The Redemption of Christopher Columbus

Unknown - 1996
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A small group of scientists and historians, carefully trained, spend their days viewing the human past through a machine, the TruSiteII. It takes a particular talent to search the past for moments of significance. But a woman named Tagiri is more than just talented, she has a knack for finding interesting lives.
Publisher: New York : TOR, 1996.
ISBN: 9780312850586
Characteristics: 351 p. ; 24 cm.


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Feb 24, 2018

In a distant future where the problems of climate change and world hunger have been averted, scientists have developed machines to look into the past and formed Pastwatch, an organization of historians who use these machines. When Tagiri, one of the prodigies of Pastwatch, traces her family back through history and witnesses the horrors of Atlantic slavery through her family’s history, she begins to pioneer the Columbus project. Because it seems that Columbus sought a crusade to Constantinople, not Asia, the Columbus Project seeks to find out why he tirelessly worked to gain support for a trip west and whether he can be stopped to end the bloodshed caused by European conquest. The novel follows Tagiri, her daughter Diko, and other members of Pastwatch as they uncover an alternate history that could have been, as well as seek to create an alternate history to erase the bloodshed of their world

I thought the premise of the book was fascinating: time machines to see the past but not visit it (or can they?), women (of color no less) looking at history and demanding correction of its wrongs, and conceiving an alternate history where Columbus did not lead European conquest of the Americas. Orson Scott Card is great at building whole worlds off a concept, and it was interesting how he introduced conflict from the past into a utopian future.

This was actually a reread of this book for me; the first time I read it, I loved it. The second time, though, I don’t like it as much. There’s a lot of shoehorned and even harmfully stereotyped diversity (there are no white characters in the book, but the Black characters still live in grass huts and the Turkish character is nearly fanatically religious; the Black characters’ stories are solely tied to their tragic family histories of slavery). Despite following multiple generations of Pastwatch researchers (Tagiri, then Diko), the story isn’t character-focused at all and will often spend chapters discussing dry historical finds, then bounce back into some romance subplot with not a lot of chemistry. Lastly, the plot can just be boring sometimes: the story alternates chapters back and forth between the Columbus project and Christopher Columbus himself, who frankly isn’t that engaging as a character. Characters make choices that seem extreme or illogical, and it seems like a lot of big assumptions are made (even considering this story is speculative fiction about time travel and alternate history) about cultures.

I’d recommend this book if you can read past some questionable plot points, “romance,” and insensitivity, because the concept is still pretty cool. But this book is definitely written by a classic sci-fi writer, and while the idea that Columbus may not be a hero but a villain may seem groundbreaking for him, the execution isn’t the best.

Jan 02, 2018

Intriguing exploration of the possible impacts of time travel on history plus insight on what drove Columbus. I still like "Ender's Game" best.

Sep 08, 2017

Offbeat alternative history novel with Christopher Columbus confronted by future critics for his sins.

Jan 21, 2015

In fourteen hundred ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue...only Orson Scott Card's Pastwatch is wholly unlike any other Columbus story you've ever heard. This one's fiction of course. Though calling it historical fiction would be incomplete. It's more like a sci-fi historical adventure thriller. But Card is no pulp novelist. When he's on his game his stories contain a layer of non-pompous intellectual authenticity—an ability no doubt derived from decades of accumulated curiosity. Card has a gift for combining the expansive ranges of history, religions, politics, military intrigue and theoretical futures all into realistic scenarios that play out the rise and fall of empires over time.

Pastwatch, in the context of this story, is a technological marvel. Scientists of the near future created it to study the visual record of Earth's past. In the beginning, the machines only allowed for periodic study on the scale of decades or centuries—useful for following weather patterns and geological movements—but then as the tools were refined the researchers could now look more closely at the lives of people and start to learn about cultures from long ago. Meanwhile, the Earth of this near future is undergoing a resource drought of planetary proportions. In other words, the human population is in decline. This is the state of things until one day an intrepid Pastwatch member discovers a secret so unbelievable that it may yet give humanity another chance at survival. Though it's a chance that would come at great cost.

After reading Ender's Game, I didn't expect Orson Scott Card to achieve anywhere near that level of page-turning brilliance ever again. Pastwatch comes oh-so close.

If you like the work of John Wyndam's intelligent and philosophical sci fi, you will be delighted with this story. Really, sad warning that we can't go back to undo the damage we are doing to the environment and that future Humanity is going to have to make some cataclysmic sacrifices. A memorable read.


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SqueeGirl Sep 26, 2009

A scientist who watches history through a machine called the TruSiteII discovers that a woman in the past holds the key to restoring the future.


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