“What can one man do?” That is the question at the heart of this novel. It is the first novel by Lois McMaster Bujold and was first published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact from December 1987 to February 1988. That’s where I first read it and became an instant fan. It came out as a book in 1988 and promptly won the Nebula for Best Novel of 1988.
I just reread it and yes, it’s still that good. Although it introduces the universe that Miles Vorkosigan will be born into a century or two later, it is being forgotten while the later novels continue popular. Ms. Bujold has created several more worlds all expressed as popular series and all very good but Falling Free remains, in many ways, my favorite.
It is so rare to find any work of literature that both creates an exciting story and weaves very serious issues and moral decisions into the fabric of the story. There is no preaching. There is simply one man, Leo Graf, who is suddenly thrown into a terrible situation.
He is an engineer sent to teach advanced space engineering techniques in a remote part of the galaxy. He is stunned to find that he is teaching a new race that has been artificially created to thrive without gravity. He sees the ugly implications at once that they are slaves to the corporation that created them to work in space. Things rapidly get worse and worse and he sees that they are doomed. If they prove to not be useful to the corporation, they will be abandoned and/or imprisoned.
The worst of it for Leo is that he is not involved and he doesn’t have to do anything. He can complete his assignment and leave. Leo is simply a highly competent engineer who never asked to be a leader or a hero. He is totally honest. He knows what will happen after he leaves.
The rest of the story is Leo working out a solution. It would be a spoiler to give it away but it makes for a very exciting, tension filled final third of the novel. Highly recommended even after all these years. ~~ Marian Powell