Fantasy, Science Fiction


Sometimes Orson Scott Card writes books that make my brain hurt.  He thoroughly researches the science he uses in his books and even though, more often than not, he turns that science into science fiction, it’s still mostly over my head.  For instance, there is no such thing as instantaneous space travel in his sci-fi books.  The plot usually adheres to the rules of travel not exceeding or matching lightspeed, even though his books are thoroughly fictional in every other aspect.  People populating other planets and alien races that are capable of human speech?  Oh yeah.  Faster than light travel?  No way, Jose.  Gotta draw a line somewhere, I guess.

Pathfinder, Card’s newest book, falls into this category of plausible/implausible that Card always dallies in.  It’s an interesting book also because it’s marketed as a Young Adult novel.  As far as I could tell, he made no concessions for younger readers.  It was a hefty book that reminded me a lot of Ender’s Game, the book for which Card is most famous.  Precocious kids who are years beyond their peers in intelligence and abilities are called upon to perform amazing feats.  Yep, that’s Ender’s Game.  What’s different is that Pathfinder also straddles the sci-fi and fantasy genres.  There are two story lines going as the reader follows Rigg, a teenage boy who has lived his entire life in the forest with his father with occasional forays into small villages to sell furs, and Ram Odin, a captain of a spaceship about to embark on an interstellar journey to find a new home for immigrants from Earth.  Rigg and his travels feel very much like a fantasy novel, especially since his ability to see people’s paths comes across like magic, the hallmark of fantasy.  Ram’s storyline is unmistakably sci-fi.  How those stories collide becomes more apparent as the book goes on, but at the beginning, I was like “whuh?”

The book starts with Rigg’s father’s death in the woods.  He gives his son instructions to find the woman who runs the inn in a nearby village who will tell him about his sister and mother.  This is a surprise to him, since he never knew about any family but his father.  His upbringing is unusual since he never lived in a city, but his father has taught him all about science, politics, logic and math, but very little history.  He enters the world vastly under-prepared in some ways but highly accelerated in others.  When he is run out of town after being blamed for the death of a young boy, Rigg knows where he’s supposed to go but not quite sure how it’ll work out.  He’s kind of ignorant in his super smart way.

Phew, I’m just scratching the surface here.  Rigg can see the paths of any person or creature.  Even the paths of people who have gone on ages before.  Rigg picks up a friend along the way, Umbo, who also has the special ability of slowing down time around Rigg.  Between the two of them, they can encounter people and things in the past.  This is where it gets confusing and at one point, as Rigg is figuring out his own and his sister’s abilities, it completely lost me.  It was like I was back in Physics in college, feeling like the dumbest person in the room.  Card has a very logical-sounding explanation for how time travel works and the mechanics of Rigg’s and Umbo’s abilities, but darnit if I can’t repeat it back to you.

If Card’s books can be defined by anything, it’s dialog.  His characters are super talky.  They figure stuff out, the plot moves forward, all the action happens with lots and lots of talking.  I like it, but if you’re not used to it, it might be hard.  I thought that there was just a little bit of a lull while Rigg figures out stuff with the time travel while he is at his mother’s home, but other than that, things move along at a fairly good clip.  Card introduces some great characters, like husband and wife, Loaf and Leaky.  Loved them.  In general, I liked the book.  It just made me feel kinda dumb.

This is the first in a trilogy, each book to come out a year apart.  I’m excited to see where Card takes the story and I’ll definitely be reading the other two.  Maybe I’ll be able to wrap my head around some of the concepts, but I’m not getting my hopes up.  The best I can hope for is to not say “duh, whuh?” too many times as I read it.


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