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How will it work out?
on 14 February 2004
Interracial human relationships hold their own fascination. They present the partners and their surroundings usually also with distinct challenges. Yet, these must pale in comparison to a love bond between a homo sapiens and a modern-day Neanderthal. Ancient DNA expert Mary Vaughn of Toronto met Physicist Ponter Boddit of Saldek (the Neanderthal equivalent to Sudbury in Northern Ontario) after he was thrown into our version of earth by a quantum computer accident on his side. After various exploratory visits between the parallel universes, mainly by scientists, a constant portal is being established allowing a regular exchange of scientific knowledge and philosophical ideas to flourish. The two lovers are determined to bring the two parallel realities closer together. If you have not read the first two volumes of the Neanderthal Parallax, don’t feel discouraged. The indispensable background to understand the story is sprinkled throughout this volume. Still, reading it from the beginning leaves you better prepared to savour its different layers of the story.
With great skill and immense empathy for this alternative to the homo sapiens’ world Sawyer builds a far-reaching vision of Neanderthal society covering all aspects of its reality, its people and their accomplishments. Exploring the scientific innovations of “Barast” society provides him with a platform for discussing the latest thinking in genetics, consciousness studies and brain research, physics, etc. His comprehensive knowledge of and enthusiasm for scientific explorations shine through all levels of the narrative without becoming heavy or too demanding for the reader. In some ways, the Neanderthal version of the universe is presented as a mirror of what could have been in our world. Take the environment: the dialogue between Ponter and Jock, Mary’s boss, during a copter flight over New York beautifully illustrates the differences between the two versions of earth as it leaves a deep impression on Jock: Manhattan IS the “Island of Hills” - devoid of skyscrapers, people and traffic. It makes him wish that we could start all over again with a clean slate.
As Mary spends more time in Ponter’s world she learns to accept the differences, up to a point anyway. Yet, Barast society is so markedly different in every major aspect of society that it is not be easy to adapt. For one, our concept of individual freedoms does not mean much here. Men and women live pretty much separate lives, each with a same-sex mate and their monthly four-day heterosexual coming together, ‘Two become One’, is treated like a holiday. Children are born according to a predefined generational schedule, allowing the society to maintain population levels stable. Besides the timing, the lovers’ wish to conceive a child appears impossible due to their genetic differences. Sawyer just loves to explain complex genetics in layperson’s terms! But DNA research has advanced, mainly in Ponter’s world, and new possibilities emerge. There are more complexities to delve into concerning genetics, above all the potential existence of a specific gene, a “God organ”. The question of religion has been a major theme throughout the trilogy and here it ends in a dramatic climax.
Sawyer’s fluent style and clear, lively narrative make this one of best reads around. At the same time, you learn about some fascinating new research and scientific discoveries and can ponder some important questions about the society we live in. [Friederike Knabe, Ottawa Canada]