robinw writes: "Hominids is the latest novel by the accomplished Canadian science-fiction writer, Robert J. Sawyer. It is also the first book in a trilogy which he calls The Neanderthal Parallax. While far from his best offering, Hominids is consistent with the quality we've grown to expect from Mr. Sawyer, and is a worthwhile addition to any science fiction fan's library."The book is centered on the Many-Universes Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. In layman's terms, for every possible decision that can be made, the universe branches out into many universes, one for each possibility. All decisions are therefore dealt with in some form, and the universes are identical except for the choice that has been taken one way or the other. Normally, the interpretation states that the parallel universes cannot communicate, but in the novel a failed experiment in Quantum Computing suddenly brings two such Universes together. The first is our modern day society, and the second is a parallel universe where Neanderthals and mammoths prospered while we perished.
The story of the two universes, and their interactions are told in parallel. After the failed experiment, a Neanderthal named Ponter finds himself in rural Ontario, in the world famous Sudbury Neutrino observatory. Back in the Neanderthal universe, his partner Adikor is blamed for his absence, and is put through an extensive trial.
Sawyer has obviously done his research. The alternate version of Earth where the Neanderthals exist is amazingly well thought out. Everything from the social ramifications of an enhanced sense of smell to the 1984-esque communicators that monitor everything the Neanderthals do is integrated into the story perfectly.
There is very little action to be found in the novel, but it remains exciting nonetheless. Personally, I was fascinated with the dialogue Sawyer presents between the character Mary Vaughan and Ponter the Neanderthal. Although I believe that Sawyer has a love for humanity and our technological prowess, he uses the conversations between the human and the Neanderthal as a way of exposing some of our atrocities in the thousands of years that have passed since we developed intelligence. You have to admire the honesty of the character Mary for willingly exposing things in our past that we'd rather forget, but towards the end of the book it almost becomes too much. In fact, I had a hard time believing that Ponter had anything good to say about us at all to his fellow Neanderthals.
The lack of privacy that the Neanderthal society lives with might be of particular interest to the Slashdot crowd. All Neanderthals are required to wear a communicator implant in their arm that transmits everything they do to a central recording center. Interestingly enough, Sawyer argues in favor of such technology, saying that it virtually eliminates crime (who would murder someone knowing fully well that it could be played back by the authorities?) and that we don't really have any privacy anyway. In fact, the book begins with a quote to that effect.
Sawyer's writing is simple and to the point. He has a way of explaining complicated concepts without being overly confusing or long and drawn out. The 400+ page novel is actually a fairly quick read. Unlike some oth-er authors that I'm familiar with, you don't have to go back and re-read passages to find details you might have missed. Don't get me wrong - although the book is easily digested, it manages to inspire. Also, despite the fact that this is the first novel in a series of three, it stands very well on its own. In fact, had I not known that there were two more novels dealing with the same characters being released over the next year or so, I would have been completely satisfied.
Hominids comes highly recommended. If you're at all interested in hard-SF, you owe it to yourself to head down to the bookstore and check it out.
You can purchase Hominids from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to submit yours, read the book review guidelines, then hit the submission page.