Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card

Which is the greater evil perpetuated throughout time: human slavery or human sacrifice? This is question posed when the Pastwatch team learns they can change history. Indeed, they find that a Pastwatch team already has, and now it is perhaps their responsibility to undo the damage.

One part science fiction, one part historical fiction, and three parts philosophy, Pastwatch is at its heart a novel about honor, cruelty, and humanity. It’s about individual lives vs. the broad strokes of cultural identification, and the small changes that can have effect beyond measure. It is a novel that succeeds in the tradition of the greatest of sci-fi novels and historical treatises in that it engages the reader and asks larger questions, starting with the most powerful one of all: “What if?”

I’ll be the first to admit that, while I love history and actively seek it out, there is very little that I know about the personality of Christopher Columbus beyond what I can deduce from what it must have taken to do what he did, at the time he did it, and under those circumstances. To that end, I can’t compare Card’s interpretation of Columbus’ character with that of the historical man. That said, the character portrait that is painted adds to the depth and nuances of a story that school children are taught in a very straightforward manner. It’s a masterclass in the ripple effect of history, how one person can make a difference, and how it’s not always possible to judge the past based on the morals and expectations of the present.

At the same time, this book succeeds as a great discussion of the causation of time travel. The tale is so interwoven, I half-expected the Pastwatch team to see a TARDIS in their scrying. This book is truly as thought-provoking as Ender’s Game at every level, perhaps more so.

Suffice to say, top marks all around. The characters are personable, the gravitas of the story is palpable, and multiple narrators of this audiobook lend that extra level of performance that brings us directly in the middle of all of this. Card is on record as saying that there are two more books proposed for this series, and as of yet he hasn’t delivered. This one operates as a standalone, but the possibility for more is quite open.

5 stars

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