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Hominids: Volume One of The Neanderthal Parallax Mass Market Paperback – February 17, 2003
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“Sawyer is a writer of boundless confidence and bold scientific extrapolation.” ―The New York Times
“A rapidly plotted, anthropologically saturated speculative novel . . . [with] Sawyer-signature wide appeal.” ―The Globe & Mail
“Hominids takes sophisticated paleoanthropological data, cutting-edge theoretical physics, and characters that will warm your heart; and mixes then into a charming, witty, and provocative novel. Hominids is anthropological fiction as its best.” ―W. Michael Gear & Kathleen O'Neal Gear, authors of Raising Abel
About the Author
Robert J. Sawyer is the Hugo Award-winning author of Hominids, the Nebula Award-winning author of The Terminal Experiment, and the Aurora Award-winning author of FlashForward, basis for the ABC TV series. He is also the author of the WWW series―Wake, Watch and Wonder―and many other books. He was born in Ottawa and lives in Toronto.
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Others have criticized various speculations by the author. This is to miss the point: these are speculations. I thought that the author made a decent case that human consciousness began about 40,000 years ago with the "great awakening" whereby consciousness came into being as essentially a quantum effect within the mind. This differentiates consciousness from the very genuine but different thought processes of the other higher animals: chimps, certain parrots, and dolphins, for example. In the Neanderthal world constructed by the author, the Neanderthals, rather than Homo Sapiens, first achieve this quantum consciousness effect, and go on to dominate the Earth. In that universe, Homo Sapiens dies out, much as the Neanderthals did in our reality. The way the author ties this in with the quantum computing experiment at the beginning of the story is utterly fascinating, and frankly ingenious. One need not agree with his conclusions to be impressed by them.
The author provides humorous justification by the Neanderthals as to why they, rather than Homo Sapiens, became the dominant human species in their universe. Homo Sapiens, we are told, had smaller brains than the Neanderthals (true; about 10% smaller, but smaller body mass too.) The chins than Homo Sapiens have that Neanderthals lack were to act as drool catchers (idiots drool a lot, we are reminded). The famous brow ridges of Neanderthals act as sun visors, giving the Neanderthals a competitive advantage as hunters over Homo Sapiens, who the Neanderthals believed, due to the lack of such ridges, were nocturnal, retiring creatures. Of limited intelligence. Frankly, this did not seem any less reasonable than the justifications that our scientists give for Homo Sapiens' dominance over the Neanderthals.
There are certain details of the Neanderthal universe that I found less than persuasive, and I mention them here only to show that I do not unequivocally accept the author's speculations. For example, the author states in the story that the Neanderthals have effective birth control pills. And yet, the central tenet of Neanderthal civilization as constructed by the author is that men and women live completely apart except for a few days a month, in large part to keep population down. And the sexes take same-sex partners for the rest of the time in order to make up for this apartness. This simply did not seem plausible to me. The author was a little unclear as to whether Neanderthal women are supposed to have estrus cycles (as opposed to menstrual periods that human women, of course, have) but even if they do it seems far-fetched that the sexes would segregate themselves in this fashion. Other animals with estrus cycles do not generally form same-sex bonds (although it is far from unheard of, it is the exception). This is just a few examples of where I thought the author was a bit far fetched.
The author postulates the Neanderthals as a high-technology low-industry society that never discovered agriculture. I do not accept that this is very likely, and it may not even be possible. Agriculture and the food surpluses that it engenders is what originated humanity's climb to an advanced civilization--people had time to do things other than obtain food. And how are the Neanderthals managing to have advanced vehicles, super-advanced computers, ubiquitous robots, all with ultra low population and almost no industry? Not likely.
These are minor quibbles that should not interfere in the least with an enjoyment of this novel. This is an engrossing read that never loses the reader. As Mankind enters the Brave New World of quantum computing and quantum physics, one can only wonder where it may lead. (Probably not to Neanderthals in a different universe.) This novel contains tantalizing hints even if one does not accept all of the author's speculations. Highly recommended. RJB.
The Neanderthal civilization was not really fleshed out; some of its features seem to have been projected from some known characteristics of Neanderthals, but only details that had a direct impact on the plot. It felt simplistic and a little forced.
I was curious enough about what the author was planning that I finished the book, but I probably won't read the sequel.
The good news is the accidental contact is re-established at the end of the story, and this book is in fact the first of a series. The second one is called "Human," and I'm about to add it to my Amazon wish list.