Pastwatch: The Flood Hardcover – Jan 1996
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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 --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Playing with the time stream isn't new to science fiction, but Card (Ender's Game), who's won both a Hugo and a Nebula, gives the concept a new twist here-with mixed results. His angle is to make the temporal interference not accidental but intentional, as a group of scientists go back in time to alter Columbus's journey. Sponsored by the organization Pastwatch, which uses a machine called TruSite II to view the past in remarkable detail, the "Columbus Project" is headed by Tagiri, whose TruSite viewing of the horrors of slavery has prompted her to revise the famed explorer's agenda. Tagiri sends into the past her daughter, Diko, a Mayan descendent named Hunahpu and a man named Kemal, a prickly sort whose initial skepticism is transformed into a fierce commitment to change the past. Armed with devices from the future, the three return to 1492, determined to transform Columbus from a gold-seeking pirate into a proponent of world peace and global unity. Uniformly well-meaning, the trio is just too sanctified to believe, and in their hands, the complexities of temporal mechanics are boiled down to simplistic cause and effect. Some sparks are generated when the Pastwatchers finally meet Columbus, but even that encounter produces fewer surprises than you'd expect from a master like Card.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
A few scientists use machines to delve into the past, trying to understand how humanity reached such a pass. These are the focus of Card's "Pastwatch" One, Tagiri, highly sensitive to the suffering of others, sees the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus and the enslavement and slaughter of the indigenous people, as the major significant event.
Discovering the strange vision that committed Columbus to his course she and her team begin to wonder if it's possible to change history - even though they know that change will not guarantee a better world and will cancel their own.
Card explores his themes through alternate narratives - Columbus' world and Tagiri's. The future is the more intriguing, especially as Tagiri's team learns the past has already been disrupted, with disastrous results. It takes a while for the Pastwatchers to jump back to Columbus' era but Card is one of Sci-Fi's best writers (winner of both the Nebula and Hugo Awards) and he keeps the pace moving.
A well-developed story with real characters and plenty of the paradoxes and moral dilemmas that make sci-fi more than space opera.
The story revolves around Christopher Columbus, of course, and the idea that he was a "fulcrum of history". Card depicts him as an undeniably great man who was nonetheless human, with as many flaws as virtues.
It's interesting, then, that Columbus is what makes the first two thirds of the book a bit of a chore. Card intersperses a nearly biographical account of Columbus's life up until the point of his voyage to the New World with a growing story about the discoveries of Pastwatch, an organization initially created to study the past and now being used to change it.
The problem is that while these stories are interrelated, they don't have much direct effect upon each other until late in the book. And because there's little to no tension of "what happens next?" in the Columbus storyline until late in the novel, his sections tend to drag down the story of Pastwatch itself.
But because Card's prose is so easy to read and because the ideas presented in the Pastwatch sections are so intriguing, the novel still moves at a reasonable pace. Once the two storylines join, however, it's difficult to put the book down until you've reached the last powerful page.
Which presents the second problem. Card, in my opinion, did not spend enough time on this section. He wraps up a lot of events in one chapter, without taking us through what would have undoubtedly been an interesting part of the narrative.Read more ›
Card also exploits his ability to create robust, complex characters, giving Christopher Columbus, an already fascinating historical character, a deep and believable personality, as well as creating a few purely fictional characters with all the life and complexity that Card's fans have come to expect in his works.
However, this book never came to life and captured my imagination the way many of Card's other stories have. The plot was a bit thinner, the motives were less compelling, and in general, there was just a bit lacking that kept the book from coming together to be as marvelous as some other Card novels. I recommend the book to anyone who wants to think through another Card story, but if you haven't already, try the Ender saga first, and come back to "Pastwatch" if you find that you truly love Card's writing.
The SF premise is essentially a combination of two concepts from Asimovian works (Card is known to be a fan of Asimov, so this isn't surprising): viewing the past (from Asimov's short story "The Dead Past"), which leads to a team of workers whose mission is to intervene subtly in the past to be sure things turn out well (from Asimov's novel "The End of Eternity").
Card focuses on Columbus' mission in this matter with the underlying premises that (a) the cultural and technological naivete of the North American/Caribbean population led to their undoing and near-extinction by the predatory Europeans and subsequent North American slavery and (b) three people, armed with modern tech and knowledge of the past, sent back in time, could change all that, bringing the North American population up to speed with Europe in one generation, thus preparing North American against the European incursiona and radically altering the future.
All of this is purportedly made possible by the future Earth's voting on a mass scale to write itself out of existence because, despite their technology and diagnostic powers, they've screwed up the planet so badly it's become untenable for human existence inside one generation and... somehow... they're only just realizing it (!) and can't fix it before dying out.
I'm sorry to say I simply can't accept these concepts.
And I dislike the degree to which Card implies again and again that the world's population should be Christian, that it would be better if it were entirely Christian, which I see as a direct consequence of the fact that he is Mormon.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Big disappointment, so boring I couldn't finish it. I usually enjoy this author's books, but this one was so boring I couldn't even finish it. Read morePublished 19 months ago by Emerald
Card shows brilliance and great insight in a futuristic tale that has a group of researchers studying history by having a viewer into the literal events of the past. Read morePublished on April 9 2004 by Michael A. Newman
Futuristic setting: check, Highly Intelligent Protagonist: Check, Religious Undertones: Check, Historical References: Check, sounds like "Pastwatch: The Redemption of... Read morePublished on Dec 4 2003 by Jakub Blaykowski
I haven't been able to stop thinking about this book since I finished it late last night. I don't know the story of Columbus well enough, or even the Columbus myth well enough, to... Read morePublished on Nov. 16 2003 by Jedidiah Carosaari
Card is famous for weaving fascinating metaphysical and philosophical questions into page-turning narratives. Read morePublished on Nov. 13 2003 by D. Cloyce Smith
Lots of contemporary writers can regard themselves as successful writers of fiction. Few can regard themselves as writers of truly *intelligent* fiction. Read morePublished on Aug. 5 2003 by Godly Gadfly
In this very insightful novel, Orson Scott Card takes the old "don't-alter-the-future" theme of standard time travel stories to a stunning new humanistic level. Read morePublished on July 26 2003 by doomsdayer520
If you could change any moment in history, would you do it even if it meant a one way trip to the past? This is the premis for Pastwatch. Read morePublished on June 27 2003 by papaphilly