Discussion Post: Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold





Falling Free is the latest book we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. It’s actually the earliest book to take place chronologically and was published fourth out of all of them. Set about 200 years before the other books in the Vorkosigan universe, Falling Free is about a race of genetically engineered “quaddies” who were designed to function better in freefall than normal humans do.

You can read Katharine’s review of Falling Free here, and Tsana’s review here.


Katharine: Hello everyone! Welcome back, and apologies this discussion is so late. Totally my fault, and totally because I struggled to finish reading this one. I was not a fan.


Tsana: While this is definitely not one of my favourite Bujold books, I didn’t hate Falling Free. There was one aspect I was definitely not a fan of (and that was true the first time I read it as well), but other than that I found it to be an interesting hard science fiction book.


Katharine: We meet Leo Graff, who is being hired on a top-secret project and based out on a self-sufficient space station, to teach welding in space, and how to do it safely. Unfortunately it turns out that his boss is someone he’s run into before, and didn’t exactly give a glowing recommendation for… so even before he begins, he knows he’s up against someone who has a bit of a chip on his shoulder.


Tsana: Well I don’t think the boss knows that Leo hated him, which is why he gets Leo hired… but I’m jumping ahead a little. The interesting thing about this space station is not who’s in charge of it, but the project that is being run out of it. The company that owns the station has genetically engineered a new race of humans that can work and live in microgravity environments much better than normal humans can. Their most visible biological difference? A second set of hands instead of feet.


Katharine: Called quaddies, the oldest are only just at childbearing age, which several of them are now experimenting. Tony and Claire are the first parents, and Tony happens to become quickly Leo’s best student. The quaddies are mostly far too innocent for their own good and are considered property of the company.


Tsana: Yes. And when we say childbearing age, they’re like 15 or 16, not adults. That, and some of the interactions with adults in positions of power over them contributed to a significant squick factor. Is that the main thing you didn’t like about it, Katharine?


Katharine: Can go more into that after we raise the spoiler shield as it’s too hard to discuss without it. But basically… the quaddies exist and Leo is only one of many of their instructors, except we don’t see much of any of the others. We see doctors and the ‘mothers’ who care for the kids, and that’s about it.


Tsana: A lot of the book is a look at what might be thought up as a solution to various problems normal humans face working in space for long periods of time, as well as, er something that I’ve just realised is a major spoiler.


Spoiler shields up!

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Review: Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Published by: Spectrum Literary Agency, Inc.
ISBN: 067157812X
ISBN 13: 9781886778535
Published: 1987
Pages: 320
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Three out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

So while we are pretty much reading in chronological order, we are reading this now as our 15th review/discussion piece, despite the fact it’s set approximately 200 years before Cordelia’s Honor, because the next book in chrono order (Diplomatic Immunity) is set in the same place.

This one took me a long time to read. If I’d been reading just because, rather than for Tsana’s and my project, I probably would have thrown it aside halfway through as I just had no interest in continuing. I started in January sometime, and only just finishing mid-March, and only after a reminder from Tsana. All in all though, I am glad I finished it.

As stated a few lines up, this happens 200 years before the main series and as such, there are no characters we recognise from what we’ve been reading so far. We instead have Leo, who has been hired to teach space welding on a special and top secret project. The reason it’s secret is his students are genetically engineered to survive and thrive perfectly in zero gravity – including the fact they don’t have legs; instead, they have another set of arms and are called quaddies. On this project already is someone Leo ran into several years ago – Van Atta – and they’re already at odds due to a difference in attitude and ability. Only this time Van Atta is the boss, and he’s not about to let Leo forget it.

The quaddies – most of them fairly young, some are only just old enough to procreate – are what you would expect of if raised in total containment and considered property of a company. They’re practically brainwashed and act much younger than one would expect – quite innocent, very naive. They only know of a world where they’re told what to do – not why, no questions, . They certainly have an unbalanced concept of morals as some have been used for sex, and they only think of the good for the whole (well, the company), rather than anything else.

But back to the plot. Leo is there to teach them so they can be ‘the perfect work unit’ for big space projects. Until there is new tech rolled out unexpectedly, which makes the quaddies and their abilities basically outdated before they even got a chance to begin. Leo is told that the project is being scrapped, that any currently pregnant quaddies will be aborted. All quaddies will be rendered infertile. And then they’ll be dumped somewhere with gravity to slowly die. This is seen as a kindness – it’d be much cheaper to simply kill them all and close the project down.

Leo can’t stand for this, of course. This is where I kind of lost interest as some of his interest seemed sex-related – he can’t stand the idea of losing some of them because of how beautiful Silver is, which also seemed to come out of left field. They’re kids, for crying out loud. He’s 40 years old.

Overall the actual plan to save the quaddies is quite good and a fun read, and takes up about half of the book. The ending, however, I could leave. Van Atta was a bit of a simple baddie, and the focus drifted from Claire and Tony and their kid (who were quite interesting) and became more focused on Silver. Who was intelligent and interesting, but other than that… Yeah.

Review: The War of Undoing by Alex Perry

Published by: self-published
ISBN: 1511638591
ISBN 13: 9781311429445
Published: April 2015
Pages: 616
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five

Read for the SPFBO, this is the seventh book I dove into once we had our shortlist of ten. And it was good.

We have three siblings – Miller, Tay and Ellstone – abandoned by their parents and with only each other to keep themselves going. Early on in the book they’re bid to travel for a great cause – which fits perfectly with what Tay has always expected. Born with an oddly shaped birthmark she’s always dreamed of being a chosen one of some sort… and with war brewing, and nothing left for them in the town they’ve grown up in, she jumps at the chance and takes Ellstone with her. Miller stays behind, though there’s no bad blood here – hedging his bets, he stays behind as the one with a job, to save their tiny room and keep earning just in case it all comes to nothing, so they have something to return to.

Up until now it’s been rather intriguing. You have this magical group of people who are persecuted and slowly rising up together as one, and this is who the war will be against. But then we arrive in the town Tay and Ellstone are travelling to and meet the fourth main character… and it becomes noticeable that the two female characters – Tay and Kisli – are really a bit too much alike. (Much like how Miller and Ellstone seem to have the same voice, too…) And that the whole chapter made it hard to suspend disbelief as it makes little to no sense for a man (husband or not) to dismiss the work of a Commander picking their troops (thus undermining their position), and then for the very average fighter to distract a supposed excellent fighter by knocking over some paperwork and then knocking their sword from hand… after seconds of contemplating doing such a thing. Sorry, but war is coming and you have warrior-hopefuls to assess… Who the heck cares about paperwork? I highly doubt Commander Menx would. This chapter pretty well threw me out of the novel and it took a while for me to get back into it. I get that it was trying to use the old ‘if you disarm the leading officer you get permanency trope thing’, but it was delivered fairly poorly… and it also makes little to no sense for someone who apparently ‘hates hurting people’ to manage to use that to then be accepted as a worthy fighter.

Anyway. That aside.

Overall the writing itself is of pretty good quality. There were only two or so typos and a few easily glossed over grammatical errors, and they did not detract from the novel – about the same as you get in a Big Five published novel these days. Overall the novel felt polished in what it was hoping to achieve. (Possibly not so much in the pacing aspect, but for a longish book at 600+ pages it’s still a quick read somehow, so plus points for that.) The worldbuilding was there but not shoved down throats, and it was handy having a character who loved books that helped with a few history lessons, managing to not make it seem or feel at any stage like an info dump.

It’s to the credit of how well written it is that it’s almost easy to forget that some of the characters feel a bit samey – that to write in first person personal makes it doubly hard for the author to make each character’s voice shine through, whilst also keeping quite a grim and serious ‘war is coming’ and ‘here are the chosen ones’ feel a bit light with some dark humour. Each character seems to have the same tone in response to life and bullies in general… but, hey, it’s well done, so it’s possible to get over this issue.

Another part I liked is how it’s also a bit closer to YA than the heft of grim-dark we get in SPFBO, which is refreshing. It takes a fairly cliche-driven path and manages to surprise the reader. And that the issue that Tay especially has at the start is seen to, and we get that seen to in a fairly realistic way – not entirely satisfying, but I couldn’t have imagined that it would be in real life – this isn’t a fairytale after all.

All in all, I enjoyed this one.

Review: Jack Bloodfist by James Jakins

Published by: self-published
ASIN: B015P90ZR8
ISBN: 1516890256
ISBN 13: 9781310522574
Published: October 2015
Pages: 277
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five

As we can see from the cover, Jack Bloodfist is a fixer. This means a multitude of things, but we quickly learn that he acts as a kind of liaison for the local police for the local orcs and goblins, of which he is born from. Their main police officer is Denelle, a dark elf, and while most of the cast can pass themselves off as being mostly human (with a few self-care techniques such as grinding down tusks and things), Jack himself with his green skin doesn’t really have that luxury. Luckily, humans are pretty eager to explain things off for themselves so they don’t have to think too hard.

When we first meet Jack it’s because he has to ID one of his many, many family members. The only problem is he’s a bit busy getting ready to invite in some other new relocatees and set up a trailer for them (also family, of course). Things get both a little easier and a little harder when the UID turns out to be one half of the couple he’s supposed to be welcoming in. …The girl is soon dispatched also, and Jack is thrown around a bit for ‘sins of his father’, which certainly gives both himself and Denelle something to start with.

Throughout Jack is called for various family things, such as an uncle building a bonfire on the top of an apartment building. He constantly walks the line of what his mother’s goblin side, and his father’s orc side demand, which sometimes leaves little time for his own life, such as dating a reporter that has thankfully improved his use of grammar. And even less time when a Paladin comes crashing down on them, seeking revenge for what Jack’s father did oh so long ago, and their reason for coming to hide among the humans in the first place. The first chapter, of this man escaping a top notch prison style place was incredibly engaging, and I’d love to see a short story or two based in that facility alone.

This is urban fantasy, much like Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, with a focus on the lore and how the characters fit together with nods to their history, which adds to the worldbuilding. I haven’t read the full Dresden series, but I feel this one is ever so slightly closer to Rivers of London than that. Told in first person as many urban fantasies are, it works well, with Jack’s voice helping with his characterisation and the world building around it. I especially liked that this wasn’t set in San Fran or New York, etc, which gives it an additional touch of realism showing how magic could be spread throughout various countries.

Overall this was enjoyable. Jack has a good nature where you don’t exactly want to be his friend, or agree with everything he says or does, but he feels pretty constant throughout the novel (which has been something I found other entries to the SPFBO have struggled with.) The only issue I had was with the pacing, which could use some work – both with the interactions of Jack between a few characters which felt rushed and therefore, not as realistic as they could have been (if the character has significant ties to the main character, it should be evident in their page time, too, else there’s little point to them having said ties), as well as the ending. At 277 pages this was a quick, engaging and humourous read. I almost feel with a bit of editing assistance this book could be a little longer to give relevant characters and plot devices the time needed to develop them, and we’d have a very strong book on our hands.

Discussion Post: Winterfair Gifts by Lois McMaster Bujold


Winterfair Gifts is the latest story we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. It follows on after the novel A Civil Campaign and before the novel Diplomatic Immunity. In Winterfair Gifts we get a glimpse of the Vorkosigan household in the lead up to a wedding from the point of view of Roic, a junior Vorkosigan Armsman.

You can read Tsana’s review of Winterfair Gifts here, and Katharine’s review here.


Tsana: Well. I had only vague memories of this one before re-reading. I think I probably just inhaled it on my first read through without stopping to think about it very much.


Katharine: It kept me up so late on a work night. I thought to myself ‘I’ll just get started for now and then hopefully finish it this weekend…’ and zip. Got to 90% past midnight and tore myself away.


Tsana: Lol, you managed NOT to finish it in one go when you got that close? That’s extremely impressive. I read it in one sitting in the middle of a weekend day. I had forgotten why we should care about Roic too, but as the novella quickly reminded me, he was the one that ended up covered in bug butter in A Civil Campaign.


Katharine: I was so tired and stressed about work that I figured I should keep something to look forward to. How old do we think Roic is in this one?


Tsana: He has to be in his 20s, I think? Upper limit of 25 at a guess? Which, on a slight tangent, isn’t it convenient how everyone counts time in Earth units? Even though Barrayar has longer days, I don’t remember them saying anything about different year lengths and hence different ways of calculating ages…


Katharine: It’s a bit sad that’s seemingly been thrown in the ‘too hard’ basket and they don’t care to explore that into something interesting. They could have said age doesn’t matter for that reason and yet they do rely on it for all their Vor quirks.


Tsana: I mean, it makes sense to have a galactic standard, so that part’s fine. But I do wonder about what happened with it in the Time of Isolation. Perhaps we’ll never know… :-( (Although, as someone who has devised a different time system in fiction, it is a pain in the arse to explain and keep track of, so I can understand the reluctance.)


Katharine: Maybe it’s something we can ask if we ever happen to go to the same Worldcon (or other con) as Bujold. So, Roic tells the story from his POV – guests are coming back to Barrayar for another wedding. Presents and messages are arriving for the happy couple and being put on display. And one of the guests just so happens to be Taura.


Tsana: And Elena with husband plus baby in tow. But perhaps this is the moment for the spoiler shields.



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