Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Shelf-Sitter Challenge: Book 12

Another DNF. Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card. As the Shelf-Sitter Reading Challenge wears on, I am becoming increasingly ruthless about setting aside a book simply because it hasn't won me over enough to want to continue with it, which I previously wouldn't have considered a good enough reason to stop reading.

This book was passed on to me by one of The Parent's best longtime friends, a lovely seventysomething lady who is like an aunt to me, and with whom I share a large area of reading taste overlap. She gave the book to The Parent to give to me, I assumed because she enjoyed it and thought I would too-- we're both big fans of Card's Ender series. However, when I spoke to her a couple of weeks ago, she said that she'd quit the book halfway through and wanted to see what my take was on it. That probably soured me a bit before I even began.

I have to say, this is in no way a terrible book. The worldbuilding is interesting, the writing is mostly servicable with occasional flashes of very good, and there's a cool "is this Fantasy or Science Fiction?" element to keep you turning pages. However, there are also two things about it that are annoying me. On their own, these things seem like petty reasons to stop reading a book, and if this was a 300-page stand-alone novel, they wouldn't stop me from finishing it. But this is a 650-page book that is the first in a trilogy/series, and I don't care to be annoyed for ~1,500 pages.

Annoying thing #1: The Tone. The two main characters are 13-year-old boys from a podunk hill-people village in the mountains, and they are just way too mature and wise and witty to be believable. This is also my complaint about the Ender stories: the kids seem just way too old for how old he wants them to be. In Ender I can let it go because the kids are all hand-picked freaky geniuses. Running across it again in Pathfinder makes me start to think that this isn't actually being done for effect at all, that Card really does have no idea what kids are actually like-- or, more likely, that he portrays young boys the way he remembers feeling about himself at the same age. And everyone remembers themselves as how mature and cool they felt, not as how they appeared to others. This is why people over 25 are generally horrified to encounter teenagers: because they are SO YOUNG, and you remember yourself being far older than that at age 15.

But I digress. There is a logical explanation for why Rigg is so better educated than he should be, and I'm sure he'll turn out to be some chosen-one type genius... but that doesn't explain why Umbo also sounds about 20 most of the time, with the Whedon-esque banter. If you want to give your 13-year-old boy characters "mature" characteristics, then for heaven's sake divvy those characteristics between them. One kid can speak four languages and have a grad-school level education he got from his father while they were trapping animals in the woods, but if you make that same kid bold and level-headed in a crisis AND a master of witty banter, AND you have a second 13-year-old boy who is also a master of executive function skills and witty retorts... well, then I start rolling my eyes. Maybe it's the seven years of teaching middle school talking here, but this book reads like Card made his characters 13 so Rigg would look even more precocious and impressive, and not because he had the least interest in exploring the emotional reality of early adolescence.

Annoying thing #2: The Over-Explication. There's a time-travel element to the story, and every time they do it or even consider doing it there's much discussion of the possible ramifications, and whether their current self needs to learn something so the future self can go back in time and warn the past self or whether blah blah blah. I get that when you write about time travel you need to work out some of this for the reader so he or she knows you're not just totally winging it, but I checked out the goodreads reviews and several people said that there are many, many dull and baffling conversations like this throughout the book.

So there you have it. Two minor, petty complaints, and yet for me they toppled the tower.

1 comment:

  1. "This is why people over 25 are generally horrified to encounter teenagers: because they are SO YOUNG, and you remember yourself being far older than that at age 15."

    This is an excellent point, and lord, I remember when I realized how ridiculously young high school students are.

    I've stopped reading OSC, for several reasons, mostly the homophobia thing, but also because the more I read of him, the more bothersome things (about women, values, race) I find. I still love Ender's Game, though.