Card’s stories always involve subtle and very creative magic: he tends to choose abilities I’ve never seen done before, and then proceeds to explain them pseudo-scientifically, or at least logically within the framework of the world he creates. I love that about his worlds. This story was quite ambitious, encompassing some eleven thousand years, as well as time travel and diverging timelines. The world wasn’t ours, but he lifted a lot of scientific principles from ours.
Most of the story toward the beginning is told through the eyes of Rigg, a boy who thinks his father is a trader and a hunter, and whose father is exceedingly logical and for some reason seems bent on teaching him nearly everything about the universe, even though from Rigg’s perspective, he’ll never need to know all of it. Rigg has the ability to “see” the paths of every creature that has ever lived, but he doesn’t think of this as seeing into the past at the time. When his father dies, he and a less cultured boy named Umbo from his community set off together on the last errand Rigg’s father ever gave him: to find his sister, and to receive his inheritance. Together, Rigg learns that Umbo also trained with his father to hone his own gift: the ability to slow down time, which has the effect of showing Rigg that what he really sees is the past, sped up and repeated in a never-ending loop. When Umbo slows him down long enough, he can see the individual making the path at the time he made it, even if it was hundreds or thousands of years in the past. Much of the story is spent with the two of them trying to hash out the rules of their abilities and how they work together. Along the way they encounter Loaf, a gruff adult who essentially serves as guide and protector to them. Rigg learns that he is apparently not only royalty, but that he was supposed to have been dead long, long ago. His sister Param, whom he does actually encounter, has the ability to make herself invisible–but they learn through much dialogue that she isn’t actually invisible, she’s just moving so slowly through time that photons cannot strike her body. All the time they refer to the place they live as “Wall,” and eventually they reach “The Wall,” which is supposed to be uncrossable.
In brief interludes, the story cuts to Ram, traveling on a space ship toward a new planet for humans to colonize. Of the humans on board, he alone is awake, surrounded by “expendables,” or robots, who will navigate the rest of the way. Ram is similarly gifted, but he ends up splitting his ship into nineteen parts–nineteen parallel realities. At this point I realized (spoiler alert) that even though Rigg appears to live in a less modern world, and Ram is on a spaceship, Ram is in fact the ancestor of all of them. The Wall blocks off the alternate versions of the human race spawned by the nineteen different ships.
I might say the story gets bogged down by all of the characters’ attempts to understand the rules of their world, but I actually found that to be the most interesting part. Once parallel timelines were introduced I don’t know that I totally followed it all, though. Consequently I may or may not continue the series.
My rating: ****
Sexual content: none
Political content: minor