Top positive review
19 people found this helpful
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]