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58 of 64 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not his best work, December 13, 2010
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This review is from: Pathfinder (Hardcover)
Let me begin by saying that I am a huge Orson Scott Card (OSC) fan. I think OSC's work is as good as it gets when it comes to exploring ethical dilemmas and character development in the context of a hugely entertaining story.

By OSC's lofty standards, Pathfinder is pretty pedestrian and would probably deserve about three stars. However, if it is placed in the context of the work produced by the best active 20 SF writers, I think it deserves a solid four stars.

Pathfinder is aimed at a young audience. The sentence structures used in the first couple of chapters have been simplified. I can't comment on whether this carried forward throughout the book, since I became more engrossed in the story and stopped paying attention to the grammar. On the other hand, the vocabulary didn't seem to be restricted.

Some other reviewers have complained the book and/or the way time travel operated was so complicated as to detracted from the story. I did not find this to be the case. The way in which time travel paradoxes are resolved is not any more complicated than any other SF novel that features time travel and attempts to resolve those paradoxes. I also didn't find the way the two plot lines came together to be especially obscure. I thought it was pretty clear how they related to each other about 10-15% of the way into the book.

The good (in no particular order):

Pathfinder is an entertaining story. It is aimed at a juvenile audience but I would also recommend it for adults.

Character development is good by most standards but falls short of other OSC work.

There is some exploration of ethical dilemmas and human motivation (more below).

There is a completely new take on what time travel means and how time travel paradoxes are resolved.

The not so good (in no particular order):

The book ends with the protagonists out of immediate danger, but with none of the plot lines resolved. The novel won't be complete without the sequel(s).

Those that are looking for a self-consistent universe are going to be disappointed. For example, one of the protagonists has the ability to manipulate time in such a way that they can pass through solid objects, but they don't sink into the floor. This sort of thing normally bothers me a lot. However, in the case of Pathfinder, the important part of the story is the protagonists discovering how to manipulate and use their abilities and how they can be combined rather than building a reasonable basis for how the abilities work. Bottom line: I am surprised to find that the inconsistencies didn't bother me nearly as much as they normally do.

The ethical issue that is most thoroughly explored is the nature of friendship. However, it is not done very satisfactorily. The main protagonist consistently places his friends in danger without any apparent internal dilemma. Another protagonist is described as having a deep love for his wife, but has no internal struggle over leaving her, perhaps forever, to help someone he is not certain is his friend. Other ethical dilemmas such as the guidance vs. control of humans by artificial beings is set up, but is not in any way explored.

Bottom line: If you haven't read OSC, read his other work first (starting with Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead). If you have already read them, you will find Pathfinder wanting by comparison, but still a good read. If you are looking for a juvenile book, Ender's Game is still a better choice.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 14, 2010 4:50:33 PM PST
Great review. It's amazing to me how much his writing has changed over the years. I love the youthfulness in Ender's Game, and how much he grew as a writer with Speaker for the Dead (which I think is one of the best novels, sf or not, ever written). I am just starting Pathfinder, and the first thing that jumped out was just how dumbed down the writing seems to be early on. I hope the story captures my imagination too, and I forget about paying attention to his writing and judging it against his better works.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 14, 2010 10:44:18 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 19, 2010 11:18:41 AM PST
D. Trimmer says:
Evan,

Thank for the kind words. I agree that Speaker for the Dead is one of the great all time novels. I liked Heinlein's Past Through Tomorrow just as much, but I read it when I was pretty young and I don't know if I would rate it quite as high if I reread it now.

Cheers,
Don

Posted on Apr 25, 2012 8:36:24 AM PDT
If you enjoy books with a sci-fi theme, highly recommended, by me is bookreportradio this weekend of the 27 April. Elaine Charles previews books and this weekend she finds new sci-fi titles as well as rediscovering the old. Elaine not only previews sci-fi but all sorts of books. Each week there is a different theme and some really great ideas for reading. I listen on Boston WNBP AM 1450 on Saturdays at 8am but if you go to the website you can find other times and stations. I hope you find this as useful and interesting as I have found it and now I am never stuck for anything to listen to.

Posted on Jul 16, 2012 1:37:09 PM PDT
Shannon says:
I am in complete agreement with every point you've made about this story. I also wish that some of the ethical dilemmas had been explored a bit more, especially the twists in family relationships that occur. There is one character in particular who is a sociopath and the choices and thought processes for that character could have been fleshed out more, I think.

Posted on Oct 30, 2012 12:53:23 PM PDT
I, too, found myself reading past impossibilities rather than hanging up on them. Curious. Card seems to be quite facile at leadng the reader past non-sensical physics.
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