Hominids – Robert J. Sawyer (2002)

Hominids is the first book in Robert. J. Sawyer’s Neanderthal Parallax trilogy and was the winner of the best novel Hugo (2003). The story is about a parallel universe in which neanderthals, which for a period in time roamed the Earth along with primitive humans (setting aside the debate as to whether neanderthals were a distinct species or a link in the human evolution tree) ended up as the dominant species. In this novel, in their universe, it was humans and not themselves that became extinct. But their evolution progressed as did our own and they evolved into a civilized society albeit radically different from ours. They have a smaller and more sedate society sharing a landscape with nature (and wholly mammoths!) while at the same time having highly advanced physics and other scientific marvels. They have embedded wrist semi-sentient AI driven devices that also record everything they do to remote archives.These Dick Tracy like devices are communicators/computers/companion/encyclopedia/camera/translator all in one package.

While performing quantum mechanics nuclear experiments in their underground laboratory, something goes terribly wrong for two neanderthal scientists and one of them, Ponter, ends up in our universe. He is transported within the structure of one of our own underground physics labs and is rescued by a group of scientists who enlist the help of an anthropologist to try to figure out exactly who and what the new visitor is. While the newcomer begins to integrate himself in our society, his partner, Adikor, is being put on trial for his supposed murder, as he seemingly was the last person in contact with Ponter before his mysterious disappearance. There is a lot more going on in the story as the neanderthals have a highly complex society dealing with issues of sexual orientation handled in a vastly different manner than our own, as well as a legal system intricately tied into the archives and the personal communicators of all citizens. On our side of things Ponter has to deal with our arcane world, it’s rules, our ghastly history (we did after all appear to have killed of all the remaining neaderthals), as well as a variety of other issues.

The story alternates between the events in the neanderthal world, and our own. Eventually the portal is reistablished, but broken again at the end of the story. But the mere fact that there are two other novels in the series leads on to surmise that the portal will resurface again.

A very entertaining story with significant research into the mechanics and science behind it all, with a few liberties taken to make the events more probable. Sawyer even manages to interject a bit of comedy while at the same time tackling the very serious implications of a horrific rape whose consequences ripple throughout the story.  I’ve already got the rest of the series sitting on my shelves, so I’ll get to them before too long.


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