On the 19th April Manchester Science Fiction book club met at Madlab to discuss the Nebula Award winning book Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold.
Paperback or e-Book?
Falling Free is available as a free pdf download, so the discussion kicked off with our thoughts on whether we prefer the traditional paperback or the hi-tech e-book! Some people found the e-book difficult to read since there were formatting errors, e.g. single ‘L’ instead of double ‘L’. Other than it seemed to be down to personal preference. So we quickly moved to the book itself…
Is Falling Free Dated?
Written in 1988, Falling Free is not current and neither can it be described as an old classic. It was mainly the social attitudes and hero Leo Graf‘s speech that brought about accusations of it being dated. However it was felt that the book was a trend setter at the time that it was published.
The Science and Social Commentary of Falling Free
The main aspect of the science was the creation of genetically engineered beings, which nobody seemed to think was unreasonable. What we did consider implausible was the way in which the quaddies were brought up as children and put on a reproduction programme but that they did not seem to wish to investigate sex. However it was proposed that such impulses could have been genetically engineered out.
Bad guy Van Atta takes advantage of Silver, one of the female quaddies, which is one part of the book which brings up the theme of slavery. It was suggested that since the Cay Project was kept secret from the rest of the Falling Free world, society would not like the idea of the quaddies being slaves even though they would not be comfortable with them being bio-engineered people.
Good science fiction should be comfortably functional, with an equal balance of science and social commentary.
Other science fiction features included space travel and wormholes. We speculated about the extent to which wormholes had previously featured in sci-fi at the time Falling Free was written. It was noted that there was a distinct lack of computers, which is a little surprising given that the PC was in use at the time the book was published.
A considerable portion of the book was given over to recreating an accidentally broken mirror that is necessary for their escape through the wormhole. This section was considered unnecessarily long was technically dubious.
Clever Comments on Corporations
It takes 20 – 30 years for the Cay Project to develop the Quaddies, by which time an corporation has developed any anti-gravity device. The science of this device is not described, however, it renders the quaddies obsolete before they have even been put to use. If the corporation, GalacTech had its way, the quaddies were to be “forgotten to death”. Constitutionalised on a planet in a far flung part of the galaxy, successive administrators would know progressively less about them, cutting their budget until they at last the quaddies had insufficient funds to communicate that they were dying and needed medical assistance.
We also noted that the irony of the word downsiders, those beings with legs who came from the planet below the space station. The the quaddies looked up to them, initially unaware of the down side of their behaviour.
What! No Robots?
We wondered why go to the trouble of bio-engineering people to work effectively in zero-gravity when, as every scifi fan knows, robots could get the job done easily. Possible answers aired were that the quaddies had the advantage that they could self-replicate, could think for themselves and through their education an up bringing, they could be easily managed.
You’re Winding Me Up!
Parallels were drawn with The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, which we read last year. Although the science in Falling Free was considered to be more plausible that in The Wind Up Girl, Falling Free did not cover the ethical discussions about bio-engineering of people so well.
Post Discussion Tweets
In the few days following the meeting we had a Twitter Pole in which we invited tweeps to let us know if Falling Free was good or bad. Good or bad. A total of 100% of voters concluded that Falling Free was bad. Hopefully we’ll get more than 1 vote next time!
What Do You Think?
If you were unable to come to the discussion its not to late to take part! Do you agree or disagree with any or all of the points raised above? Perhaps you would like to add something that was not covered? Please leave a comment below and let us know what you think!
Manchester Sci-Fi Book Club Contacts
Keep up to date with Manchester Sci-Fi book club posts at Madlab:
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Next Sci-Fi Book:
We’ll be meeting on 17th May 7 – 9 pm to discuss Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick. Advocated by Sarah-Claire Conlon.
Sci-Fi Books for following months are:
The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem advocate Naomi Jacobs
Snow Crash by Neil Stevenson advocate Simon Carter
Anvil of the Stars by Greg Bear