Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hominids - Robert J. Sawyer

2002; 413 pages. Genres : Mostly sci-fi (parallel universes), but it drifts a bit. Awards : 2003 Hugo Award. First book in the "Neanderthal Parallax" trilogy. Books 2 and 3 are titled "Humans" and "Hybrids". Byron's review of Humans is here. Overall rating : C.
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Physicist Ponter Boddit's quantum computer project goes awry, transporting him into a parallel universe where incredibly, the slow-witted and long-extinct gliksins still exist. They seem equally amazed to see him, since he's a Neanderthal. And the primitive gliksins are ...well... us.
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What's To Like...
Hominids examines what would've happened if we Cro-Magnons had died out, and the Neanderthals became the dominant species of man. He's the first author to portray them as evolving into a race every bit as intelligent and advanced as us. Previous novels, such as Auel's Clan Of The Cave Bear and Crichton's Eaters Of The Dead, invariably present them as brutes. Gifted brutes, perhaps. But brutes nonetheless.
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Sawyer does a nice job of fleshing out the modern Neanderthal world. Homes have mossy floors; woolly mammoths still roam the countryside, and the Neanderthals haven't discovered the splitting of the atom. Their world isn't utopian - they have a flawed judicial system, and believe that the best deterrent to crime is to monitor every person 24/7. They have pet wolves, and the hominid population size is kept in check by unwavering adherence to the rhythm method that would bring tears to the Pope's eyes.
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OTOH...
The book really drags when Sawyer steers it away from sci-fi. There is a tepid romance thread that runs throughout the book, as "our" Mary Vaughan interacts with Ponter. The romance is still in the "wishful" stage at the end of the book, but it isn't hard to see where its going, given the title of the third book in this series.
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Even worse is Sawyer's "preachiness", which is Byron addresses nicely in his review. The lectures about the Big Bang Theory, the existence of God, our faux pas of allowing all sorts of animals to become extinct, etc. are frankly boring and ill-fitting.
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Worst of all is Sawyer's pre-occupation, bordering on obsession, with anything to do with reproductive organs. There is a graphic and gratuitous step-by-step rape at the beginning which is unnecessary and without any redeeming value. Crime in Neanderthal-land is punishable by family castration. Time is measured by a synchronized, world-wide menstrual cycle. I cringe to think of what similar surprises await the reader in the next two books.
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I go, Hugo, we all go for Hominids...
For all its minuses, I still enjoyed the story. I just kinda tuned the philosophical blather out, and tiptoed through the gratuitous scenes as quickly as possible. The Alt-Universe portions of the book are excellent. Alas, Byron's review of Humans indicates Sawyer isn't finished telling me his opinions on everything in life, so I doubt I'll read the rest of the trilogy. We'll give Hominids a "C", and wistfully muse on how good it could've been if the author had taken a cold shower and put his philosophy discourses in a different book .
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P.S. Note to Robert Sawyer. On page 353, one of the characters wants to stink-out a building. You rightfully have her reject Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) because it might kill everyone. Unfortunately, you therefore have her choose Ammonium Sulfide (ASD). Very, very bad move. ASD is nearly as toxic as H2S. I should know. My company produces ASD. Substituting ASD for H2S is about the same as getting shot by a 18-man firing squad instead of a 20-man one. In spite of the decrease in lethality, you're still gonna end up quite dead.

10 comments:

Amanda said...

I loved your P.S. on this. It's always interesting when a book comes across your field of study.

Amanda said...

Oh, and your TMI label cracked me up. I can't believe we didn't introduce it prior to now. :D

hamilcar barca said...

how do i change the book count?

hamilcar barca said...

found it !!

hamilcar barca said...

heh. i think i'm going to have fun with the "labels" option.
:-)

Julie said...

I liked what you said here:

"...wistfully muse on how good it could've been if the author had taken a cold shower and put his philosophy discourses in a different book."

Great stuff and a very informative review!

Amanda said...

Glad you found it, Terry. Sorry, I was already off to bed when you asked.

Christina said...

This sounds like an interesting premise, but not a book I would read. I do look forward to your reviews of the other books, provided you decide to read them.

Lula O said...

I would probably enjoy the science angle, but that's about it. Too bad. You must be a chemist? I should've known. You analytical types are sooo picky about things like "facts"..;P

hamilcar barca said...

i'd let it ride, except that my nightmare is some high school kid reading Hominids, picking up the idea of making a stink-bomb,and accidentally killing someone.