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Falling Free (Miles Vorkosigan Adventures) Mass Market Paperback – January 29, 2008
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From the Author
The Vorkosigan Saga Reading Order Debate: The Chef Recommends
Many pixels have been expended debating the 'best' order in which to read what have come to be known as the Vorkosigan Books, the Vorkosiverse, the Miles books, and other names, since I neglected to supply the series with a label myself. The debate now wrestles with some fourteen or so volumes and counting, and mainly revolves around publication order versus internal-chronological order. I favor internal chronological, with a few caveats.
I have always resisted numbering my volumes; partly because, in the early days, I thought the books were distinct enough; latterly because if I ever decided to drop in a prequel somewhere (which in fact I did most lately with Captain Vorpatril's Alliance) it would upwhack the numbering system. Nevertheless, the books and stories do have a chronological order, if not a strict one.
It was always my intention to write each book as a stand-alone so that the reader could theoretically jump in anywhere, yes, with that book that's in your hand right now, don't put it back on the shelf! While still somewhat true, as the series developed it acquired a number of sub-arcs, closely related tales that were richer for each other. I will list the sub-arcs, and then the books, and then the caveats.
Shards of Honor and Barrayar. The first two books in the series proper, they detail the adventures of Cordelia Naismith of Beta Colony and Aral Vorkosigan of Barrayar. Shards was my very first novel ever; Barrayar was actually my eighth, but continues the tale the next day after the end of Shards. For readers who want to be sure of beginning at the beginning, or who are very spoiler-sensitive, start with these two.
The Warrior's Apprentice and The Vor Game (with, perhaps, the novella "The Mountains of Mourning" tucked in between.) The Warrior's Apprentice introduces the character who became the series' linchpin, Miles Vorkosigan; the first book tells how he created a space mercenary fleet by accident; the second how he fixed his mistakes from the first round. Space opera and military-esque adventure (and a number of other things one can best discover for oneself), The Warrior's Apprentice makes another good place to jump into the series for readers who prefer a young male protagonist.
After that: Brothers in Arms should be read before Mirror Dance, and both, ideally, before Memory.
Komarr makes another good alternate entry point for the series, picking up Miles's second career at its start. It should be read before A Civil Campaign.
Borders of Infinity, a collection of three of the five currently extant novellas, makes a good Miles Vorkosigan early-adventure sampler platter, I always thought, for readers who don't want to commit themselves to length. (But it may make more sense if read after The Warrior's Apprentice.) Take care not to confuse the collection-as-a-whole with its title story, "The Borders of Infinity".
Falling Free takes place 200 years earlier in the timeline and does not share settings or characters with the main body of the series. Most readers recommend picking up this story later. It should likely be read before Diplomatic Immunity, however, which revisits the "quaddies", a bioengineered race of free fall dwellers, in Miles's time.
The novels in the internal-chronological list below appear in italics; the novellas (officially defined as a story between 17,500 words and 40,000 words, though mine usually run 20k - 30k words) in quote marks.
Shards of Honor
The Warrior's Apprentice
"The Mountains of Mourning"
The Vor Game
Ethan of Athos
Borders of Infinity
"The Borders of Infinity"
Brothers in Arms
A Civil Campaign
Captain Vorpatril's Alliance (upcoming in late 2012)
The novella "Weatherman" is an out-take from the beginning of the novel The Vor Game. If you already have The Vor Game, you likely don't need this.
The original 'novel' Borders of Infinity was a fix-up collection containing the three novellas "The Mountains of Mourning", "Labyrinth", and "The Borders of Infinity", together with a frame story to tie the pieces together. Again, beware duplication. The frame story does not stand alone, and generally is of interest only to completists.
The Fantasy Novels
My fantasy novels are a bit easier to order. Easiest of all is The Spirit Ring, which is a stand-alone, or aquel, as some wag once dubbed books that for some obscure reason failed to spawn a subsequent series. Next easiest are the four volumes of The Sharing Knife--in order, Beguilement, Legacy, Passage, and Horizon--which I broke down and actually numbered, as this was one continuous tale divided into non-wrist-breaking chunks.
What have come to be called the Chalion books, after the setting of its first two volumes, were also written, like the Vorkosigan books, to be stand-alones as part of a larger whole, and can in theory be read in any order. (The third book actually takes place a few hundred years prior to the more closely connected first two.) Some readers think the world-building is easier to assimilate when the books are read in publication order, and the second volume certainly contains spoilers for the first (but not the third.) In any case, the publication order is:
The Curse of Chalion
Paladin of Souls
The Hallowed Hunt
-- Lois McMaster Bujold.
About the Author
Lois McMaster Bujold is one of the most honored writers in the fields of science fiction and fantasy and has won six Hugo Awards and two Nebula Awards, including a Nebula Award for Falling Free, included in Miles and Metallurgy. She immediately attracted attention with her first novel, Shards of Honor, which began her popular Vorkosigan series, and quickly followed it up with The Warrior’s Apprentice, which introduced young Miles Vorkosigan, one of the most popular characters ever in science fiction. Her recent fantasy series for Harper-Collins has been a top seller, and its second entry, Paladin of Souls, took home her latest Hugo Award. The mother of two, Ms. Bujold lives in Minneapolis, MN.
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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.
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.
The quaddies are not human in the eyes of their creators, they are “post-fetal experimental tissue cultures”, raised in a controlled environment and taught not only space construction but also how to maintain a largely self-sustaining environment in their orbiting home. Though many of the quaddies are technically adults, their carefully structured upbringing gives them the attitude and dependency of children.
The quaddies are a profitable commodity, their bodies engineered so that they do not need time off in gravity as humans do in order to maintain their health. As “property” of GalacTech they are unpaid labor, dependent on their creators for their every need. Leo Graf is a welding engineer, brought to Cay Habitat to teach a select group of quaddies how to build reliable, stable structures in space.
Though only in his 40′s, Graf feels like an old man compared to the eager young quaddies who attentively hang on his every word and whose ability to function in a no-gravity environment is far superior to his own. From his arrival, Graf is set on edge by the attitudes that project manager Bruce Van Atta and psychologist Dr. Sondra Yei demonstrate towards the quaddies and the more he gets to know them the more their condition grates on his sense of what is right and wrong.
Leo Graf can teach these young people how to do quality work that will last a lifetime, but can he teach one thousand quaddies, one thousand children, what it means to be free?
Leo Graf is based on Bujold’s father, Robert Charles McMaster, a Professor of welding engineering and the pioneer of the nondestructive technique. Falling Free won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1998.
Falling Free touches on relevant social and biomedical topics while creating an instant emotional bond with readers through Leo Graf and a few all-too-human quaddies. Though the story occasionally feels rushed and might have benefited from another 50-100 pages to flesh out story threads (it weighs in at 255 pages in the version I read) it stands as a shining example of why Lois McMaster Bujold has developed such a devoted following. I highly recommend the book.
Falling Free will get your dander up, a calculated move on Bujold’s part to make the reader sympathetic to the quaddies plight right from the opening chapter. The first time Bruce Van Atta calls the quaddies “chimps”, you ache for the magical ability to step into the book so that you can land a punch squarely on his smug jaw. The story isn’t meant to be subtle, a move that may have been dictated in part because Bujold wrote it to be published serially in Analog magazine, also as a tribute to her father who was a fan of that Astounding-style hard SF. It is clear from the beginning that this story will be about not only what it means to be human but also will address freedoms and rights and fairness and equality.
It is a measure of great praise that Falling Free never feels preachy or so focused on social issues that it takes away from the story. Instead Lois McMaster Bujold lays her cards on the table early and then gets down to the business of telling an emotionally engaging, action-packed story that not only offers imaginative science fictional ideas but gives the reader a few well-rounded characters to root for. On the surface a few of the early-identified ‘bad guys’ are one-dimensional, but Bujold also plays with that in ways that will surprise the reader. For certain she gives you a character to despise, but she also creates characters with genuine reactions who must wrestle with moral and ethical implications, particularly in the character of Leo Graf.
While I would recommend this story to anyone, it must be pointed out that on a couple of occasions the welding conversations get quite technical. It is apparent that Bujold did her research and aimed to do her father proud. However, those scenes fall short of being plot-stoppers in large part because of the way in which Bujold sets the scene. It is difficult to become too lost with the welding and engineering references when you are imagining a room full of quaddies hovering (literally) in an attentive fashion around their teacher, Leo Graf.
Graf is a great character for the reader to inhabit and quaddies like Tony and Claire, their infant Andy, and Silver (pictured in Dave Seely’s cover image) will steal your heart. You will start rooting for them early and won’t stop until the exciting finish. I was tempted at one point late in the book to let out a cheerful “whoop”!
I mentioned in the opening that I wish the story had been somewhat longer. There are a few scenes in the story that feel rushed, and one that happens off-screen and then is related in dialogue, that if fleshed out would have easily made this a 10/10 story. From an experiential standpoint, that is exactly what Falling Free was for me. I can overlook that minor complaint because I liked these characters so much and found the story to have just the right amount of excitement and romance to keep me up until the wee hours of the morning to discover how it would all end. Falling Free comes highly recommended.
If you have yet to try Bujold, this is a great starting off point. In researching to write this post I was excited to discover that we learn more about the fate of the quaddies in the Miles story Diplomatic Immunity.
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excellent reads.Read more
Hmmm... I thought this was the first book in the series, not the forth?!Read more