My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I have to admit that as a school librarian, I spent a fair amount of time right after this book was released recommending it to the kids at my school who liked Ender’s Game. In hindsight, especially as I now read the third book in this series, Visitors, I see that was a mistake. Ender’s Game has proved repeatedly to be a book that pushes past traditional boundaries of genre and type. Kids who do not think of themselves as sci-fi readers will pick up Ender’s Game at my urging and absolutely love it. Kids who think they don’t like reading longer books will pick it up and immediately be sucked in by the fast pace and non-stop action.
The Pathfinder series, on the other hand, is definitely for fans of more traditional science fiction, and it is not for the reluctant readers. Over the course of the first novel, each new reveal twisted my brain into tighter and tighter knots as I struggled (along with the characters, I might add) to make sense of an increasingly complex and layered world. I happen to like brain twisting books, but they are certainly not for everyone, and they required a degree of patience that spans across books in the series, as there will be no easy answers in the first book, and while some answers were provided in the second, far more new questions were raised, leaving me, on the whole, more confused rather than less.
So why is Pathfinder so twisty? It begins with the basic premise. A ship full of colonists, with a captain by the name of Ram Odin, and a human shaped super computer robot called an expendable, left earth to colonize a new planet, called Garden. The idea was that they would make the journey by traveling through a fold in time that would allow them to arrive very shortly after they left earth, despite the great distance. There was a flaw of some sort in the time hopping process, however, and instead of arriving AFTER they left earth, they arrived 11,191 years BEFORE they left earth. Oh, and because there were 19 super computers on board the ship, each calculating the jump individually, they also arrived as 19 separate copies of the ship and all it contained, including a copy of the captain, who was supposed to be the only one able to command the ships, and the expendable. So one version of the captain, who it turns out was quite ruthless, realizing that chaos would ensue with 19 captains all sharing command, gave the order for all of the other expendables to kill their version of the captain first, leaving him as the only one in charge. And that is just the beginning!
Skip forward about 11,000 years, and humanity has been living and evolving on Garden for generation after generation, each copy of the ship’s population within a huge enclosure called a wallfold, each believing themselves to be the only humans on the planet. The main character, Rigg, has been raised in Ramfold by one of the expendables, named Ramex (although he does not know that his “father” is a machine), to be the perfect logical, analytical thinker with wide knowledge of science, math, and history, all while honing his survival skills wandering around the forests trapping and hunting. He also has inherited an aspect of the ability of the original time-bending captain, whose copy of the ship colonized his wallfold. He can see paths marking the past movements of all living things. Up to the beginning of the book, he has only used this ability to find safe crossings over dangerous fords in the river, or set his trap in exactly the right place that animals frequent, but then father stages his own death, telling Rigg before he dies that he must go to the capital city and find a sister that Rigg never knew existed, thus initiating the beginning of the quest that spans the series. Rigg will be joined by Umbo, a local boy from his village who can also manipulate time by slowing it down for either himself or others, an ability that allows Rigg to discover in a disastrous way that the paths he is seeing are actual people from the past, and that he can latch on to them to jump back in time.
Like I said, twisty. Rigg and Umbo bounce around through time, sending themselves warnings that change future paths and then negate the necessity for the warning, which then never has to be sent. This is just one example of the type of paradox in this book that will make you think closely about the nature of time, the choices we make, and impact of those choices on others. If you enjoy that type of mind-twisting, paradox-posing, complex story development, you will heartily enjoy Pathfinder. If you want it to be a pretty straightforward hero’s journey like Ender’s Game, this series is probably not for you.