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Humans (The Neanderthal Parallax, Book 2) Hardcover – February 22, 2003

3.8 out of 5 stars 96 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this solid sequel to Hominids (2002), the much-praised first volume in Sawyer's Neanderthal Parallax trilogy, which introduced an alternate Earth where for reasons unknown our species, Homo sapiens, went extinct and Neanderthals flourished, Neanderthal physicist Ponder Boddit brings Canadian geneticist Mary Vaughan back to his world to explore the near-utopian civilization of the Neanderthals. Boddit serves as a Candide figure, the naive visitor whose ignorance about our society makes him a perfect tool to analyze human tendencies toward violence, over-population and environmental degradation. The Neanderthals have developed a high artistic, ethical and scientific culture without ever inventing farming-they're still hunters and gatherers-and this allows the author to make some interesting and generally unrecognized points about the downside of the discovery of agriculture. Much of the novel is devoted to either the discussion of ideas such as these or to Boddit and Vaughan's developing love affair. Sawyer keeps things moving by throwing in an attempted assassination, his protagonists' confrontation with a rapist and, on a larger scale, the growing danger of what appears to be the imminent reversal of Earth's magnetic field. As the middle volume in a trilogy, this book doesn't entirely stand on its own, but it is extremely well done. When complete, the Neanderthal Parallax should add significantly to Sawyer's reputation.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Ponter Boddit, the Neanderthal physicist thrown into the human world in Hominids [BKL Je 1&15 02], is relieved to be back in his own safe, unpolluted, thoughtfully governed universe, though he misses his human friend, Mary Vaughn, who in her world has been offered a plum research position. Glad to leave the Canadian university at which she was brutally raped, she misses Ponter and worries that, because she never reported her attacker, other women remain at risk. Both universes' governments can't decide whether to permit travel between them, but Ponter forces the question by assembling a first ambassadorial party, though as it happens, he goes on ahead of it. He then persuades Mary to visit his world, where she faces aspects of Neanderthal culture that disturb her, such as Ponter's male lover, Adikor, and near-total male-female segregation. Then another woman is raped on Mary's former campus. Look for the further volume about Ponter and Mary that disquieting ramifications of the interaction of the alternate worlds and their magnetic fields portends. Roberta Johnson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; 1st edition (February 22, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312876912
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312876913
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.3 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (96 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #767,548 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By owookiee VINE VOICE on December 23, 2004
Format: Mass Market Paperback
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.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
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.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
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!).
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
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.
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