Saturday, May 24, 2008

Hybrids by Robert J. Sawyer

I've been putting this review off for a few days now, because it's the 3rd book in the series and I feel like I've already had my say about its strong/weak points. Hybrids is exactly more of what you get in the first two books, without the allure of getting to discover a fresh new reality like you do in the beginning.

Neanderthal man is still nobler, smarter, faster, stronger, healthier, more environmentally-conscious, and more peaceful than we are. Another flaw is that characters sometimes do things I don't believe likely, especially Jock and Cornelius. Then coincidence strikes when Mary learns what Jock is up to and is, against all odds, right there to challenge him near the end. Similar to that, I find myself a bit irked that whenever something needs doing that exceeds our own technology, voila! the Neanderthals have invented it in their world. Therefore we find quantum computing, a DNA maker (you input the string of DNA you want, and it can create it, like a printer only for genetic material), the laser decontamination device, the companion implants, and other essential plot-advancers that I'm not recalling at the moment.

Two other things need mentioning, and each should get its own paragraph. The first is the topic of the Neanderthals' sexual practices. I don't know if research has shown that they were predominately homosexual and lived in a gender-separated society, but that's the way it is in the book. They spend all but 4 days a month with a same-sex partner, and come together with their opposite sex only at a time when copulation will not result in pregnancies. Every ten years, they change it around to come together when they will have children, resulting in specific generations born every ten years. This keeps the population size constant, and their separation prevents problems that could be caused by pheromones and their highly developed sense of smell. Fine. It worked for me when it was their way. But in the relationship between Mary and Ponter, the difficulty quickly arises when she wants to be with him all the time, but all he wants is to see her during her four days and be with Adikor the rest of the time. The solution was for her to adapt to their ways. And when Mary finds herself living with a lonely Neanderthal woman, she, um, embraces their way of doing things. That I found awkward, even though I really do try to accept such things. I suppose my two objections are that it doesn't really seem like the correct solution for her (she was pretty straight up to that point), and the fact that it happened so fast (a few days, I believe). For a rape victim with a recent marriage annulment and then an inter-species relationship with a Neanderthal man, it just seemed a bit odd. At least it wasn't as bad as Piers Anthony's Blue Adept series, where the main character Stile has at least 3 partners (or more?) - an android, a unicorn which can turn into a human, and the widow of his mirror-self. Ugh.

The other aspect I haven't really mentioned before is religion. See, in their society, religion never existed. A part of our brains that enables us to believe in god(s) is completely missing from theirs. Basically, they are incapable of being religious. I believe the author is showing us once again how they are superior to us, except that sometimes he does make faith look like a good thing. In the end, though, rational and honest thinking apparently is the superior position, as it gets the final say, with believers causing harm due to their faith. Well, if I believed there were good things about religions, I might have been offended :). Instead, all I got was the idea that the author seems to be making a supporting argument in favor of a "god gene," something I find a bit unrealistic. For instance, what happened to mine when I lost interest in religion? The converse for that would be a valid objection as well. From my highly biased standpoint, it appears that the real reason people are religious is that they are emotionally attached to the comforting idea of being watched over, have a strong desire to conform, combined with the lingering incredulity of childhood. A god gene could account for the beliefs of some, but it doesn't take into account how much experience plays a factor. When you pit nature vs. nurture, I always go with the latter as the dominant factor, even though both are plausible stances.

Back to the book, read it if you've started the series, to find out how it ends. I would not advocate picking it up cold, though. Too much depends on the previous novels to be able to appreciate it without a good foundation in place. There are many creative, interesting things to be found within the Neanderthal Parallax, and it has its humorous moments. But overall, I would say it's only suitable for sci-fi audiences, and for those who want a less hefty read.

10 comments:

Jason Gignac said...

Oh that's not SO bad. Just think, it could have been Robert Heinlein. There was a man who need a little help...

Byron said...

Uh-oh. He's on my list, although there are probably 50 or so books before I get to him.

Now you've got me curious, although morbidly so.

Amanda said...

So I take it this is the last in the series? What did you feel about the series as a whole? You sound very unenthusiastic, yet you kept reading...

Jason told me a little about Robert Heinlein last night. His work sounds bizarre.

Byron said...

Yeah, it was the final book of the series. You ask why I finished, and I can think of three reasons - 1. I am very curious and I have to know how stories end.
2. I really don't leave books (or series) unfinished unless I really hate them.
3. I liked the series more than it sounded like in the review.

My problem is that I like everything I read. I try to make my reviews more balanced than that, so that they will be more useful to people with more critical reading skills than mine. In the process of focusing on flaws that really don't bother me as much as it sounds like, I come across as really dissatisfied and probably a bit whiny.

Really, the series was right in the middle for me (which means I liked it). Bad books will get purely negative reviews with plenty of mockery, and good ones will be almost all favorable. For middle of the pack stuff, I have to try to show why it belongs there, and I guess at times that makes me come across as a bit harsher than I mean to.

Amanda said...

I tend to read books to the end whether or not I like them, too. I've given up on very few. I have that same inate curiosity to see where things go. And while I've seen that a lot of my reviews have come off negative, I don't mean them (always) to do that. Generally with books, if I don't out and out love them, I like and identify both good and bad in them. They are very balanced. I like your reviews - I like the balance in them.

Byron said...

Thanks for the reassurance. I'm glad to have your favorable review of my reviews. Now I'm trying to decide whether you're just being nice to keep me coming back, or if you really mean it. :)

I have considered the fact that I'm really just afraid to appear lowbrow and simpleminded, so I put some mean stuff in there to remind everyone how hard I am to impress. >:| I'm joking a bit, but I admit there's probably some truth to that, though I still think objectivity (impossible as it is) is my main reason for sliding my reviews down into the middle of the bell curve.

Besides, I hate boundless optimism, so even though that's how I feel about books, I can't let it show.

Amanda said...

Oh, you know me better than to think I'd be dishonest about my intentions! ;)

I think it's a good thing to have objectivity even in the face of your own feelings when it comes to a lot of things, not just books, so I applaud your efforts.

Btw, do you want to be put on the list to get all the comments (on all reviews) emailed to you? Jason, Jen, Julie and I have all added our names to the list. I can add yours if you like. Or anyone else if you come across this comment and want me to, just leave a comment for me.

Byron said...

Yes, that would be good. I don't want to miss out on people's thoughts, even if they come late to the game.

Amanda said...

It is done. (imagine a bow here)

Jen said...

I actually imagined more of an "I Dream of Jeannie" arm fold and blink.

I like your reviews too, Byron. I find myself doing the same thing--liking a book and then being critical in the review.