Sunday, July 25, 2010

Robert J. Sawyer, Hominids

Anyone who's read my blog for any stretch of time knows that one of my guilty pleasures in reading is a good sci-fi novel (that, and noir fiction, are my biggest guilty pleasures!). Sawyer's Hominids is a Hugo Award winner and Part One of the "Neanderthal Parallax," a trilogy that envisions a parallel universe in which Neanderthals became the dominant species on Earth.

Ponter Boddit is a Neanderthal physicist who, with the help of his partner Adikor, accidentally breaks into a parallel universe: ours. He fortunately befriends a small group of human physicists who work furiously to first communicate with him, then help him fight off his first bout of disease from human contact, and finally reconnect with his Neanderthal world. In alternating chapters we see Adikor as he is mistakenly accused of murdering Ponter (since Ponter's disappearance cannot be explained any other way in their world), and how he fights to establish his innocence within their legal system while also trying to reconnect with Ponter.

The pacing of this story is excellent thanks to Sawyer's use of alternating chapters to tell the parallel narratives, and (as good science fiction always does) it offers a certain amount of social commentary. Sawyer does this in two ways, by (a) providing a character from outside our world who comments on our way of life, and (b) providing a glimpse of how our world could have turned out under different circumstances, with less-than-satisfying results. Many science-fiction authors choose to use one narrative method or the other, but here Sawyer deftly juxtaposes the two, making for a gripping story that also has a lot to say.

If you are looking for some good sci-fi, look for further. Check out Hominids!

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