18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on October 14, 2006
After the excellent Hominids, Humans is somewhat of a let down. The series remains above the average SF fare, both in terms of contents and execution. But Humans wouldn't win any awards on its own though (PC award excepted).
Rather than exploring new ground, Mr. Sawyer has Ponter (the main Neanderthal character) repeatedly asking questions that highlight how we humans are so unpleasant to each other. This is not a bad thing in itself, but it is not a substitute for a plot either. By the time Ponter asks his 4th or 5th such question, with Mary providing an uninspired pro forma defense, the trick is as stale as my hiking socks. I especially "liked" the cocktail discussion with Mary's colleagues, with verbatim quotes from Jared Diamond's excellent Guns, Germs and Steel.
The Neanderthals' policy of castrating criminals and their immediate relatives smacks of eugenics, despite recent statistical research on the hereditary component of criminality. How did they avoid judicial errors, before the oh-so-convenient alibi machines? Is that policy ever defended? Nope, no need to, they are perfect after all.
Like others, I wonder how the Neanderthals can have such advanced technology, without our population base, our manufacturing base, or indeed our wars. I see several possibilities, and I would have welcomed more insight from the book.
a) Not having civilization collapses is more efficient in the long term (tortoise vs. hare).
b) The Neanderthals are smarter as they have bigger brains. What is Ponter doing with Mary then?
c) Technological research has been long been driven by the military, though nowadays, consumer/business oriented research seems to be more important. But pure science may be less influenced by military spending.
d) Having one language/civilization might speed up the transfer of ideas. More likely, it would introduce serious groupthink.
e) The Neanderthals' socialism implies universal access to education which could maximize the potential of gifted individuals.
All in all, the author rests on his laurels and Humans doesn't add anything fresh to Hominids' storyline. Instead, he falls back into his usual habit of throwing "subtle" barbs at our southern neighbours. Gee, Mr. Sawyer, you live in Canada and prefer it to the US. Living in Canada, I sympathize, to an extent. But, need we be reminded, at length, in _all_ your books??? Hominids was much the better for being unusually subtle on that matter.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Again the social commentary of the book, like in Hominids, judges homo sapiens to be unenlightened, especially males. The Neanderthal society is idealized. An example:
"..letting women labor - funny how that word had a double meaning for females, Mary thought - in an environment free of men and their egos."
"..she was beginning to think just about anything was possible - especially if there were no men around."
The majority of this second book in the series revolves around the love relationship of Ponter (Neanderthal) and Mary (sapien), and the interesting parts about science and society are glossed over except when used to point out how inferior our sapien lives are.
Despite all this, I'm enjoying the series, and have hopes for the final book, Hybrids, which I just cracked open.
15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on July 8, 2005
I first have to admit that I read Humans very quickly. As a sequel to a book I enjoyed, Sawyer's "Neanderthals", I was looking forward to it. At first, I was happy - present is Sawyer's sheer readability and his knack for suspense. The book is crafted in flashback mode, where Ponter, our favourite Neanderthal physicist, describes to his therapist how he's done something terrible (and certainly illegal, in both his own version of Earth and in ours). What is the crime? How does it affect our heroes? Keep reading the book to find out!
Sawyer's universe is well thought-out, including the alternate-reality Neanderthal version of Earth. He also brings back a number of our old favourites from "Neanderthals" - Mary the geneticist, Reuben the Jamaican doctor, Louise the human physicist. He also provides some neat science - he picks a side in the debate over whether Neanderthals were their own species, and convincingly describes the science and its dissemination. Reading the book is like watching a familiar TV show - we know the characters and their surroundings, and are thrilled to hear more about them.
Unfortunately, nothing really happens! It's like Sawyer is killing time between the previous book and the next one (which I hope is much better!). I was reminded of the second Star Wars trilogy - Episode II was nothing but filler to get between Ep. I and III. Hopefully "Hybrids," the third book, continues the pattern established by Star Wars, where Ep. III is the best.
Once I realised nothing was going to happen, little things started to irritate me more. Things like the social commentary that is relentlessly in favour of the pro-socialist Neanderthal society (and I'm a socialist myself!). Further: how can a society without war, with a very low (180 million) global population, have technology that is generally superior to our own? Sawyer's Neanderthals believe in a static universe - how could such an advanced particle science not yet have discovered the Theory of Relativity (which predicts an expanding universe)? Why doesn't Sawyer know that Canada has not, in fact, always allowed dual citizenships?
So what is the verdict? This book is filler. It's generally enjoyable filler - I like the alternate universe for all its implausibility, and I like the characters - but it's filler nonetheless.
20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 2005
Normally inserted references to another work by the author make me cringe. Sawyer's throw-away reference to his book Illegal Alien however, made me sigh with the memory of a good book. Humans is undoubtably Sawyer's worst. The social satire is at best heavy-handed and preachy and at worst simply eye-glazing. If the satirist's weapon is the rapier, Sawyer uses a sledge hammer. The use of news clips is a familar device in Sawyer's writings, its abscence here is missed. I didn't really get a sense of how the world was reacting to the re-opening of the portal and relations with the Neanderthals.
This book did give me a better insight into our own world however. After the upteenth time a Neanderthal criticized us I realized why our ancestors had wiped them out.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2003
Any book should be able to stand on its own. This book fails horribly in that regard.
What happened to the shooter? Why isn't Ponter accosted wherever he goes as a result of Tukalla's (I hope I got that right) response to the shooting? What happened to the High Gray Council's objections to free travel between the Earths? What's the deal with the game theorist and the magnetic shift?
This book just has too many unresolved plot threads for it to be considered good. As a matter of fact, it's pretty bad as a result.
It's less a book of it's own, and more of a stopping point between the two other books. The rape from the first book is (sort of) resolved in the second book, so I'm sure Sawyer considers this to just be part of moving the story along. But, he'd be wrong. This book isn't an entity unto itself. It's got elements of the first book in it, and hints about things to come in the second.
Bah. I was really happy with the first book, and I think that just makes my disappointment more pronounced. I hope the third book is fantastic, but I'm going to the library to get a copy to read instead of purchase. The quality of the second book just does not inspire me to toss almost ten bucks at a paperback edition (when it comes out), when the third may leave just as unappealing a taste in my mouth...
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on May 26, 2004
Just read this trilogy in the last few days. Gotta say, I'm disappointed.
The premise is somewhat interesting - a Neanderthal physicist is experimenting with quantum computers and accidentally opens a portal between his earth where Neanderthals rules to the possible earth where homo sapiens dominate the planet (our world) (Sawyer never did answer my geek question - did the large possibly prime number he was trying to factor uniquely address our world, or was it due to other factors?).
The Neanderthal comes over to our world, and wackiness ensues. We actually see quite a bit less wackiness than I would expect to see, and this is another place where the books fail as "hard" science fiction - the reactions of the human institutions don't seem plausible, there's far too little security and oversight in what goes on with the "alien" visitors and the gateway.
The thousand+ page trilogy would have made a far better short story or novella, there just aren't that many ideas in the whole thing and the writing is not particularly engaging.
As "hard" science fiction, there are basically two strong somewhat novel ideas in the books. One is the quantum computer gateway, the other is that religion is an artifact of the interaction of the homo sapien parietal lobe with magnetic fields. The first is kinda interesting, the second is just loopy. He handwaves away the environments where humans do interact with strong varying magnetic fields and then he introduces a surge in the Earth's magnetic field (on New Year's eve when our characters are in Times Square, of course) and everybody on the planet has a religious experience. Whee.
The other aspect of the book is more "social" science fiction. Using the alien as a contrast to explore human society is as old as science fiction is. Such explorations, when coming from the deft hands as one such as C J Cherryh, can be both intriguing and entertaining. If the alien is 3-dimension and has both strengths and weakness that are used to contrast with humanity's strengths and weaknesses
In the hands of someone less adept, this can become a cliche where the author merely catalogs the failings of humanity and simplifies the issues to blame one or two factors.
Unfortunately, Sawyer does the second. Humans, especially male humans, *especially* especially white male humans, **especially** *especially* especially white American male humans (except when castrated), are bad. Oh yes, and where testosterone isn't to blame, religion is - but that's just a mutated part of the parietal lobe acting out.
Neanderthals are good - and where there's bad in Neanderthals, it's because testerone was involved and the Neanderthal's eugenics program was only nearly perfect instead of completely perfect.
There's a hint of a grudging nod given to homo sapiens' accomplishments, but it's lackluster and is only a few words out of a thousand+ pages. It feels like an editor said, "show some balance" and Sawyer tacked it on.
Sawyer doesn't even bother to do more than handwave how homo sapiens disappeared in the Neanderthal's world, but spends a lot of time on homo sapiens' genocides.
Anyway, I was disappointed. The books were vaguely entertaining but the ham-handed "social" aspects were far too simple-minded and comprised too many pages to be anything other than tedious and annoying. I've enjoy others of Sawyers' books, but I'm going to be wary of him now.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 26, 2008
I enjoyed the first book in the series, Hominids. It was a quick, enjoyable read that did spend some time talking about problems in our society.
Therefore, I received this book with some interest. Sadly, it stinks. The first 100 pages where all about the author whining about the negatives in our society. Unlike another reviewer, I don't agree it's "socialist" propaganda. The author complains about extremist positions one both wings of the political spectrum, including some lefty PCisms. However, that's all he does. He whines and whines as if the negatives on the extremes are all that exists in our societies.
Of course, he does act as if the entire world is Christian driven, as if that's the only religion/philosophy around. And, while decrying our societies, his idiotic map in the beginning of the book names all the continents -- including Europe! It's only a "continent" because Western Asians (or Eurasians, if you prefer) wrote the first widely used maps. There's no real separation and no reason for the Neanderthals to also have a Europe.
Even worse, his whining might have been manageable if there'd been a plot. There was none that I could see, just existential angst from the two supposed protagonists. I couldn't read any more of the drivel and the book will be donated to my local library.
I plan on avoiding the third in the series.
My only hope is that Rollback, a non-series book from the same author, which I also received in my latest offer, shows the same writing skills from Hominids with a bit more sense. if not, it'll be the last book I read from him.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2003
This book was ok, only as the continuing story from Hominids. I really thought this book was too much about the love story between Ponter and Mary (which was one of the worst parts of the first book) and not not enough about the neanderthal world and their dealings with our own world.
I liked the parts that dealt with the differences in neanderthal history and science, and the political situations that Ponter and the ambassador were involved in. But those were few and far between overshadowed by this unnecessary and unbelievable love story.
Finally, I thought the Synergy group that Mary joins was very focused on the magnetic field without ever giving us a good reason why. Then at the end, there is a little surprise thrown in which seemed pretty silly to me, and I might normally say that it looked bad for the next book, but anything that takes attention away from this romance disguised as science fiction will be an improvement.
I would recommend reading this book if you liked Hominids, but it isn't as good. Hopefully, the next book will be much better.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 2004
I greatly enjoyed the first book of this series, Hominds. Yes, the author injected his own philosophies in it, but as long as it doesn't get in the way of the story, what's wrong with that? Naturally, I looked forward to this sequel.
Let's see if I can summarize the plot: Men (H. Sapiens) are mostly bad. New York is bad. Private ownership of cars is bad. America is mostly bad. The Entire reason for the Vietnam War was because the US didn't want free elections in South Vietnam. Private ownership of firearms is bad. The reason North American Indians succumbed to Europeans is primarily due to the fact that they didn't have the lucky break of having easily mined minerals (disregard that the Celts found it practical to mine in North Amercia and ship it all the way back across the Atlantic in times B.C.). Canada is basically good, but there are a lot of men in it, which keeps it from being really good. The UN could be good if there weren't so many white men in it. Humanity delights in raping the environment. If only the Government had a way to record everything everyone does things would be just fine.
Oh yeah--there is a little bit in there about the Neanderthals (who are always good) from the other Earth recontacting this one, but that's incidental to the sermons.
That's my main objection to this entry. Nothing really happens. Without the sermons the novel can be summed up as: The Neaderthals reopen the Portal. Ponter comes back. He's hot for Mary. She's hot for him. There's a not particularly interesting six page sex scene. He gets shot for no reason. This Earth is bad. They go back to his great world where everything is more logical and benign than here, but you have to trust us on this because virtually nothing happens there, either. They catch Mary's rapist by something out of left field. Stand by for the sequel.
The characters' main function is to set up forums for the author to pontificate. I don't particularly care whether I agree with the author or not, but I expect something to go on. If the author works his or her beliefs into the story, so much the better. Here, though, the wise Neanderthals and Mary Vaughn just preach. What little attempt to explain how humanity got where it is mostly serves to put up straw men to be demolished or to pitch softballs to be knocked out of the park. For example, the only reaosn Mary Vaughn can come up with for private transport or ownership of automobiles is an anemic, "We like to own things", which even she feels is weak.
Preach all you want, but for gosh sake have a Story!
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on February 12, 2003
Robert J Sawyer has written over 10 novels now and each one has taken me in a new direction, but unkikle most modern SF, the directions Sawyer's books take take are not, necessarily, external. Although Sawyer's novels fall firmly into the speculative/science fiction category, it is the thought-provoking philosophical situations that keep drawing me back.
His newest book, Humans, is no different. Following up the first volume of the parallax trilogy (Hominids), Humans tells the story of an alternate earth - one on which neanderthals became the dominant species, not humans. In this world, though geography is the same as present-day earth, the direction that scientific development has taken is much different from that of humans. In Hominids, through an accident of quantum physics, a portal opens up between our earth and the parallel earth of the neanderthals. A neanderthal physicist (Ponter Bodditt) slips through the portal and experiences what our version of earth is like. This begins what will eventually become a large-scale pursuance of cross-dimensional exchange.
Humans tells the continuing story of Ponter and his relations with a human geneticist on our earth. Using Ponter's "Stranger in a Strange Land" style arrival on earth, Sawyer manages to brilliantly call into question elements of our society that we may take for granted. using the unique perspective of an educated outsider, Sawyer makes the reader think about the worth of agriculture, nationalism and privacy among other things. But where others have failed, Sawyer's philosophical musings succeed in their ability to not bog down the action in Humans.
Fast-paced, thought-provoking and very well-written, Robert Sawyer has given us another great piece of speculation. I can't wait for the final book in the trilogy.