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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Falling Free, by Lois McMaster Bujold

I recently read Falling Free, by Lois McMaster Bujold. The book, published in 1988 (Riverdale, NY: Baen) is part of the Vorkosigan saga. Miles Vorkosigan, the main character in that series, does not appear until about two centuries after the events in this book.

I last posted on this saga here. The saga is space opera, an often superficial type of fiction, but Bujold works in important ethical and moral issues. At least one character in the saga is a Christian.

In Falling Free (Riverdale, NY: Baen, 1988), Bujold explains the origin of the quaddies, intelligent, capable humans with four arms, two of them replacing their legs, and some less obvious differences from normal humans, deliberately bred by GalacTech, so as to work in low or zero gravity. The plan is to use them as temporary labor, with GalacTech getting the pay for their work. (There are a few quaddie characters in subsequent books.) Leo Graf, an engineer, is sent to the Habitat, where they live, and discovers that they are not paid in any way (although they do have a place to stay, and food), that they are taught a distorted view of history, and that they are considered the property of the company that developed them, at least by the company. They are also told who to breed with, as parts of a breeding program, and who to breed with may be different for each child. Their babies may be taken from them, to be raised by normal human cartakers. All this is in the interest of quickly establishing a large breeding population.

There are characters in the book who believe that the production of the quaddies in the first place is a moral monstrosity. Graf, and some others, believe that their subsequent treatment is the moral monstrosity.

There is a sudden development -- scientists from Beta, a scientifically advanced civilization, have produced a new gravity-making device, which makes the quaddies obsolete. GalacTech decides to move the quaddies to a gravity world, and let them fend for themselves, or just kill them all.

Van Atta stopped abruptly, and backed up two screens on his vid. What had that said again?
Item: Post-fetal experimental tissue cultures. Quantity: 1000. Disposition: cremation by IGS Standard Biolab Rules. (293) Thus, some faceless person in GalacTech's General Accounting & Inventory Control has declared the quaddies, who are sentient, intelligent, moral agents, and biologically human, no more than "tissue cultures."

Graf decides to lead a quaddie escape to an asteroid belt. He has a little help from a man who has been doctor to the quaddies for many years, and a jump pilot helps them escape, because they are giving him the jump ship that they have taken. But the initiative is Graf's:

"This isn't crime. This is -- war, or something. Crime is turning your back and walking away."
"Not by any legal code I know of."
"All right then; sin."
"Oh, brother." Ti rolled his eyes. "Now it comes out. You're on a mission from God, right? Let me off at the next stop, please."
God's not here. Somebody's got to fill in. (161.) Leo thinks the last line, and he has, indeed, filled in for God, righting a monstrous wrong. Ti is going to be the pilot. Graf, like some other Bujold characters, is acting for a deity, doing God's work. He doesn't realize it, though.

The quaddies, since they have been oppressed, feel morally superior. This is a mistake, as one of them finds out. Silver felt that she had to use a weapon on an uncooperative jump pilot, or the quaddie escape wouldn't succeed. (She didn't kill him.) Her thoughts:
Was this the pleasure in power Van Atta felt, when everyone gave way before him? It was obvious what firing the weapon had done to the defiant pilot; what had it done to her? . . . So. Quaddies were no different than downsiders after all. Any evil they could do, quaddies could do too. If they chose. (199)

Bujold writes good books, well-written, and exciting, and she puts in moral and ethical, even sometimes religious questions.

Thanks for reading.

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