apmad, her hands clenching. "And have you overlooked the fact that Dr. Cay created these creatures fertile? They are a new species, you know; he dubbed them Homo quadrimanus, not Homo sapiens race quadrimanus. He was the geneticist, we may presume he knew what he was talking about. What about GalacTech's moral obligation to society at large? How do you imagine it will react to having these creatures and all their problems just dumped into its systems? If you think they overreact to chemical pollution, just imagine the flap over genetic pollution!"
- ―Apmad does not approve of quaddies[src]
Apmad declared the project dead and ordered the Cay Habitat dismantled; she was not concerned with the particulars of how to dispose of the "post-fetal experimental tissue cultures" (her euphemism for the quaddies) other than that they be permanently sterilized to prevent "genetic pollution." As Van Atta and Sondra Yei began the process of implementing her decision, Leo Graf and the quaddies began their own process – taking over the habitat and changing it into a space ship in which they could flee. Several non-quaddie humans, termed "downsiders," joined them in their project; this included one of their creators, Warren Minchenko, his wife Ivy Minchenko, Liz Villanova the head caretaker for the youngest quaddies, and Ti Gulik, a young jump-pilot who had been about to lose his career.
- "There was no limit to what one man might do, if he gave all, and held back nothing."
- ―Leo decides to give himself to a new plan[src]
First on the order of tasks was to take over a superjumper (a jump ship designed to clamp onto a lot of spheres of cargo, jump them across a wormhole, then release them and jump back); a quaddie named Silver led that team. Next was to get rid of the downsiders; Leo created a fake depressurization emergency that caused most of the downsiders to flee to an auditorium module, and then the quaddies simply cut the module loose.
The quaddies then began reconfiguring the habitat into a form that could be connected to a superjumper. When Silver and her team arrived with said jumper, one of the quaddies on reconfiguration duty accidentally crashed her pusher ship into the jumper's vortex mirror, a crucial portion of the Necklin rods' machinery. Leo thus acquired a new task – make a new mirror. In the meantime, Bruce Van Atta began threatening them over the comms channel; he injured Tony with a shock stick as a demonstration of just what he might do if they didn't start cooperating with him. So Silver, Dr. Minchenko, and Ti Gulik went downside to recover Tony and Madame Minchenko.
Upon collecting Tony and rebuilding the mirror, the quaddies began their escape with a necessarily slow trip to the jump point. Van Atta commandeered a crew to give chase; his crew included Sondra Yei and some security personnel from Rodeo. Van Atta tried to chase them and destroy their ship/habitat, but the attempt failed when none of his companions proved willing to kill quaddies just to save his career.
- "What are you doing with that, Dr. Yei?" asked Bannerji's voice, startled.
Bannerji, squirming uncomfortably in his seat, was clearly not to be trusted. "Hold onto this crazy bitch. She just tried to kill me with a wrench."
"Oh? She told me she needed it to adjust a seat attitude," remarked Fors. "Or – did she say 'seat'?"
- ―How to adjust an attitude[src]
They made the jump barely in time to escape Van Atta personally shooting their station/ship.
- Bruce Van Atta
- Sondra Yei
- Administrator Chalopin
- George Bannerji
- Ti Gulik
- Dr. Warren Minchenko
Behind the scenes
- The technique used by Leo and the quaddies to refabricate their broken vortex mirror is a real-life technique known as "ice die formation."
- Leo Graf's famous welding lecture was constructed at least in part from recollections of the author's father's conversations and discussions about his work (see 130038.html for some discussion).
- The tale was partly inspired by the works of Nevil Shute.