Author: Robert J. Sawyer
Original Publication Date: February 2003
$17.47 U.S. (hardcover)
$6.99 U.S. (paperback)
$9.99 Canadian (paperback)
In the second book of The Neanderthal Parallax, contact becomes commonplace between our earth and an alternate one where Neanderthals have established civilization.
In the second book of The Neanderthal Parallax, contact becomes commonplace between our earth and an alternate one where Neanderthals have established civilization. The results include an interspecial romance, a beetlebrowed detective story– and questions about deeply-held beliefs.
Robert J. Sawyer does an excellent job of tracking the elements of his world. I doubt any hominid society would be as well-organized as the one portrayed here, but everything in the Neanderthal world, from social conventions to weather patterns, derives from premises established in this and the previous book.
The novel also raises a number of interesting questions by postulating this alternate society. And the novel’s hero, Ponter Boddit, proves a very likeable Neanderthal.
The book suffers for being the middle part of a trilogy. Readers have already encountered the alternate Neanderthal earth in Hominids (portions of this book wouldn’t really work if you haven’t read its predecessor). Sawyer nevertheless devotes quite a few pages to telling us what we already know, with few new details of the other earth and less balance in his presentation. He also spends time setting up a fairly far-fetched subplot which will be resolved in Hybrids. I recognize this is the nature of a trilogy’s second book, but it may put some readers off.
Imagery: 4/6 Sawyer has brilliant concepts; I wish he devoted more of his writing to showing us how his characters experience the world’s physical nature, and a little less to explaining the background behind every single event. Overall, he handled description better in Hominids.
Story: 4/6 See “low points.”
Characterization: 4/6 He handles Ponter Boddit well, and Mary Vaughan reasonably so. The other characters never seem entirely convincing. A character named Ruskin plays a key role towards the novel’s conclusion, but he never becomes more than a plot device.
Emotional Response: 4/6 A few scenes work very well, including a significant confrontation to which much of the book builds. At other times, Sawyer’s writing fits a stereotype true of certain SF writers. He does good research and has intriguing concepts; he does not always reach his readers emotionally.
Editing: 5/6: Sawyer is a highly readable writer.
Overall Score: 4/6
In total, Humans receives 28 out of 42
Additional Notes and Comments:
The Stranger in a Strange Land premise has often been used to reflect upon our own world and social institutions, and Sawyer clearly intends to offer such commentary. The book, even more so than its predecessor, becomes a polemic too often. Yeah, our world has problems. Yeah, we should think about other ways of doing things. Yeah, this fictional world gives us a few things to consider. We get it! Mary Vaughan’s encounters with the Neanderthal world and Ponter Boddit’s reactions to ours speak loudly enough. We don’t need the characters to ruminate thematically every chapter.
I recommend this book’s predecessor, the Hugo-Award-winning Hominids to any reader of SF or anthropological fiction. I only recommend this second part of The Neanderthal Parallax to those who really enjoy Hominids.
I shall review Hybrids this autumn. Hopefully, Sawyer returns to form with the trilogy’s conclusion.