Required Reading: Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold

This was originally posted back on Domestic Chaos. I’ve chosen to include it on this blog for some reason or another. You can read more about the loss of Domestic Chaos here.

One of the reasons I’ve been a flaky blogger lately is because, on top of writing, I’ve been reading (and rereading) a lot of novels. I figured — what the hell, let’s blog about that.

That Andy and I are fans of Bujold’s Vorkosiverse novels is no secret. They made me realize what a brilliant medium science fiction is, and they just — ugh. Right in the feels, every single time. I think the only book I haven’t read more than once is Cetaganda, and that’s because we don’t own a copy. (I know we used to, but I have no idea where it ran off to.) Every single paperback we have is just fucking wrecked. Pages are dog-eared and water-damaged1; covers are ripped and bent; our copy of Memory has broken binding. Between the two of us, we’ve read these books to death.

Okay, so I’ve made my point. I’m telling you, go forth and read Lois McMaster Bujold’s sci-fi. But personally, one of my very favorites is Falling Free. The Amazon page sums up the story better than I will:

Leo Graf was an effective engineer …Safety Regs weren’t just the rule book he swore by; he’d helped write them. All that changed on his assignment to the Cay Habitat. Leo was profoundly uneasy with the corporation exploitation of his bright new students – till that exploitation turned to something much worse. He hadn’t anticipated a situation where the right thing to do was neither safe, nor in the rules…Leo Graf adopted 1000 quaddies – now all he had to do was teach them to be free.

It’s such a gorgeous story; I’ve barreled through the first half of the novel in this afternoon, and I’ve forgotten how compelling it is. Leo Graf is my favorite type of hero: just a guy who happens to be an extraordinary situation with no guidebook. And the evolution of the quaddies (especially after reading the later stories where they play major roles) is heartwrenching and enthralling. The oldest quaddies are 20, and a handful are reproducing at the opening the story. It’s a fascinating story of the birth of a species.

As with all of Bujold’s work, there’s the underlying themes of what makes a family. One of the main characters, a quaddie mother named Claire, has a son under a year old. When I read the book the first time, it was before my son was born; I had the baby rabies, but I was not a mother. I read it again after my son was born, and this quote jumped out at me (so much so that I fangirled about it all over the Best for Babes page in 2010):

In ten minutes she would wake him, & they would exchange services; he relieving her tingling breasts, the milk relieving his hungry tummy – moms need their babes, she thought sleepily, as much as babes need moms, an interlocking design, two individuals sharing one biological system…

The characters are bold even through the inexperience, determined to be agents of their own destiny even when they’re utterly terrified. Reading about how they go forth and push themselves to the limit, beyond reason, is amazing.

I could probably babble longer, and make even less sense, but seriously. If you’re in the mood for a sci-fi exodus story and love some beautifully crafted character development, this is the book you need to go read right now.


  1. I dog-ear and have been rereading the books by the pool all summer; my husband also leaves books in the bathroom. I like to say we’re equally responsible for loving our books too hard.
  2. It is very surreal and inspiring to me, to know that while my 20-year-old mother was carting me around in her uterus, this book was being born from the writer. Books are amazing.
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