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HALL OF FAMEon 10 January 2004
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. [stephen a. haines]
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on 12 November 2003
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 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.
[Friederike Knabe]
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on 26 December 2015
This is one of these books that was continually coming up in my recommendation list on Amazon so I eventually gave in and bought it. Will admit that I am glad that I did. Love the twist on parallel worlds, where a doorway to an alternative Earth is accidentally created and an inhabitant of another Earth ends up here. A Neanderthal, from an Earth where we died out and they thrived.

Won't go into further detail but the storyline enthralled me to the extent I have already bought the sequels.

Ray Smillie
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on 21 February 2003
In Hominids (the first part of a trilogy) a Neanderthal physicist from an alternate reality ends up in our universe. His civilization is also an advanced one, but rather different from ours, the divergences seem to be partly based on biology. The Neanderthal and the Canadian researchers who make first contact with him make some progress understanding each other's worlds. Robert J. Sawyer is also a humorous writer, and includes quite a lot of snippets of media coverage and what modern groups might say if a Neanderthal was to appear in our modern world. As usual, Sawyer presents us with a good read.
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on 18 September 2010
I've read a few of the author's other books, which I found to be interesting, though not exactly thrill packed. Calculating God and Flashforward had very human characters (I mean this as a compliment) in thought provoking situations. They weren't action oriented, but they told good stories. Unusually for me, I found the tv series of flashforward (the bits that I've seen) a better story than the book (that I read a few years ago). The tv series adds some adrenaline to the mix IMHO.

I didn't hate this trilogy, but by the end of it I felt that I'd read about a pretty unconvincing feminist inspired utopia. It felt like a world dreamt up by a man-hating 1980s' lesbian feminist who couldn't quite kick the 'man-thing'(!) and had discovered green ideology

( For the sake of clarity; The idea of homosexuality doesn't worry me, I'm not one, but I can understand that some people are. Discriminating against gay people seems as pointless as dicriminating against short / white / bald / black / hairy / martians / men / women - they can't change what they are - live and let live. )

As a male, I take exception to being told that:
all men are rapists
a certain operation solves male anger ( justified anger according to the book (my reading of it anyway)).
a white man plotting a hideous crime is evil, but a woman speculating almost as extreme an idea is ok

Unconvincing world, I said:
a society seems to have bypassed wheeled transport, internal combustion and gone to flying, solar powered transport directly
owning your own transport is an alien concept but your own home is natural (implausibly natural)
hunting (by men, clearly) is done by spears. Not very humane, is it?
a woman only society is a perfectly harmonious one...
basically, I guess it's a socialist, green utopia (almost) where women have men as a peripheral issue for when they are needed (only then!)
sexuality, it seems, can be rather more flexible than most of us might suspect

there are other things, but I don't want to create spoilers.

By all means read the books, I hope that you enjoy them, but the existing, glowing reviews are not the only take on the series. I've given away my set of books (unusually for me, I like to keep books for re-reading) and am looking elsewhere for future reading...
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on 1 July 2012
Great science fiction using both existing science and speculative theory to create an entertaining and engaging story, on finishing this book I ordered the remaining parts of the trilogy. Great stuff.
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on 18 March 2015
Whatever happened to the Hugo Award? Once a gold star of Sci-Fi excellence, I can't help but wonder how it came to be awarded to this hum-drum clunkily written unimaginative piece. The plot was staid and never really went anywhere; the whole Neanderthal 'murder trial' was laughable; and the links between recent archaeological findings and Sawyers extrapolated alternative Neanderthal society of vague interest but clumsily presented as if for the benefit of dullard readers. What really got my goat, however, was Sawyer's awkward PC description of the initial rape scene and his unimaginative use of that event as a plot device, to attempt to add some "human interest" to the afore-mentioned staid plot. Doing so obviously risks using sexual assault in a crass and exploitative manner but it came across to me as if Sawyer had attempted to overcome such objections by doing his research on rape, visiting a centre that helps victims of sexual assault, and then cutting and pasting rather vanilla and 'stereo-typical' material from pamphlets dealing with sexual assault into his fairly second-rate novel. Whilst all very PC, it was simply dull and to me served only to highlight his exploitative use of sexual assault as a (highly improbable) plot device. This fitted in with the overall vibe I got from the book that Sawyer had found a topical subject from New Scientist, gone and done his research, and then tried to turn it into a novel. I guess many writers do work that way but they need to either have the writing skill to bring that research to life (Hilary Mantel) or be able to really create an imaginative story (Kim Stanley Robinson). I'm afraid this novel sadly fails on both counts.
I don't normally write reviews, but having been misled by its receipt of the Hugo Award into reading it I thought I should try to warn others. Avoid!
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Hominids 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 to be human.
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Hominids 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 to be human.

(First Published in Imprint 2005-06-03 as 'One Book, One Community')
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on 7 May 2014
Light science fiction and a counter-balance to Jean Auel's novels about the Neanderthals, and the Dimitra Papagianni and Michael Morse book that updates the scientific discoveries of Neanderthals.
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