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Pastwatch : The Redemption of Christopher…

Pastwatch : The Redemption of Christopher Columbus (1996)

by Orson Scott Card

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Pastwatch (1)

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The most interesting thing about this story is the way in which things that looked like divine intervention from one aspect, looked completely different from the other. As a believer, it gave me some idea of how God might look at us - how He watches and knows us, how He sometimes intervenes and other times must not interfere. This is fiction, not theology, and I'm sure that was not the intention of the author, but nevertheless, some definite food for thought. And the idea that the conquest of the new world could have gone a different way - that was speculation at its best. ( )
  tjsjohanna | May 23, 2015 |
In fourteen hundred ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue...only Orson Scott Card's Pastwatch is wholly unlike any other Columbus story you've ever heard. This one's fiction of course. Though calling it historical fiction would be incomplete. It's more like a sci-fi historical adventure thriller. But Card is no pulp novelist. When he's on his game his stories contain a layer of non-pompous intellectual authenticity, an ability no doubt derived from decades of accumulated curiosity. Card has a gift for combining the expansive ranges of history, religions, politics, military intrigue and theoretical futures all into realistic scenarios that play out the rise and fall of empires over time.

Pastwatch, in the context of this story, is a technological marvel. Scientists of the near future created it to study the visual record of Earth's past. In the beginning, the machines only allowed for periodic study on the scale of decades or centuries—useful for following weather patterns and geological movements—but then as the tools were refined the researchers could now look more closely at the lives of people and start to learn about cultures from long ago. Meanwhile, the Earth of this near future in the time of Pastwatch is undergoing a resource drought of planetary proportions. In other words, the human population is in decline. This is the state of things until one day an intrepid Pastwatch member discovers a secret so unbelievable that it may yet give humanity another chance at survival. Though it's a chance that would come at great cost.

After reading Ender's Game, I didn't expect Orson Scott Card to achieve anywhere near that level of page-turning brilliance ever again. Pastwatch comes oh-so close. ( )
  Daniel.Estes | Sep 29, 2014 |
After Ender's Game, this is my favorite Orson Scott Card book. I'm waiting to read the next book in the Pastwatch series, whenever it comes out.
The plot twist at the end is certainly farfetched, given what I've learned from other non-fiction books (like "Guns, Germs, and Steel") about what happens when different cultures meet, but if you let yourself get absorbed in the story, it's great. ( )
  piersanti | Sep 28, 2014 |
Thoroughly enjoyable. I've spent more hours pondering thoughts related to this book than most books I've read. If you could change one moment in history to influence the current world, which would you choose? OSC's answer, this book, is compelling. ( )
  drhapgood | Jul 27, 2014 |
It constantly amazes me the gulf there is between Card's obnoxious and forcefully expressed social opinions and the humanitarian voice that speaks through many of his novels, but never more so than in this instance.

In the not-so-far future, the earth seems to be recovering from the onslaught of the 20th and 21st centuries. The human population has stabilized at a smallish fraction of the current level. Employees of the organization called Pastwatch spend their time scanning history using a device that can passively observe the past . . . and, they begin to suspect, perhaps not entirely passively, because it seems the occasional sensitive can detect the "presence" of the observers. One research project is to pinpoint those moments in history whose consequences led to the devastation of the planet and the human species's current sorry shape. The crucial moment appears to be Christopher Columbus's decision, in the wake of his near-miraculous survival after a shipwreck, to sail westward across the Atlantic in search of new lands to exploit and new souls to save for Christ. The Pastwatchers are appalled when they witness the instant of his making that decision: he received a visitation from two human figures and a dove -- Father, Son and Holy Ghost, in the iconography of the time -- who told him the westward voyage should be his holy duty. The Pastwatchers recognize these figures must be time travellers from an alternate future, a future so bad that its denizens have resorted to altering the past in order to erase it and of course, in the process, themselves.

[Why should that be an inevitable consequence? In the physics of time expressed in this book, there are no alternative realities: always only the one. This is because the quanta of time -- "moments" -- are quite discrete from each other. "When the machine was introduced into our history, from that point forward a new infinite set of moments completely replaced the old infinite set of moments. There were no spare leftover moment-locations for the old moments to hang around in." (p194) And the fact that the time device was created in a future that, the instant it used the device, ceased ever to have existed is no paradox because, while it seems to us that causality is timelike, in fact causality is independent of time and its functionings unamenable to rational analysis (rather like the Jungian concept of synchronicity): in particular, "Causality can be recursive but time cannot." (p193).]

So some event in the other history happened that would have been forestalled by Columbus sailing the ocean blue, as he did in our own past. What could it have been? A young Pastwatcher builds a near-watertight case that it was the discovery, not of the New World by the Old, but of the Old World by the New -- the conquest of Europe by the Tlaxcalans, who brought with them the hideous practice of mass human torture-sacrifice that was rife among all the South American cultures of the era.

Around this time in our future, time travel is developed, and the Pastwatchers are obviously highly interested by this field of technology so close to the one they're using. Also, it occurs to them that, just like their counterparts, they could perhaps alter history to lead to a happier outcome. This notion is spurred by the discovery that the earth is not in fact recovering, as people had thought: any recovery will be centuries or millennia in the future, by which time the human species will be long gone. Again they focus on Columbus. If they could, by scuttling his ships, make it impossible for him immediately to return to Europe after his New World landfall, and if they could play upon the Christian sensibilities of the man such as to deflect his mind off gold and slavery toward converting the local civilizations to good liberal values . . . So they send back three volunteers to the 15th century, thereby erasing everyone else after Columbus's time (us included) from reality. Can those three pull off the task?

This book is extraordinarily slow to get itself off the ground -- about two-thirds of the text is occupied by the setting-up (alternating between the 15th century and the Pastwatchers' present) preparatory to the actual time travel -- and the characterization of some of the major movers and shakers manages to achieve the feat of seeming both laboured and perfunctory at the same time. Much of that setting-up is in itself fascinating (there's a really neat Atlantis/Noah hypothesis!), and it was only a few times that a sense of "oh, for gawd's sake get on with it" swept over me. The writing is up to Card's usual high and elegant standard (although near the end there are some signs of apparent haste). Overall, I'd recommend this to friends as worth their time. ( )
  JohnGrant1 | Aug 11, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Orson Scott Cardprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Federo, PatriceDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rudnicki, StefanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Snowdon-Romer, ThomasCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Tom Doherty, The publisher from the planet Krypton: His heart is gold, His word is steel, And he knows the territory.
First words
Some people call it "the time of undoing"; some, wishing to be more positive, spoke of it as "the replanting" or "the restoring" or even "the resurrection" of the Earth. (Prologue)
There was only one time when Columbus despaired of making his voyage. (Chapter One)
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Haiku summary
A doomed world's last hope:
Unweave time, stitch it proper.
A new life through him.


Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0812508645, Mass Market Paperback)

Anyone who's read Lies My Teacher Told Me : Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong knows about the devastating consequences that Columbus's voyage and ensuing colonization had on the native people of the Americas and Africa. In a thought-provoking work that is part science fiction, part historical drama, Orson Scott Card writes about scientists in a fearful future who study that tragic past, then attempt to actually intervene and change it into something better.

Tagiri and Hassan are members of Pastwatch, an academic organization that uses machines to see into the past and record it. Their project focuses on slavery and its dreadful effects, and gradually evolves into a study of Christopher Columbus. They eventually marry and their daughter Diko joins them in their quest to discover what drove Columbus west.

Columbus, with whom readers become acquainted through both images in the Pastwatch machines and personal narrative, is portrayed as a religious man with both strengths and weaknesses, a charismatic leader who sometimes rose above but often fell beneath the mores of his times. As usual, Orson Scott Card uses his formidable writing skills to create likable, complex characters who face gripping problems; he also provides an entertaining and thoughtful history lesson in Pastwatch. --Bonnie Bouman

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:51 -0400)

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After a scientific innovation allows researchers to open a window on the past, a young woman sends an individual onto a slightly different path in life, interference that has unexpected repercussions for the present and future.

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