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Book Report: Pathfinder

So. It appears that Your Humble Blogger has not re-read any of Orson Scott Card’s books over the last six or seven years. That seems unlikely. I appear to own eight of his novels in paperback, including at a quick estimate four terrific bathtub books. Hm. I suspect I just haven’t blogged them. I probably have picked up at least one or two for bathtime and so forth, and just put them back on the shelf without writing about them.

I have read two new books by Mr. Card over that time; the very enjoyable Magic Street and The Crystal City, which isn’t so enjoyable. At all. My inclination is to attribute the lousiness of Crystal City to the novel-series problem, as it is not only fifteen years into the series but five years after the previous Alvin Maker book. On the other hand, Cryoburn didn’t stink, so there’s that. And the Homecoming series was atrocious from beginning to end. So there’s that.

I picked up Pathfinder at the library not knowing what to expect. There’s this: Orson Scott Card is a very good writer. There’s also this: Orson Scott Card has had some terrible, terrible books published. Plus, he’s an irritating man. So I wasn’t sure what to expect. Which is all right, you say—why should a reader know what to expect the moment the book begins? On the other hand, YHB wasn’t approaching the book from a blank slate. I was putting into a context, either the context of his terrific writing or the other one, of his sometimes terrible books.

Alas, this book didn’t fall in to either camp. It was an exciting, engrossing book that was also irritating. And, it turns out, it is not only the first book in a series, but it suffers from the major flaw of that condition: the whole plot of the book is stuff that happens before the exciting bit. On the other hand, Mr. Card writes like a sonofabitch; there is an exciting plot with chases and escapes and deception and betrayal and loyalty and near misses and beautiful misses and superpowers and people who are Not What They Seem. Nor is it the sort of irritating series novel that brings all that together just to get everybody hanging from a cliff at the end of the first book. Our hero has a goal to achieve despite strong opposition, achieves the goal though combinations of brains, brawn and buddies, the attainment of the goal provides our hero with a new goal, which is achieved through somewhat different combinations of brains, brawn and buddies. When that goal is narrowly gained, the (surviving) heroic characters have earned a respite, as have we, and the book ends. So that’s all right. Or it would be, if it wasn’t all done within a device wherein Mr. Card reminds us at the top of every chapter that a much more interesting and exciting set of goals and conflicts is waiting for this story to end.

There are other Sources of Reader Annoyance, which are balanced by lots of Sources of Reader Pleasure, at least for this reader. There are the bits where the characters talk like prep school students in a seminar. There is the risible idea that Our Hero is tutored in financial, social, political, scientific, athletic, historical, linguistic—hell, in everything—during a childhood of almost total seclusion, and is able to put any and all of that knowledge and skill base to use immediately, despite no actual practice. But again, that’s irritating while also setting up lots of fun plot stuff where Our Hero is able to talk, deduce and run circles around the formidable forces arrayed against him (and by extension us), so that’s all right. Or if not all right, not all wrong, either.

So. There it is. I don’t think of these reports as making recommendations, which is just as well in this case, because I don’t have any advice on it. I don’t know how I feel about it myself, really.

And he evidently has another series of novels beginning with a book just out. Which is not less irritating than the last.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,