This book is the 'One Book One Community' book for Waterloo in 2005. [...] The goal of One Book is to get a large proportion of the population to read the same book. It is always a living Canadian author, who will come and be involved in events in the community.
This is an intriguing speculative fiction book. The main premise is based on Quantum theory. Parallel to our world are many other worlds. Some very close to ours and some not. In our story, Ponter Boddit, often referred to as Scholar Boddit, is one of our main characters. He is a Quantum Physicist from a parallel world. While working on a Quantum computer, he is translated into the same location in our Universe; unfortunately it is the center of the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory. Then the true adventure begins.
Ponter is given Canadian Citizenship, which is unusual because he is a Neanderthal. One could argue however, that a Neanderthal emerging from an INCO mine in Sudbury might not be that far out of the question. Many around the world believe it is a hoax - some believe it is true and a Ponter cult begins. Some want to control him and his knowledge.
In our sister earth, they have not ever had a global war, not developed nuclear weapons, or destroyed the environment the way we have. There is much we could learn from our cousins in this world.
Follow Ponter as he develops friendships, experiences religion and learns that we don't have to be homo sapiens sapiens to be human.
You have to give Sawyer credit. He offers a Francophone, a Japanese-Canadian, a Canadian-Jamaican, an Ojibway, a Neanderthal, multiple universes, and a rape - all in the first 80 pages. He uses well-established credentials in converting science, albeit speculative, into fiction. He has achieved a high point with this book. Incorporating geology, paleoanthropology and quantum physics into this story, he makes a fantastic situation both credible and readable.
In this first volume of a trilogy, physicist Ponter Boddit disappears in mysterious circumstances from a deep mine physics laboratory. Ponter, however, is not of this earth. He is of an "advanced" Neanderthal society in an alternative universe. Homo sapiens has apparently gone extinct in his world, but Ponter emerges in a world where that "extinct" species dominates. Sawyer uses the need for Ponter's adjustment to his novel environment to examine many aspects of our society - its values, beliefs and practices. Communication is enhanced by Ponter's possession of an electronic implant that "learns" words and derives meaning from context. It's a cunning ploy, reflecting a measure of desparation to move Sawyer's other ideas along more readily. He further suggests the Neanderthal's brain capacity could mean greater intelligence, even an enhanced moral sense.
The story itself isn't complex. What happens in Ponter's world to account for his disappearance, and what must he do to adapt to the one he's in? The circumstances surrounding these issues give Sawyer the opportunity to minutely examine and contrast the two societies. People in the world Pondar left prove very "human" in their motives and behaviour. Although their society is drastically different, their emotions and interactions are vividly familiar. In this world, the characters are forced to examine their history and beliefs, appearing rather shallow in contrast to the Neanderthal milieu. In fact, the two primary characters are of the Neanderthal, not our, world.
If the plot is thin, the ideas considered and discussed are not. He asks us to consider many alternatives. The most important of these, of course, is how our society is structured. Can our way of life be improved? Sawyer suggests it can, particularly in how we deal with nature and one another. Most importantly, he sees change deriving from our own choices, removed from false values derived from metaphysics. Unlike many of Sawyer's other books, we are not led down some devious path to accept deities. Even the origins and structures of the paired universes are perceived differently by their inhabitants. Both are perfectly plausible in light of today's astrophysics. Better, Sawyer is able to address these issues with a fine prose style and concern for the reader's comprehension. The next volume will be welcomed warmly.
on May 6, 2004
Robert J. Sawyer adds a new twist to the idea of having someone come from a different Universe to get a new perspective on ours. Rather than going the usual rout of having an alien come from another planet to visit our world though, he has someone come from the same world (or parallel world), and show us how things could have been done differently.
The main character Ponter Bonditt, is a Neanderthal physicist, who during a quantum computing experiment accidentally opens a portal into our Universe and he falls through it. Luckily for him in our world at the same spot that he comes through, a group of our scientists had been conducting an experiment, and they are there to help him. (Otherwise he probably would have drowned, or appeared in the middle of a rock bed a mile under the ground.)
In the alternate Universe that Ponter came from, Homo Sapiens are extinct and Neanderthal's are the dominant species. Their society is like ours in many ways, but with some very big differences. Women live separately from men. Neanderthals appear to be bisexual (they have a male and a female mate). They have a tremendous sense of smell. For birth control they follow the rhythm method and they can tell by smell whether a women is having her period or ovulating. Their population is a lot smaller than ours as they deliberately only procreate every ten years to create a new generation. Their legal system is also quite different. Everybody carries around a portable computer implanted into their arms which besides monitoring vitals, also serves as an alibi. Since everybody could be continually watched, there are no crimes. They also do not believe in God. There is no religion.
Considering the facts that Sawyer provides us with that Neanderthal's brains were 10% bigger than Homo Sapiens and their muscle mass was also bigger, it's a mystery how it was that we were the ones that survived, and not the Neanderthals in our Universe. After further comparisons with the Neanderthals in the other Universe you are made to feel that we behaved far more primitively, and maybe humanity may have been better served if it was the Neanderthals that had won out in our world. Even though this all happened years before anyone who is alive today you are still made to feel morally responsible. In their universe they don't have overpopulating. No starvation. They never hunted any species to extinction as we did. They didn't commit genocide as it is theorized in our Universe why the Neanderthals are no longer around. They don't have wars. They don't have crime. They don't use light outside at night so you can still see the stars. They also had fewer diseases since they didn't eat domesticated animals. (It appears that the most serious diseases that affected us started out in domesticated animals and then were transferred to people. Measles, small pox, tuberculosis, the flue, whooping cough, etc...) After several chapters of this I became very jealous of the Neanderthal's and wanted someone to defend our species, but the greatest accomplishment it seems they could come up with on our side was that we had been to the moon and they hadn't, but even that is downplayed in the book since we've only sent 12 men there and we don't currently populate it.
Sawyer does a great job of creating this alternate paradise, and you're just glad to find out everything over there on their side isn't always exactly perfect either. Luckily they still do seem to have a few flaws.
Ponter falling through the portal into our world created a murder mystery on their side, and Ponter's partner Adikor Huld who was with him when it happened is accused. The story switches back and forth between these two Universes. Adikor with the help of one of Ponter's children Jasmel, his women-mate Lurt, and another engineer are trying to prove his innocence by recreating the experiment in one universe, and two female scientists (Mary and Louise pronounced Mar and Lou because Neanderthal's can't make the "e" sound) and one male doctor (Reuben) in our Universe are trying to help Ponter adjust to his new surroundings to face the possibility that he may never get home. Across the barriers friendships are made and potential romances are begun.
The only negative I had in reading this book was that it appears that Sawyer discredits a lot of real life hypothesis regarding the Neanderthals if they don't fit into the mold of the fantasy story he has just laid out in this book. If the facts don't support the story then he dismisses or discredits them. One that might cause some controversy is that the Neanderthals don't believe in the Big Bang theory of creation. He implies that this was made up in our Universe by a group of scientists who's opinions and theories were influenced by their religious beliefs. Many of these real theories might be completely off base, but unless a Neanderthal does walk through that door to confirm the facts I believe they shouldn't have been dismissed quite so easily. At least Sawyer has shined a new light on some of these hypothesizes.
This is supposedly book one of a trilogy, and I'm very much looking forward the next installment.
With HOMINIDS Sawyer has created a fascinating story with all the ingredients of a traditional science fiction novel - and a lot more. He presents the reader with a different view on life on earth - but not from the usual perspective of 'aliens' coming from outer space as he has done in previous novels. He imagined an alternative hominid reality - that of the Neanderthals - existing in parallel with ours.
Ponter Bobbit, a physicist in this parallel universe, literally drops into ours, seemingly out of nowhere and is found floating in a tank of heavy water. An accident in his quantum computing department opens up a brief window between the two realities. The people in the science lab in Sudbury, (Ontario) were taken by surprise, to say the least. They require some time to work out who he is and what his appearance represents. This is the hook that leads to a clever and imaginative description of human (homo sapiens) attitudes vis-à-vis the unexpected. An engaging story of sharing and mutual learning from both realities in this multiverse develops from there. In particular the exchange between Mary Vaughan, the geneticist brought in to examine the Neanderthal's DNA, and Ponter explore some pretty fundamental issues in both societies.
While Ponter is learning how to communicate with an ethnically diverse group of homo sapiens, in his Neanderthal reality his disappearance leads to a completely different set of problems. A small pool of heavy water provides the only hint of something having gone wrong. But, a person cannot really disappear thanks to the "alibi archives" that record where everybody is at any time. So, his friend and colleague, Adikor Huld, is charged with his murder. Alternating this second storyline with the first, Sawyer uses Adikor's case to share with the reader his vision of a completely different social reality.
The dissimilar worldviews are constantly juxtaposed. Ponter brings his experiences and perceptions into our reality and, having mastered the language, confronts fundamental issues delving deeply into all aspects of human experiences - from religion to science to interpersonal behaviour. Mary becomes his responsive interlocutor.
Sawyer bases himself on thorough and wide-ranging research into paleoanthropology, evolution, Neanderthals' fossil evidence and more. He develops a vision on how a Neanderthal civilization might have evolved and drawing interesting conclusions from starting from the fundamental differences of a non-agrarian, hunter-gatherer society.
This is a fun book to read. It flows well, the characters are drawn with empathy and sensitivity and the two parallel realities that deal with Ponter's appearance and disappearance respectively give ample food for thought as well as reasons for smiles. Read it now as the second volume of the trilogy is already on its way.
This is the first book in The Neanderthal Parallax trilogy. The other two being Humans (book 2) and Hybrid (book 3).
In this book we have a Neanderthal physicist called Ponter Boddit running a quantum computer establishing a portal between his world and Earth. One minute he's checking out a computer and the next minute he is gone.
Arriving on Earth he finds himself inside a sphere of heavy water used for neutrino research. He is rescued by Dr Mary Vaughan (human geneticist) who is monitoring the neutrino experiment.
He is of course quarantined with Mary and two other scientists who assisted in rescuing him. A relationship, initially a friendship, develops between Mary and Ponter. And Ponter becomes an instant celebrity on Earth.
Further investigation reveals that his world is in fact also Earth however one where Homo Sapiens died off and Neanderthal became the dominant human species. In some ways their life style is backwards to humans and in others it is more advanced and enlightened.
Meanwhile back on his world his fellow Scientist, Adikor Huld, and man mate (see below) has been accused of murdering Ponter and disposing of his body. A trial is called and things are looking bad for Adikor.
When Ponter went through the portal it immediately closed behind him and he has no way to get back. However Adikor is able to sneak in and re-establish the portal
From the first books we have learned that in the Neanderthal world:
1) The population has been limited to 185 million
2) All the men live on the outskirts of town and all the women live in the middle
3) The women live with their woman mate and children
4) The men live with their man mate
5) Every 25 days the men go into town and visit their woman mate for 4 days
6) Conception is limited to once every 10 years thus aiding the ZPG
7) Regressive genes (violence, disease etc )have been bred out of the population
8) While they have helicopters they don't have airplanes
9) They don't use fossil fuels but rather solar power
10) They have a strong opinion about religions, because they don't have any
11) They have an implanted electronic companion that records everything they do so crime and violence is rare
The trial proceeds and a mystery witness at the end surprises everyone.
This is a great start to a story arc ran through 3 volumes with each one standing on it's own although it is more entertaining to read all three in order.
on July 5, 2004
This was the first book I read by Robert J. Sawyer, but it probably won't be the last (I at least have to finish out "The Neanderthal Parallax"). This is the kind of sci-fi I like - it deals with extraordinary events in a real time and place (that is to say, modern day Earth; in this case, Canada). I picked this up out of curiosity and because it seemed to somewhat resemble the work of one of my favorite authors, Michael Crichton.
Anyway, the story involves a Neanderthal from a planet where the Neanderthals outlived Homo Sapiens to become the dominant species accidentally crossing over to our world. From there, the story divides into a "fish-out-of-water" story involving Ponter Boddit (the Neanderthal) in modern-day Canada, and a gripping murder mystery back home, where his colleague and friend was accused of murdering Ponter. Amidst this story, the reader is treated to an outsider's view of human culture, as well as an examination of just how "perfect" a world with no crime truly is.
Another thing I enjoyed about this is that a lot of the scientific discussions are not "dumbed down" for a general audience, forcing you to really focus and learn a little bit about physics and anthropology. All in all, this is a staggering achievement in the realm of science fiction, and I highly recommend it to fans of Michael Crichton's work.
on June 16, 2004
During early human history, scientists conjecture that there was a battle waged between by early humans and Neanderthals. Humans won out literally exterminating their genetically close brothers. In this novel a vortex was opened sometime before the battle whereby humans and Neanderthals were transported to a parallel Earth. On that Earth it was the Neanderthals that survived and went on to build that Earth's dominant society.
During the midst of a quantum computing experiment, a Neanderthal (Ponter) is accidentally transported through a new rift to Human Earth. His disappearance from his own version of Earth brings criminal charges to Adikor, his best friend for Ponter's disappearance and presumed murder.
Meanwhile Ponter is trapped in an alien world that exterminates species (Neanderthals, Mammoths, Whales, etc.) and has so many social values that are different from his own. He is befriended by a group of scientists working for a large Canadian energy company. He is able to communicate through a built in computer fused into Ponter's wrist. He longs to be back with his children and his friend but is resigned to the fact that he probably will not be able to see them again.
In Ponter's world, Adikor stands on trial for Ponter's world, which will bring a severe punishment to Adikor and all his relatives if he is not proved innocent (in Neanderthal world, one is guilty unless proven innocent). The only way he can prove his innocence is to either produce Ponter or prove that Ponter was transported to another dimension. Therefore, if Ponter can't get back, Adikor and his family will suffer.
The thing that is so great about this book is the contrast between the two worlds. Both have things that are very unique and wonderful to the other world as well as things that are dark and ugly to the other world (our hunting animals for sport, committing crimes and polluting the air are so repulsive to Ponter, whereas his world's way of dealing with crimes committed is so unthinkable to us. Also, everything one does in Ponter's world is recorded and could be later viewed so there is no privacy).
Sawyer also introduces a wealth of incredibly interesting characters such as Mary, a genetic specialist who certifies Ponter's DNA for what it is and also undergoes a very terrifying sexual attack by a human male predator. There is also humor in newspaper flashes that appear at the beginning of each chapter including a take-off on David Letterman's top 10 lists.
I highly look forward to reading the two sequel books in this trilogy.
on November 14, 2003
The winner of the 2003 Hugo Award for Best Novel of the Year, and deservedly so (although David Brin's KILN PEOPLE is also excellent).
Sawyer knows everything there is to know about Neanderthals (which, actually, isn't much, given that we only have fossil evidence of 400 Neanderthal individuals, spread over 170,000 years of time). In particular, he runs with two notions: the contemporary view that Neanderthals had no religious beliefs (sorry, Jean Auel -- but Sawyer's right ... there was no cult of the cave bear), and Lewis Binford's contentious suggestion that male and female Neanderthals lived largely separate lives. Sawyer extrapolates -- in the best sci-fi tradition -- all of this ahead to the present day, giving us a modern Neanderthal culture, technologically sophisticated and wonderfully drawn.
There's an "A" story and a "B" story. The "A" story tells of a Neanderthal quantum physicist named Ponter Boddit who is accidentally transferred from his version of reality (one where Neanderthals survived to the present day and we did not) to our version of reality. This gives Sawyer a "Stranger in a Strange Land" on a par with Heinlien's (the master's) Michael Valentine Smith, providing all sorts of wry, insightful social comment.
The "B" story takes place back in the Neanderthal version of reality, telling us of the aftermath of Ponter's disappearance, and a murder charge brought against his research partner -- Ponter's disappearance is taken as a sign that he's been killed. Sawyer uses this counterpoint subplot to let him show us the varied workings of draconian Neanderthal justice and keep a wonderfully ticking clock going in the background. The science is good and accurate, the philosophy well-grounded and compelling, and the characters believable and (mostly) likable.
HOMINIDS has a real beginning, middle and end, and so can be read as a standalone novel, but I'm sure you'll like it enough that you'll want to read the other two volumes in the NEANDERTHAL PARALLAX trilogy: HUMANS and HYBRIDS. Good books all.
on September 28, 2003
On an Earth much like our own, Neanderthals evolved and became the dominant species, while humans became extinct. Ponter Boddit, a Neanderthal physicist, is working on a quantum-computing experiment with his partner Adikor Huld when they accidentally create a rift that pulls Ponter through to our Earth. Finding himself a true stranger in a strange land, he is befriended by the scientists who rescue him and slowly begins to learn about our human civilization. Meanwhile, Adikor is stunned at the loss of his partner and is shocked to find himself accused of murdering Ponter, even though a body is nowhere to be found. If he can only get through the trial, he might be able to replicate the experiment and find out what happened to Ponter. "Hominids" is the first book in the Neanderthal Parallax trilogy, and is full of intriguing ideas about Neanderthal culture, like the separation of the sexes and the apparent bisexuality of most of the citizens. The book is more about humanity than anything, and has a fascinating array of characters, each of which is fully fleshed. This is an excellent story that gives readers much to ponder.
on June 19, 2003
Hominids is the first novel in the Neanderthal Parallax series. Within a nickel mine in Sudbury, Ontario, is located an advanced neutrino observatory, with a ten-story-tall detector chamber containing a 12 meter acrylic sphere filled with heavy water and surrounded by light detectors waiting for a neutrino to collide with a neutron. One Friday, the detector alarms went off again and again. When the lights were turned on, remote cameras showed a man within the sphere, drowning in the heavy water. Then the sphere burst and flooded the chamber.
When the staff entered the room leading to the detector chamber, they found the trapdoor sealed with forty separate bolts. Before they could find a tool to release the bolts, internal pressure tore the bolts apart and blew open the trapdoor. After fishing the man out of the water, they found that he had a pulse but was not breathing, so they applied mouth-to-mouth resuscitation until he began to gasp on his own.
The man was quite stocky and had an unusual face: broad, but not flat, angled cheekbones, a gargantuan nose, with a thick, dark blonde beard on his lower jaw and straight blonde hair. When he awoke, he spoke no known language. At the hospital, the X-rays showed that he had a long skull, with a rounded protrusion at the back, a doubly arched browridge, a gigantic nasal cavity, and a huge lower jaw without any chin and a gap between the last molar and the rest of the jaw. The attending physician recognized the skull as that of a Neanderthal.
This novel tells the story of a Neanderthal who was thrown across the timelines to another reality -- our own -- by a malfunctioning quantum computer. Since quantum-computing assumes that calculations will be performed in parallel continuums, a malfunction may well cause a fault in the separation between two adjacent timelines so that a physical object, the Neanderthal in question, might have been ejected from his own universe into ours.
This story describes the problems the Neanderthal has in learning how to communicate in our society. Moreover, it tells of the troubles his partner has in the other timeline when he disappears without any trace.
The social differences between these two forms of humanity are portrayed as the effects of physical differences. Since the Neanderthals have more sensitive olfactory organs, the smells of human civilization are exceeding offensive to them, so they are less likely to pollute the environment. Moreover, the Neanderthal women's synchronized fertility cycle reduces the influence of sex in their society to five or so days a month; sublimated sex just isn't a factor in everyday life, so their equivalent of Madison Avenue never really developed. The Neanderthal are physically strong enough to kill one another with a single blow, so society has developed customs to alleviate anger between individuals and to weed out such traits. The author spends more time on portraying positive cultural differences in the Neanderthal population than in speculating about possible negative consequences. Also, some of the effects may be overstated. However, this story is a satire of our society, not a utopian novel.
As with any scientific problem of this magnitude, the difficulties are caused mostly by human perversity. This adds a touch of challenge and potential danger to complicate the plot, but when hasn't human greeds and fears made life more difficult. Apparently, the same holds true for Neanderthals.
Recommended for Sawyer fans and anyone else who enjoys scientific mysteries with more than a touch of human folly.