Review of “Pathfinder” by Orson Scott Card

Remember those math problems from school that gave so many of us nightmares? Like, “Two trains are on the same track a distance 100 km apart heading towards one another, each at a speed of 50 km/h. A fly starting out at the front of one train, flies towards the other at a speed of 75 km/h. Upon reaching the other train, the fly turns around and continues towards the first train. How many kilometers does the fly travel before getting squashed in the collision of the two trains?”

Now, imagine a whole book of over 650 pages that makes it seem like you are caught inside such a math puzzle for the entire book! A book that has to explain to you in an appendix such facts as “the [space] ship made it through that first jump … 31 light years from Earth times 19 squared”…! A book all about characters who travel back and forth in time but are always arguing about whether they have influenced each other in the past or in the future, or whether they are making time slow down or time speed-up, or if the current incarnation of the character needs the future self to go back and interact with the past self, and did that mean the past really happened or never had happened or never would happen or….? Are you screaming yet? Because I was!!!

Somewhere in all of this there is a story, but to me, it got almost totally loss in all the craziness. What follows is typical dialogue in the book, occurring in this exchange between the characters named Loaf and Umbo, after Future-Umbo went back in time to deliver a warning to the character Rigg before disaster could strike. Present-Umbo wants to figure out how to do it so he makes sure Future-Umbo knows how to do it:

Loaf: “…you learned how to go back in time … delivered the warnings, and now everything is happening differently. So why do you need to deliver the messages this time at all?”

Umbo: “‘Because none of that has happened yet, so now it won’t,’ said Umbo. ‘I have to learn how to travel in time so I can go back this time and deliver the same message again.’”

Loaf: “But you didn’t get the message twice, did you? So why deliver it twice?”

‘I don’t know,’ said Umbo. ‘I don’t think it is twice. I think there’s only one message, and I still have to deliver it.’

Loaf: ‘But you only know you have to deliver it because you already did. And that’s the point. You already did.”

Umbo: “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…”

Gaaaah!!!

And this goes on and on and on!!! Not only in this particular passage, but repeatedly, throughout the book!

Yes, I made it to the end, but I’m not sure how or why. Maybe my future self told my past self I had to do it to ensure my current self had another book to add to my list of books read for the year….

Evaluation: Ender’s Game is one of my favorite reads. But this book? It was just painful for me. And there is a sequel! Gaaaaah! And no! I am not reading it! Not my present self, my future self, or my past self! None of us!

Rating: 1.5/5 (Why so high, you may ask? Well, little glimmers of Card’s storytelling ability peeped through here and there, between math problems….)

Published by Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, 2010

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18 Responses

  1. The idea sounds brilliant, with all those questions being discussed, but I can see why it would be very confusing. Just that one line you quoted in the second paragraph is confusing! It almost sounds like it’s supposed to be a look at how crazy time travel is. I wouldn’t mind reading it, but maybe one page a day or something.

  2. I love time travel and the problems it causes…fun to have a little brain twist now and again. But no. I am not going here. I can’t even help my 7th grader with his math homework.

  3. I read Ender’s Game when Vance was in middle school at his insistence. It was just okay for me so I’ve never been anxious to read any more of Card’s work. Then, I read some strange things about Card and that sealed the deal.

  4. Yikes! My ego really wants to read this math-obsessed mess of nuttiness but I still need to read Ender’s Game so I will let that be my first OSC book. But do you need a hug or applause for getting through this?

  5. I read Lost Boys by this same author and loved, loved, loved it but this one sounds totally bizarre and mind blowing (not in a good way). I can’t believe you finished it.

  6. I love time travel but I got a headache just reading your review! And a good laugh too. Some of the time confusion is necessary in time travel, but I won’t want to tackle it in this book.

  7. I agree with your past, present and future selves; this is not a book that you need to read the sequel to. It sounds rather horrifyingly boring, and all that nonsense that you quoted almost made me go cross-eyed! I can’t imagine ANY universe where I would find this book enticing to me, and I am glad that you reviewed it and let me know what madness lurks inside these pages. It looks like old Orson is slipping.

  8. I read Ender’s Game to Scott a few years ago (on a road trip…this was before we discovered audio) and he LOVED it and devoured all the rest of Card’s books (on audio). I wonder if he’s done this one. Near the end he complained that the books were boring or weird or he didn’t like them but he kept on listening. I just didn’t understand that! 1.5. What a bummer!!!

  9. LOL! Sounds rather awful. That’s the sort of book that I start skimming. Thanks for warning my present/future self not to read it. ;)

  10. I almost stopped reading your review about midway through the math problem. Not for me!! Why did you torture yourself????

  11. I loved your math problem. The question for me is why would the fly want to do the same route twice? The book sounds absolutely awful, like a boring version of “Who’s on First?” and not even funny. Yuck! I applaud your efforts in finishing it.

  12. I hate math and this book one sounds horrible. I’ve never read Orson Scott Card although I’ve always been curious about Ender. I’ll skip this one and just read him!

  13. I absolutely LOVED Ender’s Game too but I’ve found that I haven’t really cared for any of this other stories. STrange.

  14. Hahahaha, this review made me laugh out loud. I have loved some of Orson Scott Card’s books A LOT, and others were almost unreadable. Wyrms? Was that a book? If so, I read it and found it to be quite awful.

  15. Is it completely wrong that I got more and more interested as you compared the book to the math problem? I love time travel, and its many complications draw me to books, especially sci-fi books. While I do admit that the passage you quoted is over-the-top, your review has made me want to add this one to my list of books to check out of the library at a future date. If it’s horrible then I can’t say I haven’t been warned! :)

  16. I’ve read many, many OSC books and usually like them. Somehow I missed this one and as bad as it sounds I might actually like it. I think this will go on my library list too.

  17. As a lover of Ender’s Game this makes me sad :(

  18. LOL I love this review! I wish that I could enjoy the book as much as I enjoyed your review. Even though I happen to love math, I cannot stand convoluted banter in a book even it is about the intricacies of time travel. Thanks for saving me the frustration of attempting to read this one.

    On a side note, I can’t wait for Ender’s Game to come out on the big screen this year!!!

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