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Pastwatch - The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card

Review by Loial

First - A disclaimer - Card is my favorite author (and the only one that made me spend two hours in a line to get his book signed, a thing I never thought I'd do), so I might be a bit biased.

Pastwatch is a standalone novel and its main theme occurs in several Card books - The 'Terrible Choice' - The impossible to make choice between two terrible alternatives. The most famous 'Terrible Choice' story by Card is Ender's Game. I think Pastwatch is better.

The storyline occurs on Earth and switches back and forth between the present (which is actually our future) and the past (the late 15th century).

In the present, after a century of wars, deseases and hunger, 90% of Earth's population died and the ecology of the planet was nearly destroyed. This survivors (less them a billion) finally learned to live in peace and are currently restoring the planet.

They invented a machine called the TruSite II, which is like a TV, but instead of picking a channel to watch, you can pick a time and a location and see what happened in the given place at the given time. The people that have access to the TruSite II belong to an organization called Pastwatch, and they are trained to seek interesting lives and important events. They use it to learn from the past how to make the present better. The Trusite II have led to the discovery of the source of some of the greatest myths of our history, such as the legend of Atlantis.

One day Tagiri, a talented member of Pastwatch, watches the slaughter of the Caribe tribes by the Spanish led to Hispaniola by Christopher Columbus, and discovers that the people she watches can see her. They beg her to stop their suffering.

This discovery leads to 3 important questions -
1. Can the past be changed?
2. Where/When/What should the change be? Is it possible to find single event in our history that led to all the destruction and suffering?
3. Should the past be changed, knowing that it will eliminate the current time line and all the people that live in it?

Tagiri believes that the key is Christopher Columbus. She believes his discovery of America gave Europe power over the rest of the World, and eventually ruined the world. Thus begins the 'Columbus Operation', named so because it seems as unlikely to succeed as Columbus's journey seemed at 1492, and also because this operation might cancel his greatest achievement.

The characters :

In the present : Tagiri, Hasan, Diko, Camal, Honafu (I'm not sure of the spelling, since I only have the Hebrew translation). All of them are researchers in Pastwatch. What I find most interesting about them is that all of them belong to countries of the '3rd world' (Africa, Asia, Central America). It seems that Card felt it best that people of the '3rd world' would mend what the 'developed countries' ruined.

In the past : Christopher Columbus and the people he interacted with. Through the Trusite II we see his entire life and especially the motivations that led him to his important journey to the west.

I won't say more about the plot, in order not to spoil it, just that there are more surprises along the way. I rate this book 5 out of 5. I think you don't have to like Science Fiction to enjoy this book. It's more about our history than about the future, and the moral issues in this book are stronger than in any book I've read.

Writing this review makes me want to read Pastwatch again. I think I'll start today.

You can read the 1st chapter here.


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