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Pathfinder

Orson Scott Card once again presents us with teens of extradinary giftedness who must determine how they are to deal with a world that is different than the one in which they thought they lived. Of course, this is all of our stories – we have this gift of life, with various talents and resources -used  to what end? In the first two books of the Pathfinder series, the third book’s schedule isn’t published yet, Mr. Card thoroughly wrestles with moving in time and discerning truth within relationships placed under the strain of ever changing abilities against a back drop of every changing knowledge of the world seen through the eyes of rapid biological enhancements. It deals with all of the baggage of society, including the strata to which we believe we belong. The scale of issues presented to our band of travelers, Rigg, Umbo, Loaf, Param and Olivenko is breathtakingly daunting. The nuance of attempts to manage the Expendables (highly capable androids with a warped sense of Asmovian laws of robotics) is dizzying. Yet through it all, the universal desire for friendship, purpose and hope come through. Through it all, on a much grander scale, we see our struggles.

Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card

Mr. Card, as well as the best of any contemporary writer, allows us to struggle with his characters through the difficult issues and relationships. By reflecting on something as impractical as time travel, we must struggle with how best to use our gifts, how best to handle differences of temperament, social standing and talent and how best to show loyalty even when we must challenge the thinking and assumptions of someone we love. Yet he does so in the context of story; this is not a treatise but a terrific story. We have seen this type of internal reflection placed in the most gripping action in the Ender’s Series (at least through the first 3 books) where moral crisis, xenocide (and hatred of anything that is not us) and just war theory are all used to make us think. There it was questions like how can we be empathetic to those who hate us? How do we understand and respond to evil? What can we do to avoid conflict? When is conflict just? Now we must think about similar issues, in addition to those outlined above. There is a point where we, like Umbo, want to cry out: “I hate trying to talk about this stuff, it just makes me more confused.” over which Loaf brings Umbo and us up short: No it doesn’t,” said Loaf. “You’re just too lazy to think.” That, my friend is the point. As my 16 year old son points out – He [Card] doesn’t give us the answers but he does pose some great questions.

So, one of the things that I love about the series is the detailed and nuanced examination of time travel Mr. Card embeds in the narrative. All of permutations, implications, consequences and types of time manipulation are examined through the books, in multiple settings in differing contexts of knowledge. It is also the thing of which I can too easily tire. The reflection can be very overt in dialogue, monologue or revealed in thought life:

“Nineteen computers,” said Ram, “and nineteen times the mass.” “Do you find this coincidence significant?” asked the expendable. “Each computer was an observer and a meddler in spacetime at the time the fold was created,” said Ram. “You and I weren’t observers, because we could not sense or even understand the convolutions of the fields being generated. So for each observer, there had to be a distinct jump. And for each jump, there had to be an expenditure of mass equal to the total mass of the ship and its contents.” “So if there had been only nine or ten computers,” said the expendable, “we would have come only halfway back to the present?” “No,” said Ram. “I think if there had been only one computer , we would have crossed the fold only one-nineteenth as far into the past of the target star system before being shoved back, in reverse.” “You seem to be very happy about this hypothesis,” said the expendable, “but I don’t see why. It still explains nothing.” “Don’t you see?” said Ram. “Crossing the fold pushed us into the past a certain amount, based on the mass of the ship and its velocity or whatever. But the only way to pay for that passage across the fold was to send an equal mass backward. And because there were nineteen observers creating the fields that created the fold, it happened nineteen times.” “But it happened only once,” said the expendable. “No,” said Ram. “It happened nineteen times. For each jump, a copy of the ship was thrust backward in time. Eighteen other versions of ourselves occupy the identical space as the original ship, only moving the opposite direction through time as we journey toward Earth, all of us invisible to each other.” “So our reliance on the computers caused the failure of the mission?” asked the expendable. “The mission didn’t fail,” said Ram. “It succeeded nineteen times. We’re just the exhaust trail.” Card, Orson Scott (2010-11-23). Pathfinder (pp. 245-246). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

This is just a brief glimpse of the reflection that goes on within the books. So, you think there’s no moving narrative? Oh contraire, mon ami. Continuous, nerve-racking imprisonments, escapes, apparent and real deaths are played out in different landscapes on which cascading action occurs. Oh wait, just when you thought it was safe to read, it also portrays relationships and people growing as they learn more about each other, themselves and new perspectives of what they thought their relationships were or where they were in the social strata. This is a teen series to make one think – at least it did that for my boys (2 14 year olds and 1 16 year old). This book is the poster child for why YA is not just for teens. Card also, apparently “gets” the struggles of teen, again, according to the expert opinion of 16 year old; indeed, he’s a little flabbergasted that such an old guy, he is, afterall over 40, can understand teenagers.

Ruins

While the series, as hinted above, deal with so much more than time, that certainly was the focus. He parsed through so many different mechanisms and modes of time movement:

  • Paths left by people and animals in all that they do throughout time. The Pathfinder can view that path throughout its course
  • Slicee time by moving forward in it by time quanta, the size of which the traveler determines
  • Moved objects in time, forward or back
  • Moved back in time by focusing on the that earlier time with the ability to release back to current time. but the person sending others back in time may in the present while viewing those sent back and other things touching them but not the other previous events.

Mr. Card used dialogue, experiments and action to work through various implications, especially the implications of changing a past timeline. There are times when you finish a section and think that you just read a treatise on the combinatorial theory of time quanta. These abilities move across all aspects of the story and inform their decisions, relationships and actions. All while moving the story apace. It’s a mostly successful and amazing feat.

I switched between reading on my Kindle and the Audible audio book. Pathfinder is narrated by Stefan Rudnicki, Kirby Heyborne, Done Leslie, Kristoffer Tabori and Scott Brick. Ruins’ narrators are Stefan Rudnicki, Kirby Heyborne and Emily Janice Card. Cleverly, the audio production is broken down in sections where the character with the main action or dialog is narrated by the same voice. For example, Rudnicki and Card narrate those sections dominated by Rigg and Param. The narration teams do a fabulous job and make the shift in perspective all the clearer.  (Yes, Emily Card is Orson Scott Card’s daughter, but this isn’t just reading daddy’s book – she narrates other stories as well).

So, I’ve probably made this sound all too boring and philosophical; boring it’s not. Philosophical it is, but, as I attempted to point out, not in just some distant, dry academic way but having implications for us. As we join in the story, we see on a scale writ large our own struggles. We’re given that space to wrestle with our own response and reflect on those choice points we’ve taken. Do we want to stay on the same path, alter it slight or completely change course? It is a rare author that can have you think this deeply (and clearly) within the context of a genuinely good story containing characters about whom you care (even if you don’t like them all). Mr. Card has shown on multiple occasion, including in these two books, that he is among the best at doing so. I highly commend these books to your reading.

Here’s a cool trailer for the Pathfinder

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