Let’s travel into the past and create a utopia!

I just finished rereading Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card. As with everything Card writes, the novel shows skillful plotting, compelling writing, and likable characters. His Mormonism shows through at only one place two places I noticed, but his interest in Christianity at large drives the plot.

**Spoilers below the fold!**

The story centers around an agency called Pastwatch that uses technology to look back into history. The watchers discover that someone has tampered with the time line. People from another future learned how to move beyond watching the past to actual time travel. Traveling back in time, they faked a vision that sent Christopher Columbus sailing off to the New World. Out of Columbus’ voyage came all the evils that resulted from European conquest of the Americas in our familiar history.

The novel’s heroes want to undo the other time travelers’ damage. They send three agents on a one-way trip to the Americas a few years before 1492. There they prepare the people for Christianity, inoculate them against European diseases, sabotage Columbus’ efforts to return to Spain, and set up two Meso-American empires that eventually merge into one. The New World becomes a place of harmony and peace from which missionaries (in a sense) travel to Spain to teach people “how to be human.”

Anyone who has read Card’s Alvin Maker series already knows that Card buys into the Noble Savage myth. Fans of time travel fiction will also notice that the story uses a single-time-line theory (much like Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol series). Change the past, and you don’t get variant futures. Instead, you wipe out the “original” future; all those people never existed, even though you (the time traveler) remember them.

This might sound strange: I can suspend disbelief in time travel and enjoy the story. But I have to work hard to imagine a world where three strangers, however well prepared, can work massive social changes within about 20 years. But hey, it’s only a story.

Bottom line: A good book for Card fans, sci-fi fans, and possibly for people who like history.

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