Pastwatch, by Orson Scott Card (Major spoilers)

I was recommended this book by two different friends whose opinion I value a great deal. Unfortunately, I hated it. Still, I plowed through it, knowing OSC is a great author and often turns things totally around in the last few pages.
However, at page 113, I started making a list of all the things that were starting to irk me about this book.

The book raises these premises that trouble me:

[ul]
[li] That the tale of Noah’s Ark is true, and relates to the rising of the Red Sea. IMO Noah’s Ark is one of the most far-fetched tales of the Bible. However, I have read stories about it before, that have been well-written and much better constructed. This was poorly done.[/li][li] That Columbus was a great man. True, he did some great things, but he was also an animal and a savage who didn’t understand the people he’d met were humans. The variation between his two selfs was not well-defined. The book started on the premise that he was a great man, and nothing would change our opinion of that, when I had already started with a fairly low opinion of him.[/li][li] That slavery somehow took the place of blood sacrifices. This may be true, but I found it hard to believe and the background describing it flimsy. [/li][li] The prevalence of the The Holy Trinity & Christianity! I do not believe any religion that claims its believers are the only saved ones is the only one able to save the world. It may of course be that I am wrong. [/li][li] Atlantis existed in the Red Sea, before the flooding. Again, possibly true but not backed up enough. [/li][li] The past was changed seemingly on **one ** woman’s whim, and compassion, for long-dead people. Wrong, IMO. [/li][/ul]

Above all, I learned during the reading of the book that I feel changing the past is wrong. Changing the past to convenience the present is wrong. Changing the past to fix the future is wrong. This is all IMO of course but I discovered a visceral reaction in myself to even the thought of changing the past. Even if we destroy our own civilization I don’t agree humanity is automatically worth saving! We lie in the bed that we make.

The brutal, savage treatment of the Indians was awful. I do my best not to read depictions of such things. What would be the point? I can’t change it. But the horrid rape of the “brown” Indian girl (not woman, girl) filled me with such a red rage even I was surprised. I’m not white, so I read the whole book from a vastly different perspective than either of the two friends who recommended it. I had a very hard time reading that part, the cruelty of the men in not even thinking she was human.

All that being said: The book was decently written. I think it could have been better at 3 x the length, with a lot of more of the things I’ve mentioned covered in greater depth, leaving a great deal of the “human interest” out. That is probably the best thing I could say about it. One of the very few times in fiction I was not able to suspend my disbelief. What the book covered is done. It’s gone. We can’t fix all the mistakes that were made, why hope that we can?

Anyway, the book did not make me feel good about reading it. I nearly started a Pit thread, it bothered me so much. But I thought it would be weird to Pit a fictional novel.

Orson Scott Card, you have disappointed me.

I enjoy the book, to a point. The one thing that I have to remember when reading books by OSC is that he is religious (AFAIK), and that is necessarily going to color some/a lot of his books.

There are parts that frustrate me in the book - but it’s been a while since the last time I read it. I can handle it for the story, but if I start thinking too much about the rest of the things he puts in, I have to put it down and walk away.

It wasn’t the best book ever – and it dragged until the middle and end – but I did enjoy it and the ending really hooked me. The mental image of the Aztecs sailing into London (or was it Seville?) sent chills down my spine and pissed me off when it ended with no further speculation. I just love alternative histories and am a total fanboy for them, even the goofy Noah’s Ark and Atlantis examples stated earlier.

I didn’t care for the idea that human sacrifice and slavery were so interchangeable and that their eradications would have led to an enlightened era though. I’m not an expert in history or anthropology by any means but the simplistic way it was presented really took me out of the story when I read it four or so years ago.

It did impress me enough to try some of his other work though and is largely responsible for me discovering the *Ender *series, The Worthing Saga, and his assorted short stories, most of which I liked. I’d give it somewhere between three and three and a half stars.

And, by the way, Lsura, he’s a very devout Latter Day Saint. And a bit of a homophobe too, if I remember correctly. I try to not let artists’ personal politics color my opinion of their work unless it’s an active part of it though.

Re: the Christian thing … IIRC none of the time travellers (in fact, possibly none of the characters at all) are Christian themselves. The woman who intercepts Columbus (Diko?) cynically uses the christian mythos to hit the Spaniards where it hurts … I don’t see any evidence that she actually believes in what she’s saying about Jesus she just knows that THEY do, and she uses this to point out the inconsistency between their beliefs and actions.

The guy who travels to the Zapotec is even MORE manipulative … he invents a religion out of whole cloth that’s designed specifically to be just enough like Christianity to ensure a smooth meeting with the Spaniards when they finally do meet up. Obviously he doesn’t believe a word of what he’s saying!

Now I’m a Christian myself, and one problem that I had was with what I’ve just written above … that it was basically full of people prostituting the Christian religion to acheive their (admittedly selfless) ends. So basically I had the opposite problem to the one you did!

Personally, I enjoyed the book (but I’m a major OSC fangirl). However, you missed some more problems with it :slight_smile:

[ul]
[li]The idea that a majority, or even a significant number of the world’s population would vote for their own destruction so as to produce a better life for the people of the alternate universe. Uh-huh, never gonna happen, not with THIS human race.[/li][li]OBVIOUSLY the hundred-year limit on the Tempoview boxes is a politically/technically imposed one to prevent people from spying on people in the (effective) present, rather than inherent in the technology. I mean, obviously! So why are Tagiri et al so surprised when they find this out? And that there’s an elite that isn’t limited in this way. I mean, it’s obvious![/li][/ul]

Aspidistra, you’re right of course about the Christian thing. I can see how you would have seen it from the other angle.

As for the two mistakes I missed, by then I was just getting tired. But you’re right, even I could have guessed if you could see closer than 100 years then there was someone who was allowed to see it. It was just a plot device.

All this being said, I am still an OSC girl and will continue to remain so.

I consistently either love or hate Card’s work, very rarely am I in the middle. Pastwatch left me in the middle. Far more preachy than Children of the Mind, which I would not have thought possible, but not a bad story underneath it.

I read this book over Thanksgiving and thorougly enjoyed it, though I did find a lot of the book far-fetched. Though I guess it’s within the realm of possibility that if the Aboriginal Americans were immune to smallpox and prevented Columbus from going back to Spain they would have saved themselves a lot of trouble. It kind of reminded me of Leo Frankowski’s Cross Time Engineer books where one man’s modern know how builds Poland into a world power.

I liked the way they used Christianity to subvert Columbus simply by pointing out that their mindset was not in the least bit Christian, though I doubt it would have worked so easily. He also pulled in some Mormon stuff with the skull plate that had the history of PastWatch etched into it (Golden tablets).

Reading this book inspired me to read some more Card, namely the “Homecoming Saga” which I’ve really enjoyed (I’ve made it through all but the last one). Also very Mormon (With more golden tablet stuff) but also very entertaining (to me, anyway).

Generally, I am a big OSC fan. Even when I don’t like his books, I find them easy to get through (e.g.- the final book and a half of the Ender series).

But this one, I had to get encouragement from friends to finish. The first half was so thin and muddled, that I almost put it down.

It rallied in the second half to be a decent book. I put it better than Xenocide and CotM, but below everything else I’ve read of his.

And this includes almost all of his books (All Ender and Bean books, the first two Alvin Books, Worthing, Folk of the Fringe, & The Homecoming Series).

It was rather mediocre for Card, but still decent.

FYI- Shadow of the Giant , the latest Bean book, comes out March 8th!)

<fair warning>
It’s been a long time since I’ve read the book. Spoilers ho.
</fair warning>

[quote]
[li] That the tale of Noah’s Ark is true, and relates to the rising of the Red Sea. IMO Noah’s Ark is one of the most far-fetched tales of the Bible. However, I have read stories about it before, that have been well-written and much better constructed. This was poorly done.[/li][/quote]
Well, true and also a total lie, in that the entire world wasn’t covered, just a little local piece of it, and in that he who did the saving wasn’t the follower of the Jewish God, just some guy. I didn’t find this too far-fetched: there are flood myths all over the place in human cultures that spread from that general area.

[quote]
[li] That Columbus was a great man. True, he did some great things, but he was also an animal and a savage who didn’t understand the people he’d met were humans. The variation between his two selfs was not well-defined. The book started on the premise that he was a great man, and nothing would change our opinion of that, when I had already started with a fairly low opinion of him.[/li][/quote]
I think that when he wrote this bit, he had in mind an audience that didn’t know or didn’t care that he considered non-whites subhuman. Part of Card’s point, IMO, is that you can believe things like that and still have the qualities of greatness. You just wind up working great evil, as indeed Columbus did. Card is trying, again IMO, to sell “the belief that the natives weren’t human and didn’t deserve human kindness” as Columbus’ tragic flaw, that kept him from true greatness. Certainly that’s how Dido saw him. There’s a suggestion that Pastwatch present has achieved a utopia free of prejudice and hatred and so forth, so she’d have reason to believe that such things can be easily changed.

[quote]
[li] That slavery somehow took the place of blood sacrifices. This may be true, but I found it hard to believe and the background describing it flimsy. [/li][/quote]
Yeah, OSC pulled this out of his ass as far as I know. It’s a nice piece of speculation, and I wouldn’t hesitate to write it into a fictional world that I was designing, but as far as evidence goes…

[quote]
[li] Atlantis existed in the Red Sea, before the flooding. Again, possibly true but not backed up enough. [/li][/quote]
I agree, this is another of those things that he found in a warm, dark place. Another nice piece of speculation that I’d cheerfully steal for my own world’s history, but that’s all.

[quote]
[li] The past was changed seemingly on one woman’s whim, and compassion, for long-dead people. Wrong, IMO. [/li][/quote]
My recollection was the human race was on the brink of extinction anyway, having rendered the planet unable to grow food and support life. Is this even remotely plausible, given that the people of the world had enough tech to invent time travel? No. But given that as a premise, their decision makes more sense. It isn’t “the present, which is pretty nice, versus an alternate present, which could possibly be better.”, it’s “change the past or watch humanity die.” Given that, the decision to change the past is sensible, though as has been pointed out the “global vote” thing was still ridiculous, and as I think someone in the novel pointed out, the dead are being un-existed just as much as the living, but no one can poll them and they’d probably say no anyway.

My big beef with the book is the part where some parachronic research remarks offhand that, “Yeah, we’ve known for some time that the latest version of the past-viewing machine sometimes makes the ghost of the person who uses it visible to the people s/he’s viewing. No biggie.” Yeah, except for the part where that ought to annihilate and replace the future with something slightly different every time it happens. And the device records and monitors the past even without direct human intervention, so why would it send pictures of its environment back to the time that it’s observing? And that bit was only included to give whats-her-name more motivation to go and change the past, which she already had great steaming bags of already. Stupid, stupid, stupid.