For some time I’ve known that Lois McMaster Bujold is one of best of the contemporary science fiction writers. She’s won the Hugo Award five times and the Nebula three times. Somehow, though, I’ve managed not to read any of her work until now. I guess my rationalization is that she’s primarily known as a fantasy writer. I can’t relate to fantasy. But the Vorkosigan Saga is definitely science fiction. And to judge from the first book in this long-running sci-fi series, it’s great stuff. There are 15 other novels that follow, and Bujold may not be finished yet.
The principal character after whom the sci-fi series is named, Miles Vorkosigan, doesn’t even surface in Falling Free. Instead, we’re treated to the saga’s backstory. The tale begins 1,000 years in the future, when the human race has spread to the stars. Interstellar travel is now possible through the discovery of wormholes, which permit faster-than-light travel for specially equipped starships. However, no other intelligent species has yet been discovered on any of the countless worlds explored by humans.
Falling Free (Vorkosigan Saga #1) by Lois McMaster Bujold @@@@@ (5 out of 5)
Launching an outstanding sci-fi series
In Falling Free, veteran engineer Leo Graf has been assigned to an off-planet Habitat orbiting the planet Rodeo. Upon arrival, he learns he’ll be working for an unloved former student, Bruce Van Atta. Van Atta is now the manager of the Habitat, a project of the GalacTec corporation. This top-secret facility houses the Cay Project, a bioengineering venture which has created a new human species. The most visible difference between homo sapiens and the 1,000 new people in the Habitat is that they have two extra arms instead of legs. This permits them to move with greater ease in the zero-gravity environment of the orbital habitat. Thus the novel’s title, Falling Free. They are also much less affected by living in low-gravity environments, a problem that causes homo sapiens to require repeated stretches of recuperation on planets with significantly higher gravity.
Leo’s assignment is to teach welding to a team of the so-called “quaddies,” the eldest of whom are 19. Large numbers are five or six years old. Eventually, Leo’s charges will be assigned to construction projects throughout inhabited space. The novel relates Leo’s growing admiration for the new race—and the conflict that soon breaks out between Leo and his former student.
Lois McMaster Bujold is supremely talented. Falling Free demonstrates her mastery of all four elements of successful science fiction: plotting, suspense, character development, and scenario-building. This book is an example of science fiction at its best. It’s easy to see why the author won so many awards. And it bodes very well for subsequent books in this widely acclaimed sci-fi series.
For further reading
You’ll find all the books in the Vorkosigan Saga at The pleasures of reading the complete Vorkosigan Saga.
For more good reading, check out:
- The ultimate guide to the all-time best science fiction novels;
- Great sci-fi novels reviewed: my top 10 (plus dozens of runners-up); and
- The top 10 dystopian novels reviewed here (plus dozens of others).
You might also check out Top 10 great popular novels reviewed on this site.
And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, plus a guide to this whole site, on the Home Page.