Welcome to Brian's Bits, where Brian gets to share at length about various topics stirring inside of him.
29 July 2013
For as long as I can remember, I have loved science fiction and fantasy stories — at least as far back as junior high school. During my teen years I devoured science fiction books by authors like Larry Niven, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein and others. In addition, there was the delight of visual science fiction, like Lost In Space, Star Trek and Star Wars.

Of course, science fiction is just a subgenre of fantasy literature. In the fantasy realm, I read and reread the monumental Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings series. In my adult years I have read the books from both these series, as well as other fantasy books, to my kids.

Do you ever wonder why fantasy literature has such a widespread appeal to the human race? For many people it is a form of escapism from the boring, mundane affairs of this life. On a deeper level, I wonder if it's not because God has made mankind for something more, something better, something way beyond this humdrum existence. Perhaps fantasy literature somehow stirs and entices our hidden inner caterpillar with visions of what it could be like to be a butterfly one day. I truly think that the power and appeal of fantasy go much deeper than merely trying to avoid an unpleasant reality.

For a few years now, when I go on my daily 20 to 30 minute neighborhood walk, I usually listen to an audio book. It took me quite a while to make my way through classics like the Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Les Misérables, War and Peace, and others. I've also been discovering "potential classics" by more recent authors like Nathan Lowell and Orson Scott Card.

About five years ago, Amazon.com bought Audible.com, a major producer and distributor of audio books. The resulting synergy has allowed Amazon to offer a unique and appealing deal: for many of the Audible books for sale, if you already own the Kindle version of the book, you can get the audio book version for a substantial discount — without having to pay for a monthly subscription.

I've been taking advantage of these marvelous discounts — audio books tend to be fairly expensive — to build up my audio library with books by favorite authors like C.S. Lewis, Joel Rosenberg and Orson Scott Card. I've also been amassing quite a collection of Isaac Asimov books, which I have been enjoying immensely. Somehow I didn't seem to discover his acclaimed writings during my teenage science fiction years.

After reading Orson Scott Card's well-known Ender's Game and then listening to the sequel, Speaker For the Dead — and greatly enjoying both — I was eager for more. So I decided to give his 2010-released Pathfinder a try. I have to say that this is one of the most interesting and compelling books I have read (or listened to!) in quite a while!

Besides being an exciting and intriguing story, it's very nice that there is no bad language, no sexual immorality, and very little violence. Just good old fantasy / science fiction adventure, with a small dose of virtuous morality from the author's Mormon connections. It's such a pity that I will finish the book tomorrow, but at least I'll be able to immediately continue with the sequal, Ruins, released last year. From what I understand, there will be a least one more book in the series — I sure hope so!

16 February 2014 Update for Ruins:
I finished listening to the audiobook of Ruins about six months ago, but I've been neglecting the updating of this article, mostly because I was VERY disappointed with it. Pathfinder was so excellent that I was hoping for and expecting more of the same. What a letdown! Some of the reviews I read on Amazon put my disappointment into words:
  • I can't believe I'm giving my favorite author only one star, but there it is. I was disappointed in this one; as other reviewers said, not a lot of action, not a lot of plot. Lots of arguing between the characters, but no real development of their relationships.
  • Very disappointed in this book. When OSC is good, he's among the very best. But this was definitely not OSC at his best. The dialogue was repetitive, long, and frankly became annoying with all the petty sniping among characters.... The ending was not satisfying and seemed lazy.
  • The story, such as it was, probably could have been wrapped up within a hundred pages. The rest of it seemed dedicated to endless bickering, incessant whining, long-winded discussions of who should be leader, and meandering philosophical discussions on pretty much everything and anything to the point that I just wanted to scream at them all to shut up! The characters changed from the first book, and not in a good way. They all suddenly became so self-centered and neurotic that I no longer cared about any of them. There were just so many annoying events that made little sense to me. However, everytime I decided I'd had enough, the author threw in something that was just interesting enough to keep me going.
  • While I liked the premise, the setting and the new ideas, I got very tired of the characters. For some reason, Card really struggles with natural flowing dialogue in this book. The characters explain everything they are thinking. Not only that, they explain it several times! And they debate nearly every point as well. I wanted to shout out, "Just get on with the story!" Why did they characters have to philosophize and pontificate everything? No joke: there are two entire pages of the characters pontificating about pontificating!
  • This was a wandering story with little sense of pace or plot. Definitely the weakest book I have read from Card.
  • This book could easily been reduced to about half length without loosing any of the story. I doubt I will find enough motivation to read the next books.
  • I really liked the first Pathfinder novel. It had an interesting plot, many good characters, and lots of mysteries that were unvieled during the course of the book culminating in a riveting ending that was satisfying and left the possibility open for future adventures. However, this book is a disappointing follow-up. Very little happens as the characters spend most of their time bickering and arguing about dumb, childish things. It felt like there was no real plot to speak of. Instead if seemed like Mr. Card just kept making things up as he went along and then finally got serious about the book at the very end when it ended so abruptly I thought for sure my book was missing an additional chapter that would explain more or at least help the book feel like it had an actual ending or conclusion. Instead it just "ends" with the promise of a future book that will hopefully explain all of the mysteries that were never answered in this book. If you like a meandering plot where the characters just spend a lot of time talking but doing little, then this is the book for you. Otherwise I really hope Card gets his act together and writes a "real" conclusion to this series that is as interesting to read as the first book was.
Ruins was such a waste of time that I doubt I would have the courage to read the last book in the trilogy when it comes out, except for the fact that Pathfinder was so great. Here's hoping....
For more great science fiction, don’t miss my article on the Starfleet Corps of Engineers.
This article is 10th a series of articles on this Web site related to Literature, Music and Photography which also includes (scroll to see the entire list):
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