am 7. März 2000
For one to understand the hero cycle of the primary character of this novel, Pastwatch, one must understand a little about the plot of the story. One probably knows about the devastating consequences that Columbus's voyage and ensuing colonization had on the native people of the Americas and Africa. They brought diseases that they were not immune to and also did not treat them as even human. 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. The plot of his new book is fairly straightforward: three time travelers from a ruined and doomed future Earth journey to the time of Columbus' landing, hoping to alter events so that the contact between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres will be less disastrous for the American Indians, indeed, for the whole world. At the heart of the book is a marvelous, enormously powerful portrait of Columbus himself. This is a superior addition to a superior body of work. Columbus starts in the book in a state of innocence, he falls from this innocence, he begins a quest, and he lives happily ever after. He is a perfect example of a hero.
First, in this novel one first will see Columbus in a state of total innocence. The reader finds Columbus in his home as a child. He lived in a house of a weaver. His father sold cloth to many people in a Genovese society including a certain group of gentlemen started to make it a habit to meet together in this house to discuss secret matters. One day Columbus's father spoke out at one of these meetings that he would always show his loyalty to there cause. The gentlemen only took it has a joke. Columbus, soon after which, asked his father we the men had laughed. His father said it was because he could never be a gentleman like them. A weaver has now way to become a gentleman in this world. At this point Columbus is completely innocent. He longs only for the well being of his family.
Second, Columbus soon has his fall as all other great hero's have. One day a gentleman who often came and met at the weaver's house was killed on his way over to the house. Christopher Columbus's father ran to help him. It was this day that Columbus decided he was going to do something good in life so he could end up better than his father and help his father become a gentleman. This is when he begins to go out in the world and learn how to become a sailor. Columbus now has given himself a quest in life.
Third, Columbus started his quest. He started going on small voyages with other crews. He was able to find enough riches to bring home and boost his father's status and his own. He became well known with the sailors and he found many opportunities to leave on another trip. During one voyage past Portugal his group was attacked by pirates. Columbus, first saving the life of a cabin boy, jumps from his burning ship and swims the very long distance to the land. This is when he receives a vision that it is his duty to sail west and teach christianity to all of the people that have never heard of it. He immediately sets this as his call to duty. He then spends many years preparing for his voyage. The hardest part, of course, was to get a King to agree with his voyage enough to sponsor him in his voyage. He finally obtains the resources he needs from the King and Queen of Spain. Then Columbus finally sails west into the great vast oceans to find the new land. Finally, Christopher Columbus reaches the new land. He finds a lady named One-who-sees-all who seems to have come from the future. All three of his boats are mysteriously destroyed. Some of his men mutiny. Christopher Columbus, however, had finally reached his goal in life. He began to teach the indians about his religion while they taught him how to live without slaves and prejudice. Together they form a more perfect country with all of the people in the Americas together in one main nation.
Last, Columbus lived happily ever after. He finished the conversion of the people to christianity. He than returned to Europe with a giant fleet of ships and told everyone of his great accomplishments. All of the people he converted in the Americas were better Christians than the people in Europe. They had no prejudice over anyone. They brought this back to Europe and enforced it with their great power. Columbus has learned himself to look at all human beings as humans no matter what the color of their skin. He has learned how to be a better Christian than even the monks could teach him in Europe. Columbus has changed to a much better man than he was before and it was now time to teach the rest of the world to have these same great qualities.
am 1. Oktober 1999
Orson Scott Card is not one for taking on light airy subject matter in his novels. His Ender books hypothesized the fate of a boy manipulated into becoming the destroyer of an entire race of beings. Another series of books envisioned the journey of humanity back to an Earth that they destroyed millennia before. In one of his latest novels Pastwatch (I'll dispense with the subtitle), he envisions a humanity that almost destroyed itself through pollution, overpopulation, and deforestation. Then they realized the error of their ways, so they stopped throwing things away, chopping down trees and evidently started using birth control. Hallelujah! Along the way they also invented a way to look into the past. So while the Earth and humanity were recovering from the previous devastation, humanity was also re-examining the past, looking for all the things that were thought lost forever.
So was born Pastwatch, the organization dedicated to rediscovering the past. Card takes us through the lives of people that are intricately linked to that organization and its discoveries. We also see through the eyes of one of these people, as they look into the past, the life of Christopher Columbus and his fate as discoverer of the new world. We come to find out that Columbus is the person ultimately responsible for the destruction wrought upon the Earth, that is only in Pastwatch's time being repaired.
Card delivers multiple characters that he fills with breadth and life, although they aren't formed really well until the latter half of the book. The examinations of Columbus I found more tedious than the present day characters that he uses, but for the books premise to succeed we do need to understand Columbus' motivations, at least as Card envisions them. Card succeeds beautifully in examining history in this novel and in concocting a believable and highly satisfying conclusion to a well crafted story. A bit melancholy at the end, but nonetheless it is quite a novel.
Overall it is tightly written, with the Columbus portions lagging a bit. The overall premise to the book, that of redeeming Columbus, is sound and while at times certain assumptions are made that seem a little contrived, they work to keep the overall plot moving along successfully. I would give more detail about that, but it would serve to spoil certain surprises. I would not categorize this as hard SF, more of a modern fantasy with SF trappings along for the ride, the technology is never really spelled out for you, it is a vehicle for the storytelling.
4 out of 5 stars
am 13. Juli 2000
Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus is as good a piece of psycho-history as has been written. The main plot of this story - undoing the damage unwittingly wrought by Christopher Columbus - enlightens the reader about pieces of history that remain largely unexamined in a nation that celebrates Columbus Day as if CC himself were the first native. The evaluation of the actions leading up to Columbus' (largely accidental) journey to America, their repercussions and alternatives, stands with the strongest philosophical explorations of Card's best novels. Pastwatch is not particularly concerned with the development of any characters but Columbus, and even he is a little distant, but it is a rare instance where characterization is secondary yet competently executed. The only flaw (in my opinion) is two-thirds of they way through the novel when the time-travelers of the book, determined to help Columbus do it right, act on the majority wish of the planet's population against its more immediate well-being. Sadly, that most of the world is self-sacrificing may never be believable. As an examination of the seldom-told early history of Europeans in America, Pastwatch is an entertaining way to learn some disturbing truths that all Americans should know. As a work of fiction, Pastwatch examines the themes of responsibility, character and faith better than most non-fiction books focusing on those subjects. I highly recommend this book to any fan of science fiction, history or ethics. I can't say that about anyone but Card.
am 6. Oktober 1997
This book is an interesting blend of historical and science fiction, but what I will remember about it longest are the moral questions it raises. Which are the true Christians, those who have been baptized, or those who respect all others and turn the other cheek when insulted? How can you make a democratic decision to revise history when so many of the participants are already dead?
I'm a new reader of Orson Scott Card's work, since I have only read Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead before this book. I did expect Card's character development here to be a bit more even. Columbus was interesting, and so was Diko, but the others were a bit flat. For instance, the contrast between the Christian motivations of Columbus, which Card portrays as grounded in the treatment of his father when Columbus was a child, and the Muslim motivations of Kemal, which aren't grounded much at all, leaves me hanging. Similarly, Diko's ambiguities regarding the role of Pastwatchers are much more convincing than her mother Tajiri's one-noted insistence on democratic decision-making.
I think the uneven character development is why the book is slow at the beginning. But it's definitely worth plowing through the beginning in order to get to all the interesting dilemmas raised later on. I enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to friends, even if they don't normally enjoy science fiction. Pastwatch is an engaging read, but not escapist, because of the great questions it poses.
am 28. März 1997
At first,this book seemed to fall into the "good,but not great" category when I started reading it.Soon,however, it became great.This is simply because,unlike some of Orson Scott Card's other books (Ender's Game,for example), Pastwatch isn't exciting from the very
beginning. Instead,the book builds to a climax that is
impossible to predict and intertwines it with the story
of Christopher Columbus's life had it been interfered with
by people who watched it from the future.
The best part of this book, in my opinion, was the way Card made Columbus himself the focus of the novel, instead of giving the Pastwatch characters top priority. Columbus turns out to be actually much more interesting than any of those who work for Pastwatch in the book.Card's best books (like Speaker or Xenocide) have succeeded because of his ability to write enthralling characters, and here he has the oppurtunity to write for an extremely interesting one-Christopher Columbus.
In other words, read this book whether you're a science fiction fan or a museum curator. If you find yourself a bit bored by the Tagiri/Diko/Manjam etc. part of the book,rest assured that it gets much better.If you expect the Pastwatch station to be the most important part of the book, you'll see that Christopher Columbus is, is reality, the book's focal point and the most intertesting aspect.
am 8. August 1999
I have enjoyed Card's other books and stories, but Pastwatch didn't do it for me. Sure, there were some interesting concepts, but the overall story was just too implausible to enjoy. I just couldn't believe that 15th-century Americans could be brought up to a level of power and organization equal with that of Europeans of the time, especially in one generation. Since the whole story hinges on that being possible, I didn't buy it.
One other point: as a veteran of way too many hours playing "Civilization" (which, btw, I'm still not bored with after 5 years of playing), I can see that Card was overly influenced by that game's framework of history. The Civ framework works great for a simulation game, but it's too simplistic for a novel. (Specifically, in the game the only real difference between two civilizations is the technology they possess.)
The fact that I didn't find the story plausible detracted too much for me to really enjoy the book, although as I said, it did have some interesting concepts. I was especially disappointed because Card usually has better insight into people and society.
One more thought. I might have enjoyed this book a lot more as a teenager, which I was when I read Ender's Game, etc.
am 10. Juli 1997
As an avid reader of Card's novels, I approached Pastwatch enthusiastically. The slow start tempted me to contrast this novel with others in the Enders, Alvin Maker and Earth series, but I persisted. After completing Pastwatch I adopted it as the text for my Literature and Critical Thinking course; my students' have submitted their reactions in this column.
My own reactions are mixed, but net favorable.
Some of the character's attitude changes were unrealistic to me because they happened so speedily. For instance, we have Kemal acting as a sarcastic and even acid skeptic to the Columbus project becoming contrite in one paragraph due to Tagiri's respect for human free will. Kemal does, however, resume his thorn-in-the-side temperament soon after. I also found Columbus'complete change of heart in Haiti a bit rapid. Even with the inimitable help of See in the Dark. In fact, I do find credibility gaps in all of Card's texts, but I do not consider them necessarily harmful. Often these gaps stir
am 10. März 2000
Orson Scott Card is certainly a great writer, but he falls way short here. The book starts off well enough letting us get to know a group of future historians who spend there time watching history on special machines that show them the actual events of the past. These historians believe that it is impossible for them to effect the past, but they learn that they are wrong. What follows is extremely contrived as Card suddenly decides that his ideal future is actually on the verge of a collapse so complete that society will never rise up again, and the people of the world VOTE to erase their very existance in hopes of creating a better world! Yikes! In spite of good writing and an excelent treatment of Columbus as a driven but basically good man, Card never manages to overcome his ridiculus set up. The scenes near the end are also very contrived as the characters transform to world of Columbus's day into a nearly perfect world with very little effort.
am 22. März 2000
The Premise: How different history would have been if only: 1) Columbus had just a bit more of a conscience, and/or 2) The native Americans had been just a bit more ready, technologically, to meet him, and/or 3) Columbus had been prevented from returning to Europe! Pastwatch, which exists in a future where all the earth is dying from pollution and environmental degradation, sends three messengers into the Past; one, to improve Columbus' conscience, one to prepare the native people and one to prevent the return. They hope at least one will get through, and succeed; all three do. The result is "too good to be true." As a time-travel novel, this book has its flaws; as a morality play, and a cool look at the complex nature of history (not to mention the complexities of human nature!) it is just about unequaled. Read it for the philosophy, not for the believability.
am 17. Juni 2000
Orson Scott Card is a wonderful writer. He is one of the most compassionate writers I have ever read, especially in science fiction. His scenarios are always fascinating. However, the one thing that bugs me about him is his fast and loose use of "futuristic technology" in his books. Because he writes in the sci-fi genre, he imagines he can get away with any sort of nonsence, like a machine that lets you see any moment in the past, from any viewpoint. This seems impossible to me and nowhere in the book does he even attempt to explain how this could be. I usually read hard sci-fi, so I like plausible technology. Or at least an attempt at explaination. However, if you forgive this one issue, Pastwatch is an excellent book. Not as good as Ender's Game or Speaker for the Dead, but better than most of the sci-fi drivel published these days.