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Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus Mass Market Paperback – February 15, 1997

4.3 out of 5 stars 244 customer reviews
Book 1 of 2 in the Pastwatch Series

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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

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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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Tor (February 15, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812508645
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812508642
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1.1 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (244 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #316,174 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
"In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue." Five centuries later, Orson Scott Card wrote a novella titled 'Atlantis'. The connection is 'Pastwatch: the Redemption of Christopher Columbus', perhaps the finest alternate history novel yet written. In 1996's 'Pastwatch', Card weaves his compelling take on Atlantis into a still more compelling picture of Cristobal Colon and his place in our history. Along this entertaining ride we also find slavery, human sacrifice and a post-nuclear society's great moral dilemma.
For in spite of the historical overtones, 'Pastwatch' is about time travel. Future historians lay the blame for their ruined planet at the foot of global evils such as slavery. While appreciating the complex causality of our world, their technology lets them zoom in on Columbus's expansion of Europe's cultural boundaries as crucial. If he could be dissuaded from his momentous voyage, the Pastwatchers consider, we should surely erase slavery from our troubled past. 'Pastwatch' tells the story of their struggle with new data and with conscience; satisfactorily, it also tells us how, why and what they conclude.
Card writes so competently that his storytelling never interferes with the story. The result is an emotionally transformative experience, but also an insightful one. Civilized values are laid on the table so expertly that the reader can only take them to heart. To read 'Pastwatch' is to catalogue great virtues of humanity, whom Card redeems alongside Columbus. Let us, like the Pastwatchers, work to keep redemption within the pages of great books.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
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 know how accurate Card's history was. I can't speak to that. But the character he created was a man so on fire for God, so committed to acting rightly, so passionate in pursuit of the vision he felt God had given him- and yet malleable and teachable. I read this, thinking, I desire that same passion for the purposes that God has set for me. And, in reading this book, I feel like I have caught some of that spirit.

So often, in science fiction, the author sacrifices character development, themes, and even plot, for the sake of playing with futuristic machines and technology. Card does not. All the characters are rich, three-dimensional, taking turns you wouldn't expect. He spends great time on each character, delving into their lives, to explain what they did and why, and who they are and how they effect others. The plot likewise is worthy of O'Henry, and the very concept ingenious. This is one further error that Card avoids- so many SciFi writers are all concept, but can't put the concept to paper in a gripping story. Here the plot is intimately connected to the characters, for it is plots within plots, with themes throughout of trying to understand why people act the way they do, and what it is (within their own history, and the history going back many generations) that causes them to act. For all the evil Columbus did, or initated (truly, a great amount), here, we see a real man, flawed, like any man; heroic, like some men- and what he could have been.

But Card's biggest success is perhaps his philosophical musings.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Pastwatch is the best book I've read in a long time and I can't stop thinking about it. What makes it interesting is the dilemma of a future society altering ancient history. If the future society makes a small change the past, they will never have existed. Typically, history books itemize dry and boring facts about people, places, and dates. Card's descriptions of Noah and Christopher Columbus are so detailed, the story becomes plausible.
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Format: Hardcover
I'm not really much of a fan of science fiction (I've only ever read one other sci fi novel and that's Lewis Shiner's "Glimpses," which is nothing like this) but I picked up this book because Orson Scott Card is a well respected cult figure, I found it on sale and the title sounded really interesting. Plus, despite my normal aversion towards sci-fi, I always like time travel stories (probably due to watching "Back to the Future" over and over when I was a kid) and I liked the way that was used in here.
The first half of the book mostly has the characters observing the past through thier TruSite machines which is intercut with segments from Christopher Columbus' own life. One of the things that I liked about the book was how Card made Columbus into a sympathetic human character instead of just treating him as a heroic figure. This book is actually a far better study of Columbus than either of the two critcally panned 1992 biopics "Christopher Columbus: The Discovery" and "1492: Conquest of Paradise." At times, though, I found the writing, especially here in the first part of the novel, to be a bit too heavy handed and complex. There are a few segments where Card gets way too bogged down in detail and this slowed me down considerably during the midsection of the book.
The second half of the novel, though, is fast paced and entertaining as three of the characters actually travel back in time to try and change the course of history. Here we get even more insights into the life of Columbus and although the whole "time traveller from the future is thought to be a God" is a bit of a sci-fi cliche, it is handled very well here.
So while I still haven't exactly been converted to a hardcore science fiction fan, I would reccomend this book to fans of fantasy, historical fiction and anyone who is interested in the subject of Columbus.
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