Review: Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus
As a chronic sci-fi book devourer, I always freak out a bit whenever someone mentions Orson Scott Card. Images of brilliant 6-year-olds flying through zero-gravity obscure my vision as I hear “The Enemy’s gate is DOWN!” and before I know it I have not eaten or showered in over 30 hours because I was so busy reading and now have bed sores. Gross. So anyways, when my buddy lent me Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus I was forced to accept both a deterioration in hygiene and the fact that I was going to get nothing productive done all week.
The Pastwatch story follows the life of Tagiri, Hassan, and their daughter Diko – all characters who embody and display an incredible (and almost absurd at times) amount of pure human goodness. They find themselves living in a world that is finally peaceful after centuries of devastatingly brutal wars. Using TruSite II, the hi-tech past-watching machine, these three begin reliving the pain and anguish of history by following the lives of various people throughout the ages. After meticulous scrutiny and a few startling discoveries, they come to the conclusion, ‘Hey! If Columbus and his posse hadn’t set the stage for the savage rape, pillage, and plunder of the Americas, then our world today would be all kinds of awesome.’ And Boom! The premise is set and the fun begins.
Surprised I was not to find that this story resembled Card’s approach as seen in Xenocide and Children of the Mind, which both spend solid sections of the book explaining how a radical sci-fi concept is actually feasible. Card’s sound yet simple logic is tip top yet again, and I quickly found my own views of time travel neatly aligning with his. In one of his explanatory tangents, Card explains how the story of Noah and the flood could have really happened the way it is recorded. This. Was. Awesome. Even if for nothing else, read Pastwatch for these 20 pages.
One of the beauties of Pastwatch is that this sci-fi novel also flows somewhat as a historical fiction. The views of the past-watching researchers are constantly jumping all around time via the TruSite II, yet the remainder of the book chronologically follows one Christopher Columbus. The reader explores his entire life; his ambitions and failures, his thoughts and actions, his scandals and his triumphs, and a couple alternate endings to his journey across the deep blue. Card transforms the wildly controversial and so-often hated historical figure into a flesh and blood man, who despite his many flaws, you cannot help but root for.
I refuse to give too much away, though I will be candid – the ending was a little less ‘real’ than I was hoping for – even for a sci-fi. But that may be because recently I’ve been reading too much George R. R. Martin for my own good.
Pastwatch is no Ender’s Game (honestly, what is?), but it’s a great book. I’d give it a solid 4 out of 5 – fun, thought-provoking, historically educational, and did I mention? It’s by Orson Scott Card. Try it on for size. Me thinks it will fit.