August 18, 2004

Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer

coverAfter reading two of the Hugo-nominated novels for this year, I thought I'd have a look at the others and see if I had a strong preference for a winner. My fabulous library had all of the books available with enough copies that there was no waiting. I already read Blind Lake by Robert Charles Wilson, and Singularity Sky by Charlie Stross. The remaining books were Ilium by Dan Simmons, Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold, and Humans by Robert J. Sawyer.

On a Saturday morning I looked the books over.

Ilium is a doorstop-sized retelling of the Illiad. I've loved everything I've ever read by Dan Simmons, and I'm sure the book would win me over in time, but it's huge, and my knowledge of the original is sufficiently sketchy that I was afraid I'd miss half the fun so I put it aside after a dozen pages. Someday, maybe, but not now.

Paladin of Souls is a fantasy novel with a middle-aged woman protagonist. That was unusual enough to get my attention so I tucked in, but by the time I was mid-way through chapter two it became clear that this is the second book in a series. You'd never guess from the cover or front matter which, while it mentions the prior book by name, gives no indication that the two are connected. Bad Eos! So I need to read The Curse of Chalion first.

Humans's title page proudly proclaims "Book Two of the Neanderthal Parallax" Good Tor! But dang! This three-book sprint for the Hugos has become a six-book slog (don't forget I need to read the Iliad ;-). Well I've read enough Sawyer to know that his books are fun and fast so off to the library catalog I went and a couple of days later I had Hominids in my hands.

The premise is kind of ridiculous. A man from an alternate reality where Neanderthals became ascendant rather than Humans is transported to our reality through a fluke in an experiment with quantum computing. But the book doesn't linger on the mechanics of how Ponter Boddit gets to our world. Instead it plays the utopian game comparing our society with one that went a slightly different direction.

The most significant difference is that in Boddit's world, physical violence is practically unheard of (partly since the Neanderthals' great physical strength makes any violence potentially fatal, partly for other reasons that would be spoilers here). Sawyer shows this in contrast to our world where Mary Vaughn, a human genetecist is raped on the campus of the college where she is a professor.

The book alternates chapters between Boddit among the Humans and his partner back in Neanderthal Earth who is being tried for Boddit's murder.

This being a Sawyer book, I'm leaving out a bunch of interesting ideas that are essential to the plot (and in any other writers hands would be carefully hoarded to make whole other books!) Loads of fun and thought-provoking to boot.

Posted by jeffy at August 18, 2004 12:03 AM
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