The Neanderthal Parallax

"The biggest job of science fiction is to portray the Other. To help us imagine the strange and see the familiar in eerie ways. Nobody explores this territory more boldly than Robert Sawyer." --David Brin on Humans

If you have never read my reviews before, I have to warn you of something ahead of time. I love Robert J. Sawyer's writing. Sometimes I think that next to him, everyone else is playing with the net down. You cannot give yourself a better present than an afternoon with one of his books.

Hominids begins with a scientific experiment conducted in an alternate universe goes awry. Ponter Boddit, a Neanderthal physicist, is conducting a quantum computing experiment. He and his man-mate, Adikor, has developed a quantum computer that can reach out to similar computers in alternate dimensions, and use their combined power to perform mathematical calculations that were previously beyond reckoning. The two Neanderthals enter the calculation, the computer reaches into other dimensions... and Ponter disappears.

He reappears in a quantum telescope facility in another dimension. A strange world in which his form of humanity had become extinct thousands of years ago, and his genetic cousins, Homo Sapiens, have become the dominant intelligence on the planet. And he has no idea how to get back home.

And back home, Adikor has no idea what happened to Ponter. Unfortunately for him, the authorities don't believe him. Between Ponter's disappearance, and Adikor's history of violence, he winds up facing murder charges, and has no defense but a ridiculous hypothesis of how a man can simply disappear from an empty room without a trace.

Several Homo Sapien scientists befriend Ponter, including Mary Vaughn, a geneticist who verifies that Ponter is in fact a Neanderthal. Through Mary, Ponter learns of an Earth radically different from his own. An Earth worth learning about. So, when Adikor manages to reopen the portal between the two dimensions, and Ponter returns to his home, the two men discuss ways to open the portal on a permanent basis.

Humans begins about three months after then end of Hominids. Ponter and Adikor, after much debate with the world government, have permission to reopen the portal between the two dimensions. The quantum computer is activated, and a tunnel is slid into the portal, and expanded to full size, making it possible for people to simply walk through the tunnel from one reality into the other. Ponter returns to our version of reality with Tukana Prat, a Neanderthal diplomat. And negotiations between Gliksins (us) and Barasts (the Neanderthals) begins.

During those three months before the portal reawoke, Mary moved to the US to join the Synergy Group, a "think tank" designed to create protocols to set in place if the portal is ever reopened. Mary studies Ponter's blood samples to create a test to differentiate between Homo Sapien and Neanderthal DNA. And in doing so, Mary answers a decades-old debate. Are Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals subsets of the same species, or are they different species altogether? (No, I'm not going to tell you! You have to read the book.

Mary and Ponter are finally reunited, and they struggle. The two races are so different. How were they going to come to terms with the fact that they were in love?

And meanwhile, back at the Synergy Group, a threat is discovered that may "crash" human consciousness on a planetary scale. Can the Neanderthals, who have already survived the anomaly in their reality with no ill effects, help the humans do the same?

In Hybrids , the trade of knowledge and goods goes well between the two worlds. Tukana has brought over several experts in the sciences, music, sports, and art, to offer a free exchange of ideas across cultures, and both sides are eating it up. Ponter and Adikor begin work with Gliksin physicists to open a new portal that connects to the Neanderthal world directly from the UN. Things couldn't be going better.

Mary and Ponter want to have a baby! But unfortunately for them, they can't do it the old fashioned way. They need a little help from some illegal Neanderthal technology. So they search for Vissan Lennet, a Neanderthal geneticist who left Neanderthal society when her codon writer was banned by the government.

What does her codon writer do? It makes DNA. Want to make a fertilized egg with Gliksin/Barast hybrid DNA? No problem. Want to have a sperm cells made from the blood of your sterile husband? Piece of cake. Want to correct genetic congenital diseases? Step right up. Want to create a secret virus designed to kill off the entire Neanderthal population, leaving their pristine world for the taking? It can do that too. "Think tank" my hairy ass.

Will the Synergy Group commit genocide against the Neanderthals? Will a shift in the magnetic field of the earth destroy human consciousness? Will Mary and Ponter live happily ever after? You'll have to get these books and find out. You'll thank me after you do.

I find it very difficult to write about these books without gushing. As much as I've given you in the synopses, there is more that I left out. What I found in Sawyer's Neanderthal reality is a world society that is fundamentally different from our own. What would humanity be like if there was no racism? How would the earth be different if zero population growth was a top priority? What kind of culture would humanity have if we had never developed a belief in the supernatural? What if children were born only every ten years? What if bisexuality was the norm?

And, unlike much science fiction that is based on a "really cool" idea, Sawyer also manages to write complex characters that I grew to care about deeply. The books ripped my heart out at times, made me laugh at times, and kept me at the edge of my seat till the very end. Very little science fiction out there can do all that.

Rating: 5 out of 5

The Neanderthal Parallax, a trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer
Published by: Tor Science Fiction
Genre: Science Fiction
Author's Webpage:

Published on: February 2003
Mass Market Paperback
ISBN: 0765345005
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Published on: September 2003
ISBN: 0765346753
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Published on: September 2003
ISBN: 0312876904
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About Joe Murphy

Joe Murphy succumbed to leiomyosarcoma on April 1, 2007. The irony of this is not lost on any who knew him and laughed with him. He was the first “official” book reviewer for The Dragon Page Radio Talk Show, and after moving to Arizona, he became a frequent contributor to Cover to Cover, Wingin’ It, Slice of SciFi and co-host of Kick-Ass Mystic Ninjas.

He will be missed.

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