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Hominids: Volume One of The Neanderthal Parallax Mass Market Paperback – February 17, 2003
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
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Ponter Boddit, a Neanderthal physicist, accidentally pierces the barrier between worlds and is transferred to our universe. Almost immediately recognized as a Neanderthal, but only much later as a scientist, he is quarantined and studied, alone and bewildered, a stranger in a strange land. But Ponter is also befriendedâby a doctor and a physicist who share his questing intelligence, and especially by Canadian geneticist Mary Vaughan, a woman with whom he develops a special rapport.
Ponterâs partner, Adikor Huld, finds himself with a messy lab, a missing body, suspicious people all around and an explosive murder trial. How can he possibly prove his innocence when he has no idea what actually happened to Ponter?
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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.
Sawyer is one of those writers who stradles the line between warm and fuzzy humanism and cold, impersonal techno-futurism. Hominids is one of those rare books that starts with a question (in this case, What would have happened if Neanderthals rather than our Cro Magnon ancesters had thrived and survived?). Sawyer contemplates what the result might be when he brings a modern Neanderthal man into our present.
There are plenty of 'wow' moments, such as when he postulates that a Neanderthal world would be far less populated because Neanderthals did not evolve from a society that developed agriculture. Those are the sort of ideas that Sawyer tosses at you rapid-fire throughout the book. They are also the kinds of ideas that keep you reading even in you get bogged down in the budding relationship between the Neanderthal man and Homo sapiens woman. I can't wait to start on Humans, the second in the series that is set on the Neanderthals' world. And I can't wait to read more of Sawyer's works!
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.