Book Review: Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card

Last year, I was introduced to Orson Scott Card with Ender’s Game, which I placed on my Top 10 Reads of 2010 list. I read one of its sequels soon after, and I plan to continue the series when I get a chance. His Ender books are accessible for teens, though they’re not specifically written for that age group. When I heard that Card decided to write a book specifically for teens, I was intrigued. So a friend of mine and I decided to read Pathfinder together.

I gave it 4 out of 5 stars. Here’s why.

It’s an interesting premise right out of the gate. Rigg can see the path of every living thing on Garden, his planet. Every movement by every living thing (humans, animals, insects, plants) throughout the history of the world leaves a path (think the light bikes on Tron), invisible to everyone but Rigg. Umbo can slow down time. Together, they discover that they have the ability to travel back in time to change things.

They meet just after Rigg’s father dies, leaving Rigg with a sackful of gemstones and directions to find a sister he never knew he had in a far off city. He and Umbo meet up under deadly circumstances and find out about each other’s abilities, discovering that they can work together to change the past to affect the future.

Along with this ability comes the best part of the book: an introduction to borderline Hard Science Fiction for teens. Rigg and Umbo (and eventually Loaf, another friend they meet along the way) extensively discuss the ramifications of any temporal meddling; this forces the reader to contemplate the same issues throughout the entire novel. As an avid fan of Doctor Who, Star Trek, Back to the Future, and countless other science fiction texts, I’ve thought about such things often. However, this is a brilliant introduction to such considerations, and Card handles it brilliantly.

At the beginning of each chapter is a new piece of a subplot, one which takes a very long time to make its connection to the main plot known. It took me awhile to appreciate this story, but it deals with not only time travel, but space travel–faster than light flight, to be exact. Card handles this just as adroitly as the time travel in the main story, and as I’ve come to expect from reading the Ender books, have a great take on such theoretical ideas. Again, he introduces these concepts in short snippets, discussing them in great, relatable detail. The way the stories come together is really solid.

Aside from the great, detailed science fiction techno-discussion, Card creates a lush world, split into nineteen “wall-folds,” each cordoned off by invisible walls. There is a decent mystery, some tragedy, some great explorations of logical deduction and rhetoric–both things I love–and a conspiracy. I will absolutely read the next book in the series.

Now, the reason I deducted a major point: the fart jokes.

Seriously. I know why they’re there. I feel as though now that Card is officially writing for teens, he felt he needed to add juvenile humor.

“Make sure you fart frequently, too,” Rigg suggested. “Then I can track you with my nose.”

…and others.

Eventually, it stops. But the contrast between high discussions of the mechanics of time and space travel and fart jokes is a bit too stark for my blood. My main consolation is that, for the next book, the characters (seem to) have matured beyond that.

Other than that, I absolutely loved the book. It is a brilliant, deft introduction to hard science fiction. I will recommend it to teens, both at my library and my students, and I hope that it spurs on an interest in more difficult science fiction.


2 thoughts on “Book Review: Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card

  1. Wow. I would have thrown the book when I read that quote you posted.

    I do look forward to reading the rest of the Ender series!


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