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Review: Past Watch, by Orson Scott Card
Review by Joshua Johnson

Retro Review (Tor Science Fiction - 1997)

Overview Orson Scott Card's Pastwatch is a sweeping novel that combines historical fiction, science fiction, and alternate history fiction into one cohesive and believable whole.

Pastwatch examines the life of Christopher Columbus and a character named Tagiri (and her family) simultaneously. While most of us know the broad details of Columbus' life, Card gives us specifics?some based in research and some based in his gift for creating lasting literary characters. The most striking and memorable character in Pastwatch has got to be Columbus himself.

Unlike Columbus, Tagiri's life is in the future. By the time she comes along, humanity has found true peace, at last. In her time, humanity has developed the technology to peek into the past. From the mysteries of where humans first developed to weather patterns from past millennia, humanity benefits from both better weather predictions and alterations, to accurate observations?not guess work?of famous and infamous people.

Tagiri, however, stumbles upon people that can see her, as she watches them. She, her husband, Hassan, her daughter, Diko, and others discover that Columbus is a historical fulcrum that caused much of the war and division which stunted human history. They later uncover another more disturbing truth?others from the future changed the course of history to keep Columbus from becoming the harbinger of even more future calamity.

They gradually form a small group of time travelers who change Columbus' life, yet again, shifting him from creating a less violent world history and changing history into a more peaceful time.

I recommend this book to anyone who likes to have the way they see the world twisted around their ears. Pastwatch will leave you with two questions: 1) Is this possible? 2) Was it worth the cost?

The Positive
The first and foremost credit I have to give Card is that his characters are true to life. One of my favorites from this book has got to be Kemal. He is surly, slightly egotistical, and no one really likes him?and I think most every one who reads this book will have a coworker just like him. Card's characters are believable.

The second thing that makes Pastwatch such a welcome read is uniqueness of its plot. Card weaves a likeable, believable, and downright possible life for Christopher Columbus. He did his research not only on Columbus, but on the native tribes of the Americas at the time of Columbus, after, and before. The reason his book is believable is because he has a great deal of research and amazing writing to back him up.

Finally, Card is, simply put, one of the best authors Science and Fantasy fiction and have to offer. He weaves a good story, and you will have a hard time putting it down.

The Negative
As hard as it sounds to believe, there were things about Pastwatch that I found hard to swallow.

First, one man, as a fulcrum for history in not one, but three (by the end of the novel) scenarios is very difficult for me to believe. Columbus had passion, yes?believed he had God on his side, yes?but to believe that one man, and only that one man can control so much of the future seems too much of a stretch.

Second, and this will make some people roll their eyes, I think that the romantic elements of this novel lacked the depth that such well developed characters deserve. Each relationship (with the exception of the ship's boy and the native girl, and Columbus and Beatrice) seems to be only a cursory one. Tagiri and Hassan work together and just end up together. No emotions seem involved, really. Diko and Hunahpu have slightly more courtship, but there is something lacking in its description.

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