Phew, Pathfinder gave my brain a real workout! I feel like I’ve been working on a brainteaser for hours and hours, and I just want to say that this is definitely not your typical sci-fi time travel book! This is my first Card novel, and I don’t know if this is his typical writing style, but it took me a while to get used to the seemingly apathetic characters and the choppy pace. Pathfinder is unique in that the actual sci-fi aspects are very paradoxical, to the point where I had to reread the text to get it. But once I threw myself into the story, it was like that moment in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy opens the door and steps into the technicolor world of Oz, complete with the chorus of angels sound effects; the characters came to life, and the story just made sense to me. I gave Pathfinder my undivided attention – otherwise, I think I wouldn’t have liked it as much as I did.
Thirteen-year-old Rigg has the power to see the path of any living being in the past or the present, and has been taught a whole slew of subjects by his father, including politics, astronomy, finance, and different languages… all things that Rigg didn’t forsee as being useful, seeing as how him and his father live as fur trappers in the woods. But when his father dies after instructing him to go find Rigg’s sister (whom Rigg had no idea existed), Rigg finds himself as a political pawn – targeted or protected by people who want power – and increasingly drawn to the Wall that surrounds the land and hides what’s beyond civilization. In his quest to stay alive and find his sister, Rigg makes friends who have their own different abilities of manipulating time, and his own powers continue to grow.
In another time and space, Ram Odin is a starship pilot flying a ship full of sleeping humans and non-human, robotic expendables in an attempt to colonize a new planet. Rigg and Ram’s paths never intersect, but their discoveries lead to insights about the planet that Rigg is on and the truth behind the Walls.
Truth be told, I didn’t like the characters nor the storyline when I first started reading Pathfinder. Card’s characters are only depicted through their actions and speech, since they don’t introspect or express much emotion; nor are descriptions about their physical appearance given. Rigg and other characters “say” things a lot, but they seldom “exclaim”, “mutter”, or “sigh”, so it was hard to gauge what characters are feeling with every action or conversation. However, the conversations add up, and I knew more about each character’s personality as the story progressed. My favorite character is Rigg, whose many talents amaze me to no end; and by the end of Pathfinder, I grew to like all the characters, good and bad. But like I said at the beginning, Card’s writing style took some time to get used to.
The storyline was confusing at first, since the chapters alternate between Rigg and Ram’s stories, and I didn’t know how the two stories were related to each other for most of the book. But the two stories slowly converged, and I had more “a-ha!” moments as the end of the book approached even though the two stories never converged to one single point. (That’s what the sequel is for, right?) There was A LOT of dialogue in Pathfinder, and the pacing remained short and choppy for the most part. I needed to really get absorbed by the book to keep up with the quick, witty conversations, and when I wasn’t as focused, I had to reread certain lines many many times…
Another thing that prompted my rereading was the idea of time travel in Pathfinder. This is some serious science going on! Because of the multiple time travel events back and forth and back again, the physics behind how time travel actually works is important… but it’s also really, really confusing. One of the least confusing lines in the story is the following:
“I have to do it because I know I already did, only when I did it, it was the future, so I have to get to the future in order to come back and do what I already did… This is so crazy that it has to be impossible.”
(Yeah, I know. And it only gets more convoluted from there!)
I think the science and logic that Card incorporated is fascinating, but might turn off the less scientifically-inclined (or sci-fi inclined) reader. Card’s acknowledgments at the end of Pathfinder really brings home the key points of the time travel events in the book, and it’s a nice way to make sure you understand what’s happening before the next book. If you like time travel sci-fi, analyses and speculations of pure sci-fi (it’s like pure physics, but better!), magical time travel powers, and tongue-in-cheek humor, Pathfinder‘s the book. It’s a book that grows on you, so be patient and you will be rewarded…