|Submitted by Bob Smith |
(Jul 19, 2002)
Every once in a while you run across a novel that's both an enjoyable reading experience and an intellectually stimulating one. Let me share one with you.
It's called "Hominids", by Robert J. Sawyer, the Canadian science ficton novelist who got a good deal of attention with his previous novel "Calculating God" (the 2001 Hugo Award runner-up) a couple of years ago. The premise in a nutshell; scientists in two different universes whose fates diverged 400 centuries ago, stumble on a bridge between them. The contrast between those universes, and the civilizations they developed and nurtured on their respective Earths, form the crux of the story---and an interesting window on our own world and times, in the manner any good science fiction provides.
Human society on Earth evolved differently in each of the universes Sawyer posits, over the last 40,000 years. In one---ours---homo sapiens becomes dominant, with the results we all know. In the other parallel one, the physical universe evolves in essentially the same way, but on its Earth the Neanderthals become the dominant hominids while our species dies out. The Neanderthals, not at all like the mindless savages of our own perception, evolve a society which is highly ethical, highly technological, very media-literate, very much interconnected (as our own civilization is), and intricately organized on a complex socio-political model that combines a measure of democracy with great deference by the young to the older generations. And unlike most cultures on our Earth, their society is entirely secular and humanistic, with no religious traditions, beliefs or spirituality as we'd know them. Their family life and personal relationships, while structured, are also VERY different from ours. A Neanderthal physicist named Ponter Boddit stumbles into our world, setting off the story and at the same time hoping to find a way to get home to the world he knows and the people he loves. The interplay of the two worlds' assumptions and values, so alike and also so different, form a fascinating contrast. And it's the first in a three book series, the second and third of which will be respectively titled "Humans" and "Hybrids." (The titles probably give you a hint at where Sawyer's going with the trilogy.)
A really good, brisk read, which I found I wanted to continue until I'd reached the end of this story and the bridge to the next one (which will appear some time next winter).
One of the privileges I get on my job as a radio host, is the chance to discuss worthwhile books on the air by meeting and interviewing their authors. Sawyer happens to be not only a skillful author but a very engaging and personable fellow, which I'm sure has helped him find a sizable audience for his work. At the same time, as good a salesman for his work as Sawyer is, the book also speaks well for its own merits.