Hybrids Mass Market Paperback – Oct 28 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Canadian writer Sawyer brings his Neanderthal Parallax trilogy to a close, leaving some loose ends that beg for a follow-up further exploring the interaction of two parallel worlds: the overcrowded and polluted one we're used to and another inhabited by highly intelligent and civilized Neanderthals. In the earlier books (Hominids and Humans), physicist Ponter Boddit got translated from the Neanderthal world to ours, where he fell in love with geneticist Mary Vaughn. The couple joined with people of good will from both worlds to keep the link open. Now, though, it's time to consider the implications of such a continuing connection. If people have trouble getting along because of such distinctions as sex and race, how will they be able to co-exist with members of another species? Some individuals see anyone different as a rival, a threat that must be destroyed. Others coldly calculate how to seize new territory for "humanity." Sawyer's characters are less interesting for who they are than for what they are-or what they represent. Still, his picture of the unspoiled Neanderthal world is charming, and he raises some provocative questions. If, for example, only Earth-humans have brains capable of religious belief, should Ponter and Mary genetically design their child with that ability or not? It all amounts to some of the most outrageous, stimulating speculation since Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land questioned our tired, timid conventions.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
In the conclusion of the Neanderthal Parallax trilogy (Hominids, 2002, and Humans [BKL Ja 1 & 15 03] precede it), scientists and lovers Mary Vaughan, who is human, and Ponter Boddit, who is Neanderthal, embark on the harrowing adventure of conceiving a child together. To overcome the genetic barbed wire of mismatched chromosomes, they must use banned technology obtainable only from a Neanderthal scientist living in the northern wilderness, alone but not isolated, for Neanderthals prefer a nonprivate society in which injured persons are quickly rescued, theft is unknown, and personal violence is contained, thanks to permanently implanted personal monitors--a society whose benefits Sawyer persuasively describes. The Neanderthals' electronic surveillance is compatible with their basic peacefulness, however, and can't begin to cope with human craftiness or the malevolent racism of one of Mary's colleagues, who considers Ponter's world as a plum ripe for picking. If his ambitions constitute one alarming threat to a society, the imminent collapse of Earth's magnetic field constitutes another, for it is feared that this will wreak havoc with human consciousness. In an excellent closing twist, a New Year's celebration is disrupted in a very alarming, uniquely human manner as a few Neanderthals watch dumbfounded. A fine combination of love story, social commentary, and ecothriller closes a terrific series with a bang. Roberta Johnson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Perhaps the most unsatisfying aspect of the book, and indeed the whole series, was the superficiality of the characters. In particular the central female, Mary Vaughn, is shallow and one dimensional. And, for a doctorate in genetics, she seemed to have a strikingly random intelligence. For example, she loved her neandertal man Ponter dearly and wanted to "marry" him but it didn't occur to her until well into this third book that their chromosonal incompatibility would render then infertile. Sharp thinker, that Mary.
Also, her obsessive Catholicism made her appear ridiculous and confused. Sawyer obviously needed her religiosity to explore theology and mirror its lack of logic and reason. The goal was met, but at the cost of one of his primary character's credibility.
The other peripheral characters were stock and embarrassingly devoid of personality too. Cornelius was a totally unbelievable bad guy, too much irrational ranting about women and the general unfairness of the world to be anything but a caricature; Louise Benoit, the hottie French quantum physicist, is a brunette version of Pamela Anderson and just about as flimsy; Dr. Reuben, a shaven-headed black Haitian more benign that even a fantasy physician has the right to be. What a rainbow of characters! What a bunch of cardboard people!
The creative underpining of the series - divergent species of humans allowed to evolve into their own culturally distinct potentials - is excellent, and especially well realized in the first book. In addition, Ponter, who is the only truly developed character in the set, is an engaging person with much to teach us, even if we can never shuffle back and forth between his almost-but-not-quite-perfect world and ours.
The "Stranger in a Strange Land" concept is always delightful and this, perhaps more than any ever written, offers much for meditiation. It will definitely stay with the reader long after the books are reshelved.
So, here's my suggeston: read the first book HOMINIDS and if you like it, go for the second one HUMANS, just don't expect scintillating personalities. Avoid the final one, HYBRIDS, though. It'll just be a disappointment.
Did Sawyer just get tired of writing this trilogy?
All of a sudden, the book turns to silliness. It's almost a parady of Sawyer's work. The theological thoughts are no longer delightful little subplots of a page or two, but drag on and on into endless garbage. The ending reads like a B-Movie from the 1950s with a crazed individual trying to destroy a world. At the stroke of midnight on New Year's -- well, I don't want to spoil the ending for you. It was bad enough for me to have to read it myself.
I often recommend Sawyer's books to friends, but I can't recommend this one. Hopefully this doesn't reflect Sawyer's future work.
The second book, Humans, represented the beginning of Sawyer's descent into one-world kumbaya utopian preaching.
This volume, Hybrids, consists of a thin plot grafted onto Sawyer's personal PC worldview.
Everyone in the Neanderthal world is an atheist bisexual environmentalist and their world is just about perfect, cue John Lennon. And let's not forget the obligatory Dan Brown-ish attack on the Catholic Church, can't have a enlightened book these days without that.
Among other ludicrous lines, the sapiens world North Vietnamese government is described as kind. Not as bad as many totalitarian regimes? Sure. Not as corrupt as the South Vietnamese regime? Could well be. Kind? Oh dear lord.
Sawyer quotes Solzhenitsyn's phrase that the line between good and evil runs through each human heart, but very tellingly fails to include the entire statement. I quote from The Gulag Archipelago Two:
Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person. And since that time I have come to understand the falsehood of all the revolutions in history: They destroy only those carriers of evil contemporary with them.
The full context of Solzhenitsyn's quote is precisely contrary to Sawyer's portrayal of an atheistic neo-Marxist Neanderthal paradise.
But my favorite was Sawyer's list (via Mary) of the handful of decent men in the world. The list included Phil Donahue. I laughed because I thought at least Sawyer was showing a bit of wit. Then I realized he was serious.
Never mind the mysteries of how a race which eschews competition could produce a technically advanced culture (especially with less than 1/20th of the population of the sapiens Earth, better breeding for intelligence doesn't explain that). Maybe there is an explanation, but Sawyer doesn't offer one.
Prior to the development of the Companion how did the Neanderthals judge whether someone had committed a crime? 80 years of supposedly perfect justice being used to wean out bad genes doesn't explain what mistakes may have been made were made in the past, when justice was far less perfect.
Occasionally Sawyer raises problems in the Neanderthal culture (such as unreported spousal abuse). But these read as throwaway issues so he can avoid the charge of writing a complete whitewash. He never explores how such issues could lead to wholesale difficulties. Again, any problems in the Neanderthal society are portrayed as minor individual trifles, never anything systemic.
Frankly, this trilogy reminds me most of Harry Harrison's trilogy, Stars and Stripes (an alternative Civil War history where the bumbling British manage to attack both the USA and CSA, and the combined USA and CSA forces pretty quickly smash the Brits, take Ireland, and conquer London).
One side is nearly perfect and decent and brilliant and the other side is nefarious and cruel.
There are no complexities, just the good guys triumphing over a bunch of bad guys. Take Harrison's trilogy, substitute Neanderthal for Americans and evil white men for the British, stir in a lot of politically correct attitudes, and you'd produce something similar to Sawyer's trilogy.
The best alternative history accepts complexities and portrays all cultures as something far less than pure. Sawyer, due to his obsession with pushing his weltanschauung ahead of everything else, fails miserably in this regard.
The story in the first two books introduced us to a wide range of neanderthal and human characters, living on parallel earths, and rudely made aware of each other when a single neanderthal, Ponter, falls through into our earth. In the second tome, relations are opened between the world, and a Synergy Group formed. Ponter's relationship with a human woman, Mary Vaughn, grew toward love, and the differences between their two cultures began to show the startling way in which humans have really failed. Indeed, in this book, one of the characters, Jock, begins to see just how poorly humans have handled their world.
There is much to this book that is easily missed - Sawyer has put gender issues, sexuality issues, racism, violence, criminal systems, enviromental practices - all of it is on display in this series, and in the third book, it is in the character of Mary that we get to explore both worlds with her biased human eye.
As the collapse of our Earth's magnetic field continues (it flips now and then, and is doing so now), Jock, Mary, and the rest of the Synergy group are slowly realizing what it could possibly mean to humanity, while at the same time Mary explores options of potentially creating a hybrid child with Ponter, the neanderthal she has fallen in love with.
Most interesting to me (as a gay reader) was Mary's intellectual and emotional wrestling with the Neanderthal relationship structure (they each have a man-mate and a woman-mate, and live in same-gendered relationships for most of their lives, with about four days a month spent in opposite-gender relationships). As Mary moves towards adopting the Neanderthal way of life, she slowly allows herself to consider the option of a woman-mate, and the eventual outcome of her thoughts and feelings really struck me.
Just as interesting was the religious debate that has been ongoing in this series. The Neanderthals, very uncurious and entirely unreligious, are shown to be lacking whatever brain components are required for 'faith.' When Mary and Ponter decide to have a child, the Catholic Mary needs to figure out if her child should have the gene for faith, or not. It's an amazingly good thought process for both of them, and again I tip my hat at Sawyer.
Where the story finally goes took me by surprise, and left me satisfied about the trilogy at large. This was superb, and as always, I wait for Sawyer's next great novel. There's a reason he's one of only sixteen people to have both a Hugo and a Nebula for best novel, folks.