Sometimes I feel that my experience has become history already! To see history from the distant mirror in primary sources, historic sites and re-enactments or even novels like Wolf Hall is fascinating and educational. To see it from alongside the people of long ago, as in Willis’ Doomsday Book, would be a mind-blowing experience. To see it, be there and change it… now that is a different level.
The impossibility and the inherent contradictions involved in time travel have been the germ of many a sic-fi story, from the Time Machine of H.G.Wells, which I re-read recently, until today. Dr Who plays with the ideas of moving in Time And Relevant Dimensions In Space- and he is a bad Time Lord because he keeps interfering to rescue people! Early in the Who years he kept visiting historic scenes and I kept telling my history pupils in school that “That’s not how it happened” I hadn’t seen anything yet.The movements in recent seasons have been so intricately plotted they made my head go all wibbly wobbly timey wimey. I’m sure the fans have been dissecting and discussing like crazy.
Orson Scott Card first unfolds the remote viewing in Timewatch, then we find that the historic characters sometimes know when they are being watched, then that they ask for help from figures they see as angels or gods. Finally intervention becomes possible and three time travellers go back. There are discussions between the characters about the morality of changing the past, especially as , in this scenario, the present will wink out of existence and an alternative “present”, which we never see, will exist. What can ever give humans the right to consign millions to oblivion?
Yet in our world terrible scientific inventions and possibilities are not morally questioned nearly enough- those who understand the science and those who understand ethics are each specialists, and people at large are sometimes uncaring, or swayed by ethically wrong fears and values, or even reluctant to try to take on the powerful. Also the Holocaust showed us that genocides can happen on a previously unthinkable scale.
The history lost or diverging in this book extends back from the present to the life of Columbus – one of the main characters in the book. Changing his discovery, very slightly, sets the history of the world in a different direction- which is one of the fertile fields in a sub-genre of Science Fiction. The intervenors enter his story and live there. From Timewatch they seemed gods to the ancients, and in fact posed as gods to be credible. Columbus believes he has seen the Christian Trinity on one occasion and an angel on another. The Meso-americans see a man from their mythology, an opponent of the god Huitzilopochtli from the Lords of Xibalba, announcing the King of Xibalba, whom he models on Christ. People from the future, or aliens, might well seem divine to humans. Would they be justified, for a good end, in accepting this? Paul the apostle was in this position in Athens and did as One Hunahpu in the story: “I am not he; I prepare his way.” (“Take that, Juan Batista,” he says to himself.)
A further question is what Orson Scott Card’s own ideas are here. He is, in fact a member of the LDS, a descendant of Brigham Young, but that does not tell me enough as LDS theology about the Divine is complex and I have not studied it. Is”God” just a label for something beyond our understanding, but, in fact, natural? Are we living out of myths? (The answer to that, for everyone, is Yes and and argue with me if you think you are an exception.) Is it the ultimate hubris for a human to exert this level of power over anyone? (Yes, again.) The other side: the three intervenors do resemble the Christian Jesus, come into our world to turn it back from the evil we don’t see clearly enough and cannot avert, even at the cost of losing his own life.
A thought-provoking book. Son-in law here has just re-read it, though he almost never re-reads stories. Books that make you think even on re-reading, are doing something right. Good to see Orson Scott Card still does some things right.