Saturday, February 26, 2011

Pathfinder, A Review

My roommate and I realized we were near our local Borders and decided to stop in.  We managed to catch the first day of the closing sale. Know how Barnes and Noble and Amazon have those handy ebook readers? Yeah, Borders fell behind on that trend and now they have to close 200 stores nationwide. Our local store happens to be one of those stores, we had no idea it was closing until we decided to stop in. I hadn't been intending to buy anything, but with a storewide sale of 20 to 30% with a fully stocked store how can you resist? I ended up making several selections (What can I say, I'm a bookworm), then came The Line. A one hour line to purchase books that winds through table after table of books, by the time we got in line it went halfway across the store. I did well for the first thirty-five minutes, and then I found Pathfinder and picked it up (hey, it was shiny and I recognized the author name). Every book I have read by Orson Scott Card has been well-told, thought provoking, with likable, relatable characters, and a unique plot. I have especially enjoyed the few fantasy books that he has done. When you read the back of Pathfinder, it reads like a fantasy plot (it's not), so I picked it up and bought it. It took me three days to read, it would have been shorter, but I've been busy with a midterm on the horizon and a paper due.

Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card is rated young adult; this book is no such thing. I'm a junior in college in the sciences with a large vocabulary, and yet I still struggled with parts of the book.  My grounding in evolutionary biology and genetics (read intensive foundations course) was adequate.  College level calc based physics I and II as well as calculus I and II do not nearly cut it. My friends use me as a walking dictionary, and there were words that I do not know and have never seen before.  It would be great if this book did get a teenager into any one of these subjects, but in all honesty I think that they were presented at an inaccessible level for a person with no background in these topics. Just because the protagonist is a teenager does not automatically make the book young adult.

In my experience Orson Scott Card is a wonderful author who really makes me think about society and how humans interact with one another as well as machines. His hallmark book Ender's Game does this wonderfully and everyone should read Ender's Game at least once.  This book was a shoddier version of Ender's Game.  The story was not as deep, the characters as enthralling, nor the danger as compelling.  Part of this is the sheer confusion generated by skipping back and forth between the story of Rigg, the pathfinder, and the story of a spaceship pilot Ram Odin.  Rigg seems to live in a medieval era world with little technology while Ram is piloting a spaceship with only robots for company.  At first there seems to be little connection between the two.  By the end the connection is resolved, but I am saddened by the fact that at the end of the book there is a note from the author explaining the plot. It's like telling a joke, if you have to explain it it isn't funny.  If you have to explain your plot, you didn't write clearly enough.  Ender's only power was his intellect and skill, but in this book everyone gets a super special magical power, only the powers are overly explained through genetics and physics and aren't actually very magical.  The way the story goes Rigg's power is supposed to be the most important, but I have a hard time actually feeling that it is the most important (probably because Rigg acts very coldly and calculatingly throughout the story which makes him, as a protagonist, hard to relate to). Umbo, Rigg's bumbling sidekick, seems to have a much more useful power, or if not entirely useful, at least very interesting (this may just be because Umbo is much more the 'normal kid' and therefore easier to relate to).

This is, unfortunately, the worst book I have ever read by Orson Scott Card. But let me clarify, Orson Scott Card is one of the best sci-fi/fantasy authors out there.  The only author that has compelled me to think more than him is Ursula K. LeGuin. His worst book is still a very good, entertaining book, I just expect more thought-provoking work from him. He did hint that there is to be a sequel to this series, so possibly my dissatisfaction stems from the fact that the story is incomplete and I am still confused.  I will keep reading, and hopefully as the series takes more twists and turn the plot will get better.

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