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Hominids is a pretty good first book in a trilogy with a cool premise, namely, that there is a parallel universe where Neanderthals became the dominant hominid species on an otherwise identical Earth I use the term pretty good deliberately, knowing full well this book won the 2003 Hugo And let s be clear I did enjoy the book insofar as it was, well,pretty good Ultimately, though, I was a little disappointed given the awards and attention this book has received So I wonder if what it comes down to is this either 2002 was not a good year for sci fi publishing or the Hugo was awarded on philosophical bias rather than quality of writing Perhaps it was a bit both, or something else altogether I dunno I just feel that Hominids wasn t up to snuff in the quality department, and its obvious philosophical bent is certainly something that any artsy fartsy literary crowd can get excited about, so that makes me wonder It s a philosophical bent I happen to share comparing a peace loving, rational society to our violent, fucked up society I just don t think that s sufficient reason to award the Hugo to an otherwise pretty good novel.In a sense Hominids reminds me of the movie Avatar obviously not in the premise or anything, but in the way it was received When asking my in laws about Avatar, I learned they didn t like it because of what they termed the movie s agenda When I asked further what they meant by the agenda, they talked about the movie making the point that the stronger or advanced people shouldn t just go around taking somebody else s land just cause they can At that point I decided to drop the conversation I was afraid to ask what my in laws didn t like about that agenda and whether they thought it was okay for stronger people to take from others whenever they feel like it I happened to agree with Avatar s philosophical political bent and I m sure artsy fartsy Hollywood types did, too, and I always thought the movie s agenda increased the amount of attention it received.There are a few specifics in Hominids that bother me and that, in my mind, kept it from being a true Hugo worthy work Foremost among those is the rape of a main character and the consequences flowing therefrom over the course of the book In case you haven t read it, before you get upset allow me to state that I haven t really given much away The rape is pretty well known at this point and it happens very early in the book The rape and its consequences do not function to add depth to a female character but, rather, create in her a superficial stereotype of rape victim In every respect she proceeds as one might imagine the stock rape victim to proceed, and the author s near acknowledgment of this fact in the character s own thoughts doesn t make her any less a caricature of the worst sort For example, she doesn t fight the rapist, nor does she report the rape to the authorities She refuses to call it rape in her own mind and even comes close to blaming herself though thank goodness she gets over that attitude quickly Then, of course, she can t be alone in a room with any man, indeed can t pass a man on the street, and shows signs of beginning to hate men in general Of import to the plot, view spoiler she recoils from Ponter s kind and mild advances hide spoiler The idea of this novel is fairly interesting In an alternate universe Neanderthals survived instead of our branch of the evolutionary tree While testing a quantum computer a swap ends up happening between the two realities and a Neanderthal scientist finds himself in our reality The Neanderthals get some radioactive water from us Fair trade Culture shock follows and a compare and contrast between our present society and the what might have been if Neanderthals lived and we just disappeared only to be known by a handful of bones found here and there If the novel was able to just give this reality alternate reality sort of thing, and talk about some of the pop science behind how this all might have happened then I would have really enjoyed the book I m not quite sure how this would have been done though, since what I m trying to say is if basically the ideas of the book were kept but most of the plot that weren t directly connected with the ideas , most of the characters and all the none ideas dialogue were excised from the book I would have liked it Instead the book has these great ideas, but terrible terrible terrible dialogue, characters and writing when the writing isn t about the ideas Even though I was reading this book in the privacy of my own home, while a storm was going on, so no one was even possibly outside my window looking in this happens, really, people just look in my window to watch me read, honest I was still embarrassed at times to be reading the book Especially whenever anything remotely sexual was being written about Most of the romantic elements in the book sound like they were written by a horny 13 year old yes, but romantic I do also mean such things as checking out someone s buns One of the main characters is a super model level gorgeous woman who happens to be a brilliant post doctoral physicist and also happens to walk around in skimpy clothes, and outfits like daisy dukes with rock t shirts bunched and tied up just below her breasts She s also obviously one who sleeps with lots of geeky guys Really It is also painful to read a woman s psychological state after being the victim of a sexual assault It s not that the author isn t sympathetic, but there is just a shallowness to the reaction But this isn t that surprising there is a shallowness to most of the characters and the way they react to things This isn t the worst example of the dialogue, but it s the point where I finally decided to make a note of itI m talking about Mary not you, Professor Vaughan, Mary, the mother of Jesus You re a Catholic, aren t you Mary nodded I noticed your crucifix Mary looked down, self conscious I m a Catholic, too, continued Louisewho we just found out isn t just the ultimate in sexy librarian but can also be the ultimate Catholic school girl, woo hoo.It s not like this was terrible, but it was sort of unnecessary, and it s the kind of stilted exchanges people have through out this book So why three stars I found the science parts interesting, and Sawyer could write when he was doing ideas It was just people that tripped him up So I thought, the ideas get about four stars, and the characters dialogue get about two, so three stars it is And guess what Because I m stupid I started the second book in the series, driven by a curiosity to see where he is going to take the ideas I m sort of a sucker for alternate history stuff, thankfully I rarely indulge in this geeky enjoyment and partially to see where the train wreck of a story goes So far it s actually not as bad as I thought it would be, but the sexy scientist has just come upon the scene, and in this book and the second volume when he s writing about the Neanderthals his quirks don t seem as bad, maybe because they are all imagination based, or maybe because Sawyer is much sympathetic to them as a whole than to the Homo sapien sapien. Neanderthals Have Developed A Radically Different Civilization On A Parallel Earth A Neanderthal Physicist, Ponter Boddit, Accidentally Passes From His Universe Into A Canadian Underground Research Facility Fortunately, A Team Of Human Scientists, Including Expert Paleo Anthropologist Mary Vaughan, Promptly Identifies And Warmly Receives Ponter Solving The Language Problem And Much Else Is A Mini Computer, Called A Companion, Implanted In The Brain Of Every Neanderthal A Computerized Guardian Spirit, However, Doesn T Eliminate Cross Cultural Confusion Permanent Male Female Sexuality, Rape, And Overpopulation Are All Alien To Ponter Nor Can It Help His Housemate And Fellow Scientist Back In His World, Adikor Huld, When The Authorities Charge Adikor With His Murder Robert Sawyer can be a bit hit and miss to me, but Hominids is the best hit he has had with me This was a reread after about a decade at a guess And while I knew the plot, the thought experiment is still strong and is a delight to read The book has its faults though Like most of all Sawyer s books it revolves around a great idea, fleshed out to find interesting consequences and peopled with pawns to do his bidding These people are a little rounded than most SF characters, but still lacking somewhat There s always the scientist in his books and he portrays their life simplistically, but fairly accurately Much better than most media Why do you read this then The fun premise of a crossing of parallel universes, one where we survived and neanderthals died, and then vice versa The neanderthal world is described in detail and differs from our world greatly It s certainly a leftie s heaven But there is a warning There are rape themes explored here, and, as far as I am aware, not done very well This is my opinion as a white male who has had no impact from rape But it seems to me like there was not enough trauma, it was a bit ham fisted, used like a very blunt tool, and it wasn t backed up by sexual maturity when the book was talking about women checking out guys asses occasionally But a very fun thought experiment and I ll be rereading the next 2 volumes soon. Following the resounding success of my Locus Quest, I faced a dilemma which reading list to follow it up with Variety is the spice of life, so I ve decided to diversify and pursue six different lists simultaneously This book falls into my HUGO WINNERS list.This is the reading list that follows the old adage, if it ain t broke, don t fix it I loved reading the Locus Sci Fi Award winners so I m going to crack on with the Hugo winners next but only the post 1980 winners, I ll follow up with pre 1980 another time.In my last review Downbelow Station I mentioned that I find 3 star reviews the hardest kind to write, because they re always a muddle of good and bad or in extreme cases excellent and terrible This is one of the latter kind equally excellent and terrible.I don t often do this, but it this case I feel it s necessary THIS IS A RANTING SPOILER REVIEW Please do not read if you wish to be surprised by anything in this novelIf I used spoiler tags you d need to click show half the reviewHominids is a parallel world story There s a parallel world where Homo Sapiens went extinct, and Neanderthals became the dominant civilization In that Neanderthal version of Canada, there s a pair of Neanderthal quantum physicists working on quantum computing in the bottom on an old mine They accidentally create a portal to our world and one of the Neanderthals gets sucked through it.As far as a premise goes, that s a pretty interesting ground zero in my book Flips the classic parallel world story on it s head, with the alien scientist being sucked into our world, rather than the human scientist being sucked into an alien world.Unfortunately, Hominids gets a bit flaky from there on in.The story splits in two one half following Ponter, the Neanderthal scientist in Ourworld, and the other half following Adikor, his partner left back in Neanderthalworld The dramatic question remains the same as the standard Parallel World story Can Ponter get home to his own world The answer Yes Adikor goes back to the lab, re runs the experiment which created the dimensional rift, and Ponter goes back through the hole Hurray It s actually very simple and undramatic which means the drama, the impediments to stall this simple solution, are rather forced.With no evidence to back up Adikor story about Ponter disappearing into another dimension, Adikor gets accused of murdering Ponter and hiding the body The murder trial is the lens through which we explore Neanderthalworld, it s culture, judiciary system, familial relationships, etc While accused, Anders is not allowed to return to his lab stalling the rescue , and in the end has to get help breaking the law to clear his name, to allow him to rescue Ponter, etc From a pure plotting perspective, this isn t a great adventure.But the cultural exposition is interesting kind of Neanderthalworld is not quite a Utopia, but certainly idyllic Low population, high tech, high personal values, pure atheist logical, etc It s preachy It grated What the author has done taking a few facts about Neanderthal culture and extrapolating them as consistent trends through to a high tech society is interesting and imaginative but shallow.Take the technology for example.1 Out protagonists are experimental scientists, creating Quantum Computers.2 Everybody has embedded technology in their arms which constantly records broadcasts their environment3 They travel in flying cubesFrom which we can infer that they re a pretty high tech culture.But they ve retained a hunter gatherer monoculture no agriculture, no population boom, no cities, etc None of the environmental pressures which have driven technological progress How can you get to high tech without the industrial revolution How do you get to modern computing without the need for sophisticated encryption decryption systems as as result of secrecy in war For a sci fi novel, these matters of science and technology are skirted with an almost embarrassing lack of detail It s quick, look over there It s a mammoth Aren t these people cool They didn t hunt the mammoths to extinction Now don t ask how they developed anti gravity Shhh I didn t buy it On the other side of the divide, we ve got Ponter suddenly appearing in Ourworld, and learning how stupid and wicked we human are Overpopulation War Religion Rape You creatures are barely than beasts No wonder your brains are tiny and you can t smell each other s pheromones properly with those tiny noses facepalm Which brings us on to the element of the story I found weakest the human scientists Now, the Neanderthals are doing their Quantum Computing experiment in the bottom of an old Nickel mine to shield it from radiation Our scientist are doing Neutrino detection or something like in the bottom of the same mine on our Earth Our experiment involves a cavern full of water, so when Ponter slides sideways, he emerges in the water and almost drowns.Ponter gets passed along a chain of scientists 1 sexy young female particle physicist are these real rescues him from the water, before passing him on to 2 quirky hip black Canadian professor who takes him to the hospital where 3 clich d Indian doctor recognises the Neanderthal skull shape, causing the hip black academic to contact 4 stuffy, female Neanderthal expert geneticist the love interest.And here s the whammy in the first scene where we meet stuffy, female geneticist she gets raped Oh yes At what stage in the novel s development process did THAT seem like a good idea To say it seemed random, unnecessary and clumsily handled would be a gentle summary of my feelings on the matter It sets her up as the victim from day one, has no bearing on the parallel world story except to make her amazed that she could develop feelings for Ponter and became the dominant feature of a character who was otherwise paper thin She s literally, that genetics woman who got raped I disapprove Very strongly.As another reviewer said when you begin with a rape scene, it doesn t leave much scope for a character arc. There are several taboo subjects which are the radioactive matter of popular fiction rape, abortion, incest, paedophilia, etc and like radioactive matter should only be handled with extreme care, caution and stringent executive oversight I feel like chastising Sawyer s editor on this for dropping the ball What was the purpose What did it add to the story This is the equivalent of juggling depleted uranium for the heck of it No Bad author Naughty Ruler over the back of the knuckles sigh Hominids is a very good book as long as you never notice the above issues but once you do notice them, it s very difficult to stop noticing them and then it s impossible to enjoy properly Much like Spin, I m kind of curious about where this Neanderthal Parallax series goes but not enough to overcome my reservations I won t be putting book 2, Humans, on my shopping list.After this I read The Curse of Chalion It seems that every so often, the sci fi community embraces a new variant of the old story where an enlightened figure from a superior society descends to point out everything that s wrong with us I ve pretty much lost patience with this motif, I think it s intellectually lazy and philosophically infantile Besides, they ve all blended together in my mind at this point, and so this book is doomed to merge with a composite that includes the Dispossessed, the Man who Fell to Earth and Crocodile Dundee But leaving that aside, while I can still distinguish the features of this novel from those other works of fiction let me summarize the main points.The angel from paradise in this case is a member of the species we know as Neanderthals He comes from a parallel universe where his kind developed a sophisticated society He and his partner were trying to program a computer to factor large numbers when it opened a portal to our universe and unceremoniously dumped him in Canada Lest you think that this is an outrageously absurd premise, I hasten to point out that it was a quantum computer The author explains that it makes perfect sense for quantum computers to open man sized holes to alternate universes, because apparently that s just how they work.So anyway, what are the great insights this man can bring us You guys should take better case of your natural resourcesDuly noted It s not clear what this entails in practical terms, other than maybe reducing the worlds population by an order of magnitude What else you got Society s problems are overwhelmingly caused by sexually frustrated menAs gross oversimplifications of social problems go, this is both oft repeated and fairly compelling The authors suggestion that widespread casual homosexuality would make us all better off is a nice rational conclusion from this simple minded view of the origins of social dysfunction Anything else Belief in God, or anything beyond the simplest sense data, is just plain sillySure sure, that almost went without saying for a novel like this Incidentally, do you have anything to offer for people struggling with the human condition Come on, some kind of humanistic philosophy of universal tolerance or ideals of nobility and the inherent beauty of suffering Anything at all Well, I ve got something cribbed from Dawkins about the evolutionary advantage of social behaviorNo, that s no good You re basically saying that your whole society has developed sophisticated scientific and ethical structures while having the intellectual life of a cabbage That s not fair I m from paradise, where we each fulfill our chosen function without all this sturm and drang of you less rational beings To ask why we don t have Beethoven, Shakespeare or Kierkegaard ignores the fact that a perfect society has no need for methods that essentially cope with social or personal failure.Fair enough, but since I m stuck with a society to say nothing of my person which is prone to failures, it doesn t seem that your postulated experience has any real relevance to my own Actually, the I think about it the less it seems that your account has anything to offer anyone from my society in terms of how we should actually live Well, remember that I m just a fictional character from a second rate sci fi novel I think you may be placing unrealistic expectations on me.Neanderthal man, you ve hit the nail on the head. Awesome Totally freaking awesome Ponter is working in a quantum physics lab with his partner and man mate, Adikor, when he accidentally crosses over between their world and ours Ponter is a Neanderthal and comes from a parallel universe where we died out and Neanderthals became the dominant species Ponter ends up in a Canadian lab and his part of the story is about his interactions with these scientists Unfortunately his disappearance in his own world has led to his partner being charged with his murder.This book does an absolutely amazing job of creating the Neanderthal world and all of its differences I always figure that if aliens landed the hardest thing to describe and explain is Twitter It turns out religion is a whole hell of a lot harder, followed closely by the idea of hunting species to extinction Can you imagine looking out your window and seeing a mammoth stroll by Throughout the book the two societies are compared with each believing their own to be superior until further discussion makes them see the pluses and minuses in each Their discussion about why morality exists is especially fascinating I prefer the Neanderthal outlook, personally.A couple of gemsIs everyone like that in your world asked Louise, stabbing some lettuce with her fork Bisexual Just about Ponter blinked, getting it at last You mean it s different here Oh, yes, said Reuben Well, for most people, anyway, I mean, sure, there are some bisexual people, and lots and lots of gay homosexual people But the vast majority are heterosexual That means they have affectionate contact only with the members of the opposite gender How boring, said Ponter.Louise actually giggled. and after discussing the large Neanderthal nose and it s sense of smellPonter, said Reuben, quickly, we can t smell you at all Really Yes Oh, if I stuck my nose right into your armpit, I might smell something But normally we humans can t smell each other How do you find one another in the dark This book was just chock full of exchanges like these as these two very different societies tried to understand each other I can t wait to read the sequel What will I learn Oh, and one of the funnier citizen concerns in the book was whether or not he had entered Canada legally Because we totally have border control on parallel universes, right Every few chapters the author would put a sequence of headlines that showed these absurd concerns And apparently we Americans were pissed that Canada had sole control over Ponter.There were just so many great ideas in this book Wow I have grown really sick and tired of books that take 100 200 pages to get into I m even sick and tired of whole books that just set up the reader for the sequels Hominids is neither The first chapter just sucked me right in It was probably the most exciting first chapter I ve read in a long, long time And, the book is a self contained story It does leave room for a sequel, but doesn t require that you read it The premise is terrific too I ve never read anything by Robert J Sawyer before, but I ll be sure to keep him on my short list of favorite authors. This is worth reading for the intriguing depiction of an advanced neanderthal society, but it s not a very well written novel.The narrative was readable when it focused on the neanderthals, perhaps because the alienness of the society kept my attention, but as soon as it returned to the homo sapiens the prose became clunky enough to pull me out of the story The characterizations are poor, particularly that of Mary, one of the main protagonists.And the author almost ruined my enjoyment of the neanderthals by using them to sermonize about our abuse of the environment, unfair judicial system and foolish belief in God I would have appreciated a honest attempt at contrasting the ethics of the parallel humanities. Although not every paleoanthropologist agreed, many shared her view that between 40,000 and 27,000 years ago, Homo sapiens anatomically modern humans completed the first of what would be many deliberate or inadvertent genocides, wiping the planet free of the only other extant member of the same genus, a separate, gentle species that perhaps had been better entitled to the double meaning of the word humanity Humanity s destructive tendencies is one of the main themes of Hominids, Robert J Sawyer s Hugo award winning novel about the adventures of a Neanderthal, Ponter Boddit, who inadvertently arrived in our world The idea of a caveman accidentally arriving in our modern world is not new, but Sawyer has turned the trope on its head here Ponter, in spite of being a Neanderthal, is not a caveman, he comes from a parallel Earth advanced and civilized than ours.It all started in the Neanderthal s parallel Earth, in a lab where a quantum computing experiment goes extremely wrong and unceremoniously dumping poor Ponter in our Earth, almost drowning him in the process Fortunately for him, his arrival is noticed by the nice research scientists at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory where he came through They immediately take him in hand and soon establish communication with him through Ponter s super advanced portable AI device the word computer does not quite cut it On Ponter s Earth his friend Adikor is accused of murdering him as he has disappeared without a trace, missing, presumed dead.I am definitely developing a taste for Robert J Sawyer s brand of sci fi I thought Flashforward was generally good, if a little mediocre in term of prose and a silly ending Where that book shines is the science expositions, he even made the Schr dinger s cat thought experiment comprehensible He has achieved a similar education through fiction feat here I feel like I have a clearer idea of what a quantum computer is and I am definitely informed about theories concerning Neanderthals I find Hominids to be a much better book than Flashforward, the story is compelling and several of the main characters are actually believable, sympathetic and likable, Ponter being the best of them I actually felt moved at one point, with a spontaneous lump in the throat Sawyer also uses the novel to explore the idea of religion, the religion free and generally crime free utopia of the Neanderthal Earth implies that humanity would be better off without it The society of the parallel Earth makes for an interesting foil for ours, with its numerous shortcomings The price for lack of crime seems to be a form of constant surveillance, I am not sure what Sawyer is advocating here Still, food for thought is good, I don t have to agree with him.I do have a couple complaints, however, the sections of the narrative that take place on the Neanderthal s Earth are mostly focused on a legal courtroom drama between Adikor and his accuser This parallel Earth, with its strange culture and concepts, is far too interesting to waste on a courtroom drama The world building is actually very good but I just felt frustrated with the trials, where the case is going against Adikor, the defendant The outcome is already predictable and I felt that we, the readers, should be exploring this fascinating world instead of sitting through a fairly pedestrian legal drama legal thriller author Scott Turow even gets a name check Having said that, the courtroom stuff takes up maybe a third of the narrative so it does not actually ruin the book Another complaint is a rape subplot where a female geneticist, Mary Vaughan, is raped early on in the book There is an actual rape scene which is rather distasteful and entirely unnecessary If this subplot is needed as part of the character s development there still is no need to depict the rape itself Anyway, it is a very brief scene, so there is probably no need to boycott the book because of it.Sawyer s prose is still without any real aesthetic value, he is described by some sci fi fans as writing for the mainstream, that his books are airport novels I feel that we, sci fi fans can be just as snobbish as the literati types sometimes I like the literary sci fi style of Ursula K Le Guin or Iain M Banks but Sawyer writes in the tradition of Asimov or Clarke, but perhaps with a little commercial styling For me this is fine, there is always room for easily accessible sci fi books Hominids is the first book of Sawyer s Neanderthal Parallax trilogy I am definitely sufficiently intrigued by his Neanderthal society to come back to the other two installments.QuotesTrillions of neutrinos passed right through the Earth every second in fact, a neutrino could travel through a block of lead a light year thick with only a fifty percent chance of hitting something Still, neutrinos poured out of the sun in such vast profusion that collisions did occasionally occur and heavy water was an ideal target There s been a lot of debate over the years about whether Neanderthals could speak, and, if they could, what range of sounds they could have made Some linguists think they couldn t have made the ee phoneme, because their mouths would have been much longer than ours A regular computer can determine the factors of a given number by trying one possible factor to see if it works, then another, then another, then another brute force calculation But if you used a conventional computer to factor a big number say, one with 512 digits, like those used to encrypt credit card transactions on the World Wide Web it would take countless centuries to try all the possible factors one at a time But a quantum computer uses superposition of quantum states to check multiple possible factors simultaneously