Friday, November 11, 2011

Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card

So, this is my first Orson Scott Card. I know, I need to read Ender's Game. I will eventually. But this book sounded cooler. It involves time travel, and that is always cooler than the competition. 

Pathfinder is actually two stories. The main story follows Rigg, a thirteen year old boy on a planet that seems to be Earth, but has very different government, societies, and religious stories than the Earth we know. Rigg has a unique ability to see the "paths" that others have made. He is the only one he knows who has this ability. When his father is in an accident in the woods, his last words to Rigg before he dies are to instruct him to find his sister. This takes Rigg by surprise since he didn't even know he had a sister.

So Rigg goes off on a quest, picking up a few interesting characters who tag along with him. One of these characters is another boy who has his own special ability. Turns out, his power and Rigg's power work together to allow them to time travel. This comes in handy on their journey, but it must be used carefully since it can also get them in serious trouble.

A lot of the book is fairly standard quest material. Rigg and his crew run into a few bad guys, get captured by soldiers, are robbed, get in fights, have to steal things, and get caught up in royal politics. Along the way, there's serious foreshadowing that there is much more to Rigg's story than just this quest, and of course there is. Which brings me to the second story in the novel.

Each chapter in Pathfinder begins with a few pages about another young man named Ram. Ram is on a space ship on its way to another planet. He is the pilot/commander and the only human awake - the rest are in artificial sleep, and the ship is run by androids called expendables. A lot of these sections are conversations between Ram and an expendable. You'd think that nothing but talk would get a little old, but these sections were by far my favorite of the book. Perceptive readers will figure out how Rigg's and Ram's stories fit together early on, but they'll keep reading to discover the details. I actually found Ram's story more compelling than Rigg's. (I fully admit that this is due in part to the fact that the man who narrated Ram's story had a much more pleasing voice than the one who narrated Rigg's.)

A lot of Pathfinder seems like fantasy initially, but Card has a scientific explanation for everything. Whether these scientific explanations are actually plausible is debatable, but they make for a fascinating read. It's also part of the book's downfall. Pathfinder is explanation-heavy. Don't get me wrong, I like to understand the details of the world the author has created, and science without explanation is just frustrating, but Card takes it a bit far. Every time Rigg time-travels, there is a long explanation of how it works. And the explanations aren't really different at each instance. It becomes repetitive, and it's certainly unnecessary.

It's not just the science that gets tedious. Whenever Rigg attempts to manipulate another character, the narrator goes on to tell the reader exactly how he's doing it and why it works. I suppose what I mean here is that there's plenty of showing, but then there's a lot of telling too. Really, the showing was enough for the reader to understand what's going on. Since I listened to the book on audio, these parts definitely dragged.

Pathfinder is a pretty unique book. Card uses some standard tropes, but he throws in plenty that I haven't read about before anywhere.  It's also smart. Despite the over-explaining, it doesn't talk down to its readers. There's a lot of complex science and multiple story threads that must be weaved together by the reader (or listener). It's refreshing to read a story about a thirteen year old, written for kids/young adults, that is this smart. I would have dug it a lot as a teen. (I liked it a lot as an adult too.)

Audiobook borrowed from my local library.


  1. I so need to read an Orson Scott Card! Someone suggested this one over Ender's Game so maybe I should give it a shot

  2. Ooh, I'd been wondering about this one for a while. I'll have to add it to the list! Great review.

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