Bujold’s novel makes use of a number of traditional science-fiction elements, particularly the idea that expansion from Earth and colonization of planets will be possible, based on a faster-than-light (FTL) technology, with large Earth-based corporations as well as nation-states competing against one another. This galactic future has been the subject of American science fiction since the early work of Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke.
With such expansion into a frontierlike area, the question of exploitation of humans arises. Bujold’s novels are not set in a centrally controlled “galactic empire.” Instead, a number of developing colonies compete for access to wormholes and trade. Falling Free, winner of the 1988 Nebula Award, is the fourth novel Bujold published but takes place two hundred years earlier than the majority of her other science-fiction novels, many of which involve the Vorkosigan family.
Bujold does not include alien species in her novels as antagonists to humans. Instead, with her use of genetic engineering and the development of the uterine replicator, an artificial womb, she presents the question of whether bioengineered humans or mutants are seen as truly human. The quaddies introduced in Falling Free are one such new type of humans.
The major theme of the novel is the ethics of genetic engineering, a topic introduced in an essay by J. B. S. Haldane titled “Daedalus, Or Science...
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