by Robert J. Sawyer
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Robert Sawyer’s novel Hominids is the first book of the “Neaderthal Parallax” trilogy, the first time Sawyer has published a trilogy since the “Quintaglio” trilogy and his first series conceived as such. The book, which details an interdimensional event which leads to Ponter Boddit, a Neanderthal scientist from a world in which H. neanderthalensis survived and H. sapiens became extinct, found himself in our world. Hominids follows the activities of both Ponter Boddit and the humans who found him and Adikor Huld, Boddit’s partner and the results of Boddit’s sudden disappearance.Sawyer’s Neanderthal culture is as multifaceted and interesting as any culture he has created for the alien races which have appeared in his earlier novels. Although the Neanderthals are divided into two genders, Sawyer plays some interesting gender role games with them. Between the intricate gender roles and the multidimensional scientists, Hominids feels like an homage to Isaac Asimov’s The Gods Themselves. However, Sawyer's book is more complex than Asimov's, partly, perhaps, because Sawyer is planning to reveal more about the situation in further novels.
Although the novel is split between the Neanderthal world and our own, it feels as if the majority of the action takes place in our own world, as Boddit and the doctors and scientists who befriend him, Mary Vaughan, Louise Benoit, and Reuben Montego try to learn as much as they can about Boddit and his situation while also working on a way to return him to his own world. Despite this, it is Boddit's native land which is the most intriguing because of the way Sawyer presents it.
In many ways, the Neanderthal world appears as a utopian society. There is little strife and crime has been eradicated through the use of "Companions," an electronic implant which sends a recording of the Neanderthal's life to a central archives, from which it can be retrieved. Although there is a certain fascist air to the society, Sawyer does not portray it in such a manner. The Neanderthals living there accept their society without any trepidation about their culture. The complete acceptance of this "Big Brother" is disconcerting and, one hopes, something which Sawyer will address in the future novels.
Sawyer's characters are all interesting and likable, although there is a disappointing feeling that he doesn't spend enough time on any of them individually. They all seem to take back seat to the exigencies of plot and society building. The best fleshed out characters are Mary Vaughan and Ponder Boddit, the latter is seen from his own point of view, Mary's and Adikor's. While Benoit and Montego appear throughout the novel, as do Neanderthals Jasmel Ket and Daklar Bolbay, they appear to move the story forward and Sawyer never fully examines who they are, again something which may occur in future novels.
Despite these weaknesses and apparent foreshadowing for subsequent books, Hominids stands on its own extremely well. The H. sapiens learn about Boddit's world and the universe in general. Sawyer sets up a mystery which is eventually explained, and the murder charges against Adikor Huld are examined in a world where murder is unknown, but the missing Boddit must be explained. Hominids does what a first novel in a trilogy should do. It provides a finished story while also giving the reader a reason to return to the future novels.
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