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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]
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VINE VOICETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 31 March 2012
I thought this was the weakest of the trilogy. As in Humans, there was relatively little action for much of the book, but a rather excessive, for me, amount of brain dumping on genetics. There was also the same lengthy exploration of scientific, ethical and political ideas, interesting and valid in themselves, but rather overdone and a little too unsubtle for my tastes. The constant presentation of the perfect peace loving Neanderthals (Barasts) as opposed to the violent, planet destroying Humans (Gliksins) I found a little wearing at times. No doubt this book would also give right wing anti political correctness campaigners, a breed with whom I have very little sympathy, some ammunition as the only two white males are a rapist and a scientist plotting genocide of the Neanderthals. I found the ending on our Earth rather unrealistic as well. All that said, a follow up novel about the life of Mary and Ponter's hybrid daughter facing the inevitable prejudice she would no doubt face in both worlds might be interesting. 3/5
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on 14 November 2003
Sawyer's title gives the game away up front. Those not having read the previous works in this trilogy will quickly learn of the romance between a human geneticist and a Neanderthal physicist. Mary Vaughn, genetics researcher and rape victim, has cast aside the prejudicial image we hold of extinct "cave men". She dearly loves Ponter Boddit, who has crossed a quantum portal from an alternative universe. Ponter represents the high scientific level Neanderthals might have achieved had they not been driven to extinction by the rise of another hominid - Homo sapiens. These two species having been thoroughly introduced in the previous volumes, the ultimate result of their encounter must be the conception of a child - a hybrid human-Neanderthal.
The genetic obstacle to this breeding exercise gives Sawyer the opportunity to display his research abilities. How he resolves it is testimony to his writing skills. Humans, he tells us, are unique in possessing 23 chromosomes. Other primates, probably including the extinct Neanderthals, have 24. Merging genes from two such creatures is unlikely to produce viable offspring. Sawyer however, has no intention of boring you with clinical issues when there are bigger questions to address. Neanderthals are not only genetically distinct, their social structure differs in ways that would give a sociologist nightmares. Males and females live apart except for a brief period each month - Two Becoming One. Living apart means that each gender "bonds" with another of its kind for most of the month. Intrusions on this rigid social ideal aren't welcome, and Mary's insistence that couples "live together all the time" violates Neanderthal social mores. Tensions build as human and Neanderthals interact.
Neanderthals possess an electronic avatar called a "Companion". These ultimate PalmPilots communicate with one another and with a central recording station. All actions, conversations, decisions are recorded for posterity, or adjudication, if required. Adjudication has a long reach in both time and subject. Violence, they believe, is a genetic trait. The "sins of the fathers" are punished along lines of genetic relationships our society cast aside with the rise of Christianity. If "Hybrids" falls into the hands of a "mainstream" fiction reader, the howls of "genetic determinism" will disturb Sawyer's Mississauga home. However, there's an even bigger issue in this book than justice through biology. Neanderthals have no concept of deities or an afterlife. Why do humans believe in gods but Neanderthals don't?
The question of "faith" builds as the central issue in this series. Sawyer has flirted with it before, but never better than here. His handling of the question is at once novel, entertaining and based on sound research. Not only are Neanderthal and human chromosomes unalike, that condition reflects differences in brain structure. Sawyer extends the findings of Canadian scientist Michael Persinger in coping with this question. What gives humans a "religious sense"? Is it really derived from the supernatural, or does some mechanism bring about faith - an "illness" subject to cure? Ironies abound in this story, but none more potent than those Sawyer raises over this question. What do we believe? Why do we believe it? How do we deal with the concept of gods? There is no "rust-proofing" to cover the issue - Sawyer confronts you with it forcefully. You must see through the ironies and address reality.
Can you read this book without having read the previous two in the trilogy? Easily, if you can accept the notion of alternative universes joined by a quantum gateway. Sawyer deals well with the advance in human cognition that supposedly occurred forty thousand years ago. There are many ramifications branching off from this event and Sawyer handles them skilfully. Sawyer doesn't write simply to entertain. He writes to challenge your thinking, make you ponder the validity of your beliefs and raise questions about how we view the world around us. Read him and ask yourselves the questions. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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on 10 June 2016
A satisfactory ending to an interesting trilogy although it might upset those who have religious beliefs. I like what the author said about religion and why it exists plus why the Neanderthals in this trilogy have no religion. Mixed reviews but I enjoyed it.

Ray Smillie
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on 11 March 2011
This series started well with Hominids, a well written novel with some interesting ideas. The second book of the trilogy - Humans - was a lot weaker but very readable. This book is just dire, the author seems to have run both out of ideas and enthusiasm. I struggled my way to the end of the trilogy and wished I hadn't bothered. If you've read and been impressed by Hominids, I'd recommend you stop there.
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on 10 November 2014
Great writing, and consistently entertaining. Sawyer is a great writer, and every book satisfies.
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VINE VOICEon 29 June 2010
If you haven't read the earlier two novels then I strongly recommend starting with those. Sawyer maintains the reader's interest in this final instalment of the series, partly by developing several quite different plot strands. One of these is signalled by the novel's title, and the novel's human interest lies in the relationship between human heroine and Neanderthal hero, and in the way Mary negotiates the conflict between her own heterosocial society and the Neanderthals' quite different arrangements. There is a satisfying thriller element and also a hard sf plot strand centring on a possible shift in the earth's magnetic poles. And for those with softer sf interests there's an interesting further exploration of the Neanderthals' hardwired atheism. What's not to like?
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on 6 November 2014
Having read the previous in the series (lent by a friend), I felt I needed to finish off the story. Ideal for long train journeys!
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