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Neanderthals have developed a radically different civilization on a parallel Earth. A Neanderthal physicist, Ponter Boddit, accidentally passes from his universe into a Canadian underground research facility. Fortunately, a team of human scientists, including expert paleo-anthropologist Mary Vaughan, promptly identifies and warmly receives Ponter. Solving the language problem and much else is a mini-computer, called a Companion, implanted in the brain of every Neanderthal. A computerized guardian spirit, however, doesn't eliminate cross-cultural confusion; permanent male-female sexuality, rape, and overpopulation are all alien to Ponter. Nor can it help his housemate and fellow scientist back in his world, Adikor Huld, when the authorities charge Adikor with his murder.

444 pages, Paperback

First published May 3, 2002

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About the author

Robert J. Sawyer

222 books2,244 followers
Robert J. Sawyer is one of Canada's best known and most successful science fiction writers. He is the only Canadian (and one of only 7 writers in the world) to have won all three of the top international awards for science fiction: the 1995 Nebula Award for The Terminal Experiment, the 2003 Hugo Award for Hominids, and the 2006 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Mindscan.
Robert Sawyer grew up in Toronto, the son of two university professors. He credits two of his favourite shows from the late 1960s and early 1970s, Search and Star Trek, with teaching him some of the fundamentals of the science-fiction craft. Sawyer was obsessed with outer space from a young age, and he vividly remembers watching the televised Apollo missions. He claims to have watched the 1968 classic film 2001: A Space Odyssey 25 times. He began writing science fiction in a high school club, which he co-founded, NASFA (Northview Academy Association of Science Fiction Addicts). Sawyer graduated in 1982 from the Radio and Television Arts Program at Ryerson University, where he later worked as an instructor.

Sawyer's first published book, Golden Fleece (1989), is an adaptation of short stories that had previously appeared in the science-fiction magazine Amazing Stories. This book won the Aurora Award for the best Canadian science-fiction novel in English. In the early 1990s Sawyer went on to publish his inventive Quintaglio Ascension trilogy, about a world of intelligent dinosaurs. His 1995 award winning The Terminal Experiment confirmed his place as a major international science-fiction writer.

A prolific writer, Sawyer has published more than 10 novels, plus two trilogies. Reviewers praise Sawyer for his concise prose, which has been compared to that of the science-fiction master Isaac Asimov. Like many science fiction-writers, Sawyer welcomes the opportunities his chosen genre provides for exploring ideas. The first book of his Neanderthal Parallax trilogy, Hominids (2002), is set in a near-future society, in which a quantum computing experiment brings a Neanderthal scientist from a parallel Earth to ours. His 2006 Mindscan explores the possibility of transferring human consciousness into a mechanical body, and the ensuing ethical, legal, and societal ramifications.

A passionate advocate for science fiction, Sawyer teaches creative writing and appears frequently in the media to discuss his genre. He prefers the label "philosophical fiction," and in no way sees himself as a predictor of the future. His mission statement for his writing is "To combine the intimately human with the grandly cosmic."


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Displaying 1 - 30 of 834 reviews
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
808 reviews1,263 followers
March 30, 2021
human evolution | History, Stages, Timeline, Tree, Chart, & Facts | Britannica (Homo sapiens and four other human species)

The Smithsonian National Museum has listed twenty-one human species that are recognized by most scientists. These are just the ones we know about and have fossil evidence of and I think we will unearth many more.

We homo sapiens are far from unique, though we like to think we are. We think we're special and everything on earth was made for us. We used to think (and some still do) that this blue planet of ours was the center of the universe, and a supreme being created it all just for us.

Im Special GIF - Special Ralph TheSimpsons GIFs

It was probably sheer good luck that let us survive when all other human species went extinct. I like to imagine what it would be like if one or more of the others had survived, and we were sharing Earth with cousins even closer than chimps and bonobos.

Would we get along or would we find reasons to hate the other species because they are different? Unfortunately, the latter is likely, given how we treat members of our own species who we think are different.

In Hominids, Robert J. Sawyer imagines a parallel universe in which it is the Neanderthals who survived, while we homo sapiens went extinct. 

Ponter and Adikor are physicists working on quantum computers. They accidentally open a portal into another universe, the one in which homo sapiens survived and Neanderthals went extinct. 

Ponter is thrown into our universe, a universe he hadn't known existed. Thankfully he has a Companion implanted in his arm that quickly learns English and can communicate with the odd-looking people he finds himself among. 

I absolutely loved this book. Mr. Sawyer has created a stunning Neanderthal world and it was amazing to read about their advanced culture and see how they are different to us, how they are the same, and how they are superior in many ways. 

Neanderthal do not have religion and it was invigorating to read the passages where humans try to explain the concept of a Creator, an afterlife, and a soul to Ponter who is incredulous over such ideas. 

The book switches back and forth between the two universes and I enjoyed them both equally. I loved seeing Ponter interact with "us", learning our ways. I also loved being in the Neanderthal world, learning about their advanced technology and almost crime-less society. 

This book is thought-provoking, imaginative, and fun!

I do have a couple bitches though:

• Mary is a world-renowned geneticist, having been the first to successfully extract Neanderthal DNA from a fossil. But we are to believe she reads Harlequin romances and is embarrassed to say she's on her period.  Then there's this cringe-inducing, eyeball-rolling phrase illustrating her attraction for Porter: "She swiveled her head to watch his buns as he disappeared into the kitchen". 

Oh come on! That is stupid and immature and downright silly. Thankfully there's not a lot of this sort of thing in the book or it would have ruined it for me.

• Another bitch is that, while the Neanderthals are bisexual and all have a female and male mate, they think sex between a male and female is the only "real" sex and it's just fun genital stimulation when the act is between members of the same sex. I don't know if that's the author's thoughts or he just made it up, but it's stereotypical bullshit and pissed me off.

It says a lot for the book that I'm still giving it five stars. It's amazing. I devoured it in a day because I couldn't concentrate on much else, with my brain having been transported to that parallel universe.

This is the most mentally stimulating novel I've read since The Three-Body Problem trilogy. 5 big, bold, shining stars.
Profile Image for Jamie Collins.
1,434 reviews274 followers
January 26, 2009
This is worth reading for the intriguing depiction of an advanced neanderthal society, but it's not a very well-written novel.

The narrative was more readable when it focused on the neanderthals, perhaps because the alienness of the society kept my attention, but as soon as it returned to the homo sapiens the prose became clunky enough to pull me out of the story. The characterizations are poor, particularly that of Mary, one of the main protagonists.

And the author almost ruined my enjoyment of the neanderthals by using them to sermonize about our abuse of the environment, unfair judicial system and foolish belief in God. I would have appreciated a more honest attempt at contrasting the ethics of the parallel humanities.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,882 reviews16.6k followers
May 13, 2019
Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer concerns a parallel universe where Neanderthals became the dominant branch of humanity while Homo sapiens dies out, much in the same way that Neanderthals died out in our world.

By an accident of quantum physics, the two worlds are joined briefly and a Neanderthal physicist is sucked into our world. Sawyer uses this event to show the differences and distinctions of the two species, how they diverged and also as a vehicle, almost utopian or Brobdingnagian in nature, to show how the Neanderthal world is better in many ways. Discussing religion, sociology, genetics, legality, and various other themes of comparative culture, our world is stood up to the gentle, living-close-to-nature Neanderthals and we come up short, excuse the pun, again and again.

Very original and with clearly well researched foundations, Hominids begins Sawyer’s Neanderthal Parallax, a trilogy that describes the interrelation of the two worlds. Sawyer’s writing is bold and descriptive, but some of the dialogue comes across flat and overly technical.

Still, this is first-rate science fiction and it is no wonder that the book won the Hugo Award in 2003 for Best Novel.

Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews805 followers
December 20, 2017
“Although not every paleoanthropologist agreed, many shared her view that between 40,000 and 27,000 years ago, Homo sapiens—anatomically modern humans—completed the first of what would be many deliberate or inadvertent genocides, wiping the planet free of the only other extant member of the same genus, a separate, more gentle species that perhaps had been better entitled to the double meaning of the word humanity.”

Humanity’s destructive tendencies is one of the main themes of Hominids, Robert J. Sawyer’s Hugo award-winning novel about the adventures of a Neanderthal, Ponter Boddit, who inadvertently arrived in our world. The idea of a caveman accidentally arriving in our modern world is not new, but Sawyer has turned the trope on its head here. Ponter, in spite of being a Neanderthal, is not a caveman, he comes from a parallel Earth more advanced and civilized than ours.

It all started in the Neanderthal’s parallel Earth, in a lab where a quantum computing experiment goes extremely wrong and unceremoniously dumping poor Ponter in our Earth, almost drowning him in the process. Fortunately for him, his arrival is noticed by the nice research scientists at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory where he came through. They immediately take him in hand and soon establish communication with him through Ponter’s super advanced portable AI device (the word computer does not quite cut it). On Ponter’s Earth his friend Adikor is accused of murdering him as he has disappeared without a trace, missing, presumed dead.

I am definitely developing a taste for Robert J. Sawyer’s brand of sci-fi. I thought Flashforward was generally good, if a little mediocre in term of prose and a silly ending. Where that book shines is the science expositions, he even made the “Schrödinger’s cat” thought experiment comprehensible. He has achieved a similar “education through fiction” feat here. I feel like I have a clearer idea of what a quantum computer is and I am definitely more informed about theories concerning Neanderthals. I find Hominids to be a much better book than Flashforward, the story is more compelling and several of the main characters are actually believable, sympathetic and likable, Ponter being the best of them. I actually felt moved at one point, with a spontaneous lump in the throat. Sawyer also uses the novel to explore the idea of religion, the religion-free and generally crime-free utopia of the Neanderthal Earth implies that humanity would be better off without it. The society of the parallel Earth makes for an interesting foil for ours, with its numerous shortcomings. The price for lack of crime seems to be a form of constant surveillance, I am not sure what Sawyer is advocating here. Still, food for thought is good, I don’t have to agree with him.

I do have a couple complaints, however, the sections of the narrative that take place on the Neanderthal’s Earth are mostly focused on a legal /courtroom drama between Adikor and his accuser. This parallel Earth, with its strange culture and concepts, is far too interesting to waste on a courtroom drama. The world building is actually very good but I just felt frustrated with the trials, where the case is going against Adikor, the defendant. The outcome is already predictable and I felt that we, the readers, should be exploring this fascinating world instead of sitting through a fairly pedestrian legal drama (legal thriller author Scott Turow even gets a name check). Having said that, the courtroom stuff takes up maybe a third of the narrative so it does not actually ruin the book. Another complaint is a rape subplot where a female geneticist, Mary Vaughan, is raped early on in the book. There is an actual rape scene which is rather distasteful and entirely unnecessary. If this subplot is needed as part of the character’s development there still is no need to depict the rape itself. Anyway, it is a very brief scene, so there is probably no need to boycott the book because of it.

Sawyer’s prose is still without any real aesthetic value, he is described by some sci-fi fans as writing for the mainstream, that his books are airport novels. I feel that we, sci-fi fans can be just as snobbish as the literati types sometimes. I like the more literary sci-fi style of Ursula K. Le Guin or Iain M. Banks but Sawyer writes more in the tradition of Asimov or Clarke, but perhaps with a little more commercial styling. For me this is fine, there is always room for easily accessible sci-fi books.

Hominids is the first book of Sawyer’s Neanderthal Parallax trilogy. I am definitely sufficiently intrigued by his Neanderthal society to come back to the other two installments.

science line

“Trillions of neutrinos passed right through the Earth every second; in fact, a neutrino could travel through a block of lead a light-year thick with only a fifty-percent chance of hitting something. Still, neutrinos poured out of the sun in such vast profusion that collisions did occasionally occur—and heavy water was an ideal target.”

“There’s been a lot of debate over the years about whether Neanderthals could speak, and, if they could, what range of sounds they could have made.
Some linguists think they couldn’t have made the ee phoneme, because their mouths would have been much longer than ours.”

“A regular computer can determine the factors of a given number by trying one possible factor to see if it works, then another, then another, then another: brute-force calculation. But if you used a conventional computer to factor a big number—say, one with 512 digits, like those used to encrypt credit-card transactions on the World Wide Web—it would take countless centuries to try all the possible factors one at a time. But a quantum computer uses superposition of quantum states to check multiple possible factors simultaneously.”
Profile Image for donna backshall.
677 reviews187 followers
January 18, 2021
The book itself was good, maybe not great, but I took one remarkable thing from it, something I consider every time I talk about "work", almost two decades later.

For the Neanderthals, in a world parallel to ours where they emerged/evolved on top, your job is a contribution. When you meet someone, you ask "What is your contribution?" and people happily explain to you how they contribute.


The emphasis on meaning and impact in your daily toils is such a simple yet huge paradigm shift, especially for the average pay-driven American.

Now every day I strive not just to work, but to consciously contribute with what I do for a living. And what an ingenious way to, say, vet a date by asking that uncommon question.
Profile Image for B Schrodinger.
305 reviews672 followers
May 17, 2016
Robert Sawyer can be a bit hit and miss to me, but 'Hominids' is the best hit he has had with me. This was a reread after about a decade at a guess. And while I knew the plot, the thought experiment is still strong and is a delight to read.

The book has its faults though. Like most of all Sawyer's books it revolves around a great idea, fleshed out to find interesting consequences and peopled with pawns to do his bidding. These people are a little more rounded than most SF characters, but still lacking somewhat. There's always the scientist in his books and he portrays their life simplistically, but fairly accurately. Much better than most media.

Why do you read this then? The fun premise of a crossing of parallel universes, one where we survived and neanderthals died, and then vice-versa. The neanderthal world is described in detail and differs from our world greatly. It's certainly a leftie's heaven.

But there is a warning. There are rape themes explored here, and, as far as I am aware, not done very well. This is my opinion as a white male who has had no impact from rape. But it seems to me like there was not enough trauma, it was a bit ham fisted, used like a very blunt tool, and it wasn't backed up by sexual maturity when the book was talking about women checking out guys asses occasionally.

But a very fun thought experiment and I'll be rereading the next 2 volumes soon.
Profile Image for Greg.
1,117 reviews1,877 followers
October 30, 2012
The idea of this novel is fairly interesting. In an alternate universe Neanderthals survived instead of our branch of the evolutionary tree. While testing a quantum computer a swap ends up happening between the two realities and a Neanderthal scientist finds himself in our reality. The Neanderthals get some radioactive water from us. Fair trade.

Culture shock follows and a compare and contrast between our present society and the what might have been if Neanderthals lived and we just disappeared only to be known by a handful of bones found here and there.

If the novel was able to just give this reality/alternate reality sort of thing, and talk about some of the pop-science behind how this all might have happened then I would have really enjoyed the book. I'm not quite sure how this would have been done though, since what I'm trying to say is if basically the ideas of the book were kept but most of the plot (that weren't directly connected with the ideas), most of the characters and all the none ideas dialogue were excised from the book I would have liked it.

Instead the book has these great ideas, but terrible terrible terrible dialogue, characters and writing (when the writing isn't about the ideas).

Even though I was reading this book in the privacy of my own home, while a storm was going on, so no one was even possibly outside my window looking in (this happens, really, people just look in my window to watch me read, honest) I was still embarrassed at times to be reading the book. Especially whenever anything remotely sexual was being written about. Most of the 'romantic' elements in the book sound like they were written by a horny 13 year old (yes, but romantic I do also mean such things as checking out someone's 'buns'). One of the main characters is a super-model level gorgeous woman who happens to be a brilliant post-doctoral physicist and also happens to walk around in skimpy clothes, and outfits like daisy-dukes with rock t-shirts bunched and tied up just below her breasts. She's also obviously one who sleeps with lots of geeky guys. Really. It is also painful to read a woman's psychological state after being the victim of a sexual assault. It's not that the author isn't sympathetic, but there is just a shallowness to the reaction. But this isn't that surprising there is a shallowness to most of the characters and the way they react to things.

This isn't the worst example of the dialogue, but it's the point where I finally decided to make a note of it.

"I'm talking about Mary-not you, Professor Vaughan, Mary, the mother of Jesus. You're a Catholic, aren't you?"

Mary nodded.

"I noticed your crucifix." Mary looked down, self-conscious. "I'm a Catholic, too," continued Louise.
(who we just found out isn't just the ultimate in sexy librarian but can also be the ultimate Catholic school girl, woo-hoo).

It's not like this was terrible, but it was sort of unnecessary, and it's the kind of stilted exchanges people have through-out this book.

So why three stars? I found the science parts interesting, and Sawyer could write when he was doing ideas. It was just people that tripped him up. So I thought, the ideas get about four stars, and the characters / dialogue get about two, so three stars it is.

And guess what? Because I'm stupid I started the second book in the series, driven by a curiosity to see where he is going to take the ideas (I'm sort of a sucker for alternate history stuff, thankfully I rarely indulge in this geeky enjoyment) and partially to see where the train-wreck of a story goes. So far it's actually not as bad as I thought it would be, but the sexy scientist has just come upon the scene, and in this book and the second volume when he's writing about the Neanderthals his quirks don't seem as bad, maybe because they are all imagination based, or maybe because Sawyer is much more sympathetic to them as a whole than to the Homo-sapien sapien.
342 reviews19 followers
April 1, 2012
It seems that every so often, the sci-fi community embraces a new variant of the old story where an enlightened figure from a superior society descends to point out everything that's wrong with us. I've pretty much lost patience with this motif, I think it's intellectually lazy and philosophically infantile. Besides, they've all blended together in my mind at this point, and so this book is doomed to merge with a composite that includes the Dispossessed, the Man who Fell to Earth and Crocodile Dundee. But leaving that aside, while I can still distinguish the features of this novel from those other works of fiction let me summarize the main points.

The angel from paradise in this case is a member of the species we know as "Neanderthals". He comes from a parallel universe where his kind developed a sophisticated society. He and his partner were trying to program a computer to factor large numbers when it opened a portal to our universe and unceremoniously dumped him in Canada. Lest you think that this is an outrageously absurd premise, I hasten to point out that it was a quantum computer. The author explains that it makes perfect sense for quantum computers to open man-sized holes to alternate universes, because apparently that's just how they work.

So anyway, what are the great insights this man can bring us?

You guys should take better case of your natural resources

Duly noted. It's not clear what this entails in practical terms, other than maybe reducing the worlds population by an order of magnitude. What else you got?

Society's problems are overwhelmingly caused by sexually frustrated men

As gross oversimplifications of social problems go, this is both oft-repeated and fairly compelling. The authors suggestion that widespread casual homosexuality would make us all better off is a nice rational conclusion from this simple-minded view of the origins of social dysfunction. Anything else?

Belief in God, or anything beyond the simplest sense data, is just plain silly

Sure sure, that almost went without saying for a novel like this. Incidentally, do you have anything to offer for people struggling with the human condition?


Come on, some kind of humanistic philosophy of universal tolerance or ideals of nobility and the inherent beauty of suffering? Anything at all?

Well, I've got something cribbed from Dawkins about the evolutionary advantage of social behavior...

No, that's no good. You're basically saying that your whole society has developed sophisticated scientific and ethical structures while having the intellectual life of a cabbage.

That's not fair. I'm from paradise, where we each fulfill our chosen function without all this sturm and drang of you less rational beings. To ask why we don't have Beethoven, Shakespeare or Kierkegaard ignores the fact that a perfect society has no need for methods that essentially cope with social or personal failure.

Fair enough, but since I'm stuck with a society (to say nothing of my person) which is prone to failures, it doesn't seem that your postulated experience has any real relevance to my own. Actually, the more I think about it the less it seems that your account has anything to offer anyone from my society in terms of how we should actually live.

Well, remember that I'm just a fictional character from a second rate sci-fi novel. I think you may be placing unrealistic expectations on me.

Neanderthal man, you've hit the nail on the head.
Profile Image for Clouds.
228 reviews633 followers
January 17, 2015

Following the resounding success of my Locus Quest, I faced a dilemma: which reading list to follow it up with? Variety is the spice of life, so I’ve decided to diversify and pursue six different lists simultaneously. This book falls into my HUGO WINNERS list.

This is the reading list that follows the old adage, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". I loved reading the Locus Sci-Fi Award winners so I'm going to crack on with the Hugo winners next (but only the post-1980 winners, I'll follow up with pre-1980 another time).

In my last review (Downbelow Station) I mentioned that I find 3-star reviews the hardest kind to write, because they're always a muddle of good and bad - or in more extreme cases excellent and terrible!

This is one of the latter kind - equally excellent and terrible.

I don't often do this, but it this case I feel it's necessary:


Please do not read if you wish to be surprised by anything in this novel
^^(If I used spoiler tags you'd need to click-show half the review)^^

Hominids is a parallel world story. There's a parallel world where Homo Sapiens went extinct, and Neanderthals became the dominant civilization. In that Neanderthal version of Canada, there's a pair of Neanderthal quantum physicists working on quantum computing in the bottom on an old mine. They accidentally create a portal to our world and one of the Neanderthals gets sucked through it.

As far as a premise goes, that's a pretty interesting ground zero in my book. Flips the classic parallel world story on it's head, with the 'alien' scientist being sucked into our world, rather than the human scientist being sucked into an alien world.

Unfortunately, Hominids gets a bit flaky from there on in.

The story splits in two - one half following Ponter, the Neanderthal scientist in Ourworld, and the other half following Adikor, his partner left back in Neanderthalworld.

The dramatic question remains the same as the standard Parallel World story: Can Ponter get home to his own world?

The answer: Yes. Adikor goes back to the lab, re-runs the experiment which created the dimensional rift, and Ponter goes back through the hole. Hurray! It's actually very simple and undramatic - which means the drama, the impediments to stall this simple solution, are rather forced.

With no evidence to back-up Adikor story about Ponter disappearing into another dimension, Adikor gets accused of murdering Ponter and hiding the body. The murder trial is the lens through which we explore Neanderthalworld, it's culture, judiciary system, familial relationships, etc. While accused, Anders is not allowed to return to his lab (stalling the rescue), and in the end has to get help breaking the law to clear his name, to allow him to rescue Ponter, etc. From a pure plotting perspective, this isn't a great adventure.

But the cultural exposition is interesting - kind of. Neanderthalworld is not quite a Utopia, but certainly idyllic. Low population, high tech, high personal values, pure atheist/logical, etc... It's preachy. It grated. What the author has done - taking a few facts about Neanderthal culture and extrapolating them as consistent trends through to a high-tech society is interesting and imaginative... but shallow.

Take the technology for example.
1) Out protagonists are experimental scientists, creating Quantum Computers.
2) Everybody has embedded technology in their arms which constantly records/broadcasts their environment
3) They travel in flying cubes

From which we can infer that they're a pretty high-tech culture.

But they've retained a hunter-gatherer monoculture - no agriculture, no population boom, no cities, etc. None of the environmental pressures which have driven technological progress. How can you get to high-tech without the industrial revolution? How do you get to modern computing without the need for sophisticated encryption/decryption systems (as as result of secrecy in war)? For a sci-fi novel, these matters of science and technology are skirted with an almost embarrassing lack of detail. It's more - quick, look over there! It's a mammoth! Aren't these people cool? They didn't hunt the mammoths to extinction! Now don't ask how they developed anti-gravity. Shhh...

I didn't buy it.

On the other side of the divide, we've got Ponter suddenly appearing in Ourworld, and learning how stupid and wicked we human are. Overpopulation? War? Religion? Rape? You creatures are barely more than beasts! No wonder; your brains are tiny and you can't smell each other's pheromones properly with those tiny noses!


Which brings us on to the element of the story I found weakest - the human scientists. Now, the Neanderthals are doing their Quantum Computing experiment in the bottom of an old Nickel mine to shield it from radiation. Our scientist are doing Neutrino detection (or something like) in the bottom of the same mine on our Earth. Our experiment involves a cavern full of water, so when Ponter slides sideways, he emerges in the water and almost drowns.

Ponter gets passed along a chain of scientists...
1) sexy young female particle physicist (are these real?!) rescues him from the water, before passing him on to 2) quirky hip black Canadian professor who takes him to the hospital where 3) clichéd Indian doctor recognises the Neanderthal skull shape, causing the hip black academic to contact 4) stuffy, female Neanderthal expert geneticist (the love interest).

And here's the whammy: in the first scene where we meet stuffy, female geneticist - she gets raped. Oh yes. At what stage in the novel's development process did THAT seem like a good idea? To say it seemed random, unnecessary and clumsily handled would be a gentle summary of my feelings on the matter! It sets her up as the victim from day one, has no bearing on the parallel world story except to make her more amazed that she could develop feelings for Ponter... and became the dominant feature of a character who was otherwise paper thin. She's literally, that genetics woman who got raped. I disapprove. Very strongly.

As another reviewer said -
"when you begin with a rape scene, it doesn't leave much scope for a character arc."
There are several taboo subjects which are the radioactive matter of popular fiction - rape, abortion, incest, paedophilia, etc - and like radioactive matter should only be handled with extreme care, caution and stringent executive oversight. I feel like chastising Sawyer's editor on this for dropping the ball. What was the purpose? What did it add to the story? This is the equivalent of juggling depleted uranium for the heck of it. No. Bad author. Naughty! Ruler over the back of the knuckles!


Hominids is a very good book - as long as you never notice the above issues - but once you do notice them, it's very difficult to stop noticing them - and then it's impossible to enjoy properly.

Much like Spin, I'm kind of curious about where this Neanderthal Parallax series goes - but not enough to overcome my reservations. I won't be putting book 2, Humans, on my shopping list.

After this I read: The Curse of Chalion
Profile Image for Jeraviz.
928 reviews434 followers
April 1, 2021
Una gran idea tremendamente desaprovechada.

He de reconocer que en mi cruzada por leerme todos los Premio Hugo, cada vez que ponía los ojos encima de Homínidos me echaba para atrás esa portada que parece hecha por el que pone los títulos de las películas de Antena 3 del fin de semana; además de que el tema Neanderthal nunca me ha atraído mucho. Y aunque la portada sigue siendo fea, me ha atraído bastante la trama: universos paralelos donde los Neanderthales no se extinguieron y han avanzado como sociedad igual que los Homo Sapiens.

Pero lo mejor que puedo decir después de leerlo es que se lee muy rápido gracias a capítulos cortos y distintos puntos de vista. Pero ese también es su punto débil: Robert J. Sawyer aprovecha el cambio de punto de vista para volvernos a contar exactamente lo mismo desde otra perspectiva, y te encuentras habiendo leído 200 páginas sin apenas haber avanzado en la trama.

Por otra parte, no me ha convencido la sociedad Neanderthal que plantea el autor. Por un lado los Neanderthales son unos expertos en física cuántica y en inteligencia artificial, pero su sociedad apenas ha avanzado de la Edad Media en algunos aspectos: siguen usando palomas mensajeras, no han descubierto todos los territorios de la Tierra...El autor les usa para avanzar la trama en lo que le interesa pero descuida los detalles.

Y por otro lado, los personajes son simplemente muñecos puestos ahí que dialogan y nos muestran las diferencias entre ambas sociedades criticando principalmente a nuestra sociedad y lo ideal que son los Neanderthales.

Podría seguir con varias decisiones argumentales que no me han convencido pero creo que queda claro el sentido de la reseña.

Otro Premio Hugo que ni fu ni fa.
Profile Image for Sarah.
733 reviews73 followers
February 7, 2017
Awesome! Totally freaking awesome!

Ponter is working in a quantum physics lab with his partner and man-mate, Adikor, when he accidentally crosses over between their world and ours. Ponter is a Neanderthal and comes from a parallel universe where we died out and Neanderthals became the dominant species. Ponter ends up in a Canadian lab and his part of the story is about his interactions with these scientists. Unfortunately his disappearance in his own world has led to his partner being charged with his murder.

This book does an absolutely amazing job of creating the Neanderthal world and all of its differences. I always figure that if aliens landed the hardest thing to describe and explain is Twitter. It turns out religion is a whole hell of a lot harder, followed closely by the idea of hunting species to extinction. Can you imagine looking out your window and seeing a mammoth stroll by?

Throughout the book the two societies are compared with each believing their own to be superior until further discussion makes them see the pluses and minuses in each. Their discussion about why morality exists is especially fascinating. I prefer the Neanderthal outlook, personally.

A couple of gems:

"Is everyone like that in your world?" asked Louise, stabbing some lettuce with her fork. "Bisexual?"
"Just about." Ponter blinked, getting it at last. "You mean it's different here?"
"Oh, yes," said Reuben. "Well, for most people, anyway, I mean, sure, there are some bisexual people, and lots and lots of gay - homosexual - people. But the vast majority are heterosexual. That means they have affectionate contact only with the members of the opposite gender."
"How boring," said Ponter.
Louise actually giggled.

and after discussing the large Neanderthal nose and it's sense of smell:

"Ponter," said Reuben, quickly, "we can't smell you at all."
"Yes. Oh, if I stuck my nose right into your armpit, I might smell something. But normally we humans can't smell each other."
"How do you find one another in the dark?"

This book was just chock full of exchanges like these as these two very different societies tried to understand each other. I can't wait to read the sequel! What more will I learn?

Oh, and one of the funnier citizen concerns in the book was whether or not he had entered Canada legally. Because we totally have border control on parallel universes, right? Every few chapters the author would put a sequence of headlines that showed these absurd concerns. And apparently we Americans were pissed that Canada had sole control over Ponter.

There were just so many great ideas in this book!
Profile Image for Sandi.
510 reviews279 followers
February 18, 2014
Wow! I have grown really sick and tired of books that take 100-200 pages to get into. I'm even more sick and tired of whole books that just set up the reader for the sequels. "Hominids" is neither. The first chapter just sucked me right in. It was probably the most exciting first chapter I've read in a long, long time. And, the book is a self-contained story. It does leave room for a sequel, but doesn't require that you read it. The premise is terrific too.

I've never read anything by Robert J. Sawyer before, but I'll be sure to keep him on my short list of favorite authors.
Profile Image for Ian.
125 reviews490 followers
May 15, 2011
Hominids is a pretty good first book in a trilogy with a cool premise, namely, that there is a parallel universe where Neanderthals became the dominant hominid species on an otherwise-identical Earth. I use the term “pretty good” deliberately, knowing full well this book won the 2003 Hugo. And let’s be clear: I did enjoy the book insofar as it was, well, pretty good. Ultimately, though, I was a little disappointed given the awards and attention this book has received. So I wonder if what it comes down to is this: either 2002 was not a good year for sci-fi publishing or the Hugo was awarded on philosophical bias rather than quality of writing. Perhaps it was a bit both, or something else altogether; I dunno. I just feel that Hominids wasn’t up to snuff in the quality department, and its obvious philosophical bent is certainly something that any artsy-fartsy literary crowd can get excited about, so that makes me wonder. It’s a philosophical bent I happen to share—comparing a peace-loving, rational society to our violent, fucked-up society—I just don’t think that’s sufficient reason to award the Hugo to an otherwise pretty good novel.

In a sense Hominids reminds me of the movie “Avatar” – obviously not in the premise or anything, but in the way it was received. When asking my in-laws about Avatar, I learned they didn’t like it because of what they termed the movie’s “agenda.” When I asked further what they meant by the “agenda,” they talked about the movie making the point that the stronger or more advanced people shouldn’t just go around taking somebody else’s land just cause they can. At that point I decided to drop the conversation. I was afraid to ask what my in-laws didn’t like about that “agenda” and whether they thought it was okay for stronger people to take from others whenever they feel like it. I happened to agree with Avatar’s philosophical/political bent and I’m sure artsy-fartsy Hollywood types did, too, and I always thought the movie’s “agenda” increased the amount of attention it received.

There are a few specifics in Hominids that bother me and that, in my mind, kept it from being a true Hugo-worthy work. Foremost among those is the rape of a main character and the consequences flowing therefrom over the course of the book. In case you haven’t read it, before you get upset allow me to state that I haven’t really given much away. The rape is pretty well known at this point and it happens very early in the book. The rape and its consequences do not function to add depth to a female character but, rather, create in her a superficial stereotype of “rape victim.” In every respect she proceeds as one might imagine the stock “rape victim” to proceed, and the author’s near-acknowledgment of this fact in the character’s own thoughts doesn’t make her any less a caricature of the worst sort. For example, she doesn’t fight the rapist, nor does she report the rape to the authorities. She refuses to call it “rape” in her own mind and even comes close to blaming herself (though thank goodness she gets over that attitude quickly). Then, of course, she can’t be alone in a room with any man, indeed can’t pass a man on the street, and shows signs of beginning to hate men in general. Of import to the plot, .

It should go without saying that I can never truly understand what a raped woman must endure, either during or after the ugly violence of the event itself. Rape is a monstrous crime, arguably worse than murder in some cases, and the men guilty of it are among the worst wastes of skin and air ever conceived. Maybe Robert J. Sawyer did his research. Maybe he knows much more about rape and its victims than I do. Maybe the raped character in Hominids is acting entirely realistically. But she still comes across as “rape victim #1” in my eyes, and it troubles me greatly. I’m hoping some of my female GR friends can help me with this—especially those who have read Hominids already?

The other main problem with Hominids in my mind is the Neanderthal legal system. The Neanderthals are somewhat of a caricature themselves—the caricature of the technologically advanced, peaceful, non-violent, egalitarian society—but that I find only mildly bothersome. What bothers me more is that their legal system is both primitive and the very image of a bad TV courtroom drama. Primitive insofar as one must prove one’s innocence against, apparently, any and all accusations regardless of whether the accuser can offer direct evidence. A bad TV courtroom drama in that the accuser and the accused face off and go at one another with few rules and very little intervention from an adjudicator. All of that could have been deliberate—perhaps the author’s way of saying “this perfect Neanderthal world isn’t so perfect after all”—but it still comes across as inconsistent and not well thought-out absent more context and more examples of Neanderthal troubles.

Finally, I’ll mention a couple of plot oversights that nevertheless affect the storyline. First, And second,

Like I said, Hominids was pretty good. I enjoyed it and I’m going to read the next book in the trilogy. But it wasn’t great, and high expectations can generate disappointment where otherwise I might have been perfectly happy.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,630 followers
June 17, 2023
This was the last of the Hugo winners for me to read. I found the dialog pedestrian at best. The rape scene towards the beginning was gratuitous and just pointless. The narrative singularly uninteresting. I put this one in the same “wtf were they thinking” category as “They’d Rather Be Right” among the worst sci-fi novels I have read. Really one to skip IMO.
132 reviews8 followers
November 1, 2011
-- Warning, contains spoilers, mostly regarding an early traumatic event for a main character --

I would like to read the sequel to this book, although probably not for the right reason. I found the core concept interesting, but in some ways, it felt like the thought experiment was flawed. I'll stipulate that the premise interested me: how would things be different if things had gone another way in early earth life? It's a nice twist on the rugged science fiction horse of how an alien society compares with ours. But what I struggled with was why it was a meaningful comparison. In the end--or at this point in the series--it seems like the alternative society is held up as superior or preferable to our own in many ways, but, just like comparing mankind to some distant alien life-form, the seemingly superior choices of non-violence and co-operative life stem from physiologic differences, not choices that mankind has made. The book sets up a world where violence is anathema and wonders at the various, generally wonderful, consequences, but then makes this the natural consequence of how strong the natives in the alternate world are. This seems to weaken the comparison or argument that mankind might consider its own relationship to violence. You might build a similar, equally uninteresting, argument that a world where mankind evolved the ability to photosynthesize would have preferable results to our own.

I found myself moving quickly through the book, interested in what Ponder might experience and his reaction to it...and frequently I came away thinking, well, that was a little one-sided. Many parts of our world are held up in comparison to Ponter's, and most are found lacking. We hunted to extinction. We still deal with crime. We have religion. It is not that I object to these points being argued as possible (sometimes definite) demerits; it is the fact that Ponter's human interlocutors do not seem to raise any even half-hearted attempt at explanation of long-held beliefs or the state of our world. They usually just accept Ponter's point and grimace about the sorry state of humanity. It's a little demoralizing. Meanwhile, while most of Ponter's world is held up as a seeming paragon of peaceful coexistence and harmony, the problems it presents (particularly the travesty that is made of its justice system, which rolls over nicely to facilitate drama) are left largely unaddressed. This, more than anything, is why I want to read more. Does Sawyer really intend to continue presenting the alternate world as so preferable to our own? Or is the other shoe going to drop in a later book? I am curious.

I'm less tempted to keep going because of the almost silly sexual politics and thin characterizations of most individuals. Female characters, in particular, seem unable to even nap without arousing sexual interest in passing males, and frequently seem unable to go more than a scene without developing a romance with someone nearby. That, coupled with introducing the female lead and *immediately* subjecting her to a brutal rape (Where does your character arc go when you open with rape? What's going to top that for life-changing drama? I submit that even a parallel universe might not be sufficient *the next day*), are my two most persistent frustrations, that and why Canada is left alone to handle such a momentous event. Does anyone outside Canada really think they're ready for that kind of thing? :) Perhaps more to the point, does anyone think that peace-and-good-government loving Canada is about to spirit Ponter away to a secret prison?

All in all, an enjoyable read, if occasionally frustrating. I am hopeful that the main parts of my frustration will be addressed in the seemingly inevitable cross-over of a human to Ponter's world. We shall see.
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,233 reviews1,045 followers
November 4, 2011
I read this as part of my "reading all the Hugo winners" goal.
All I have to say is: This book was up against China Mieville's 'The Scar' - and THIS won? WHAT?
Sorry, but this is just not a very good book.

The premise is that, due to an accident that occurs during a quantum physics experiment, a Neanderthal scientist from a parallel universe where humanity is the race that went extinct, finds himself stranded in our world.
There's plenty to work with there, lots of potential. However, that potential is not realized.
The book is written in the style I like to refer to as "late 20th-century Mainstream Bestseller." However, this breezy beach-read style is broken up by extended awkward and unbelievable dialogues. Sawyer's point is to show the problems of our society by contrasting it with his imaginary Neanderthal society. Unfortunately, his way of doing this is to get two characters stuck in a room together and make them talk at length, in a very stilted, artificial manner about the topic at hand.
So we get to hear polemics on religion, gender relations, overpopulation, etc, etc. I absolutely agree with some of Sawyer's opinions, I disagree strongly with others. Whether or not I agree with his points is not relevant, the problem is that the topics are introduced and discussed in such a clunky fashion.

Also, as a woman, I felt that Sawyer showed a significant lack of understanding of women in general. His depiction of the reactions of a female character who is raped read like they come straight out of some psychology text, without ever genuinely getting inside her head or creating empathy. I also objected to his depiction of a gender-separatist society that apparently has developed because women are so bitchy due to PMS that men have to live separately from them. I will admit the actual existence of PMS (supposedly it occurs in 2 to 5% of women), and maybe Neanderthals could potentially be more susceptible to it. But yeah, Sawyer's depiction of women in general rubbed me the wrong way.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
9,806 reviews417 followers
September 1, 2021
Edit: Do know that one of the primary themes of the trilogy is gender dynamics, sexism, power, etc. The graphic rape near the beginning of the first one is disturbing, but not gratuitous.

Well that was fun. And satisfying, and thought-provoking, and engaging... and I'm very glad I have the next two ready to go. I love that Sawyer gives us a lot to think about, and 'teaches' us a lot of speculative science. He writes to the Sense of Wonder and the What If for which I read SF.

" Mary had a rental car now, courtesy of Inco--a red Dodge Neon. (When she picked it up, Mary had asked the rental clerk if it ran on noble gas; all she'd gotten was a blank stare in return.)

"One can vote at the age of 49 years; a traditional life span averaged 73 years.... We do not let people shape policy until they have accumulated wisdom and experience."

The Immaculate Conception "refers to the conception of Mary herself. The reason she was able to give birth to the son of God was that she herself was conceived devoid of original sin--it was her conception that was immaculate."

Btw, this can be read as a stand-alone. The next story is set-up, but there is no cliff-hanger.
Profile Image for Martin Iguaran.
Author 3 books301 followers
June 27, 2021
En realidad este puntaje es 3.5. La primera parte de una excelente trilogía de ciencia ficción, en la cual el autor peca un poco, me parece, de introducir sus propias apreciaciones personales sobre la religión en el marco de una historia de ciencia ficción. Científicos descubren lo que en esencia es un portal interdimensional a otra realidad, una donde los Neanderthales sobrevivieron y se convirtieron en la especia dominante. A partir de ahí se produce un interesante choque cultural. La civilización Neanderthal es prácticamente un paraíso aunque la manera en que lograron ese paraíso-la purga genética, la eugenesia-se presenta como una solución perfecta cuando en realidad la historia nos enseña que solo llevó a pésimos resultados. El libro es muy fácil de leer, muy llevadero.
Profile Image for Paul.
1,165 reviews27 followers
April 23, 2015
This book raises several disturbing questions. Questions like, "How did this get published?", "Doesn't Tor have editors on staff?", and, most shocking of all, "How the hell did this piece of shit win a Hugo?"

When encountering the unsophisticated writing style, I figured that Sawyer was some sort of scientist trying his hand at sci-fi, but that can't possibly be the case, given the myriad scientific misconceptions scattered everywhere in the book. The thing reminds me of all the horribly outdated parts of a Robert Heinlein novel, but at least Heinlein had an excuse (and knew how to write).

The plot itself is basically your cliche "anthropologist from Mars" story, dripping with liberal guilt. Look how fucking awful and stupid humans are, wouldn't it be much better if we lived in harmony with nature like the apes? I can handle some of that shit, but when it's the whole point of your poorly-written scientifically illiterate novel, that's too fucking much. No thanks.
Profile Image for Brad.
Author 2 books1,710 followers
May 3, 2010
This is going to be one of those reviews where I'll sound much more negative than I really feel, so please bear with me.

Is Neanderthal Parallax really the best Canadian Sci-Fi has to offer? I ask the question seriously because I've been told repeatedly that this series is the finest Canadian Sci-Fi and that Robert J. Sawyer is Canada's finest Sci-Fi writer. If this is really the case then Canada is a Sci-Fi ghetto. After all, Sawyer is no Iain M. Banks (Scotland), no Richard Morgan (England), no Neal Stephenson (USA), no William Gibson (USA/Canada...what? wait a sec), no Margaret Atwood (Canada...see what I mean?). He just isn't as good as any of these authors, and there are countless others I've not the time nor space to mention who are superior to Sawyer with every outing.

Robert J. Sawyer is just okay, and Hominids is equally okay. Why is he just okay? Well...he's okay because he's not quite as good as Michael Crichton in his pomp, and he is nowhere near excellent like the aforementioned authors. I willingly concede that Sawyer has some good ideas, and he expresses them with a level of just okayness that is okay for anyone who enjoys okay Sci-Fi, which I do if the mood takes me, but he never goes beyond okay, and Crichton was able to go beyond the okay at least once or twice in his career.

Sawyer's been writing since the nineties (I will give him this...the man is prolific), but you'd think his books were written in the seventies or before. There is a retro feel to them that doesn't seem to be intentional so much as reflection of his dated influences. Now there wouldn't be anything wrong with this at all if I didn't keep hearing that Robert J. Sawyer is the best Sci-Fi writer in Canada. Quite simply...he's not (see above for two examples).

I don't want to be too mean here. I liked Hominids. It was clever; it made me want to continue reading the next weekend I have on a beach somewhere; it's a cool little novel that introduces a cool little series and could make a really cool little television mini-series for the Geico set, but it's not great. It's nothing even close to great. It -- like its author -- is just okay.

So make my Canadian Sci-Fi greatness Ms. Atwood or Mr. Gibson. Mr. Sawyer can remain my Canadian Sci-Fi guilty pleasure.
Profile Image for oguz kaan.
259 reviews31 followers
January 26, 2016
Bu kitap beni çok arada bıraktı.

Hard sci-fi kitapları okurken yazarın anlatım yeteneği kitap hakkında ki fikirlerimi etkiliyor. Kafamı allak bullak edecek, okurken ipin ucunu kaçıracağım farklı, ilgi duyduğum veya duymadığım konuyu baz alıyorlar. Fakat bu durum okurken beni zorlayacak biçimde mi ele almış yoksa anlaşılabilirliği üst seviye de olan bir anlatım mı var? Açıkcası bu soruya vereceğim cevap beğenim için önemli oluyor. İnsansılar'da ki Neanderthaller veya kuantum teorisi ilgimi çeken konular değillerdi. Fakat yazar, tüm hikayeye bu bilgileri, teorileri güzelce yerleştirimiş ve anlatımını baltalamadan, okur olarak cahil olan bana eziyet etmeden kitabı yazabilmiş. Hikayenin sürekliliğine belli esler koyarak topluma, insanlığa ve kurallara karşı belli yorumlamalar, yergiler ve övgüler dizerek kitabın düşüncesel olarakta dolu olduğunu sadece süregelen bir aksiyon ve kuantum, paleontoloji borbardımanı da olmadığını göstermek istemiş. Ah! Bir de insanlık bu kadar aşağılık olmasa...

Ortada orjinal bir hikaye var ama karakterler -süslü bir sözcük olan- boyutsuzlardı. Herhangi bir gelişim, arkaplan kurgulanması gördüğümüz sadece iki karakteri vardı. Onlarda bu dünyadan değiller. Sert olacak ama kadın karakter yazmayı beceremiyorsanız ve klişe tiplerden başka bir fikriniz yoksa; erkeklere her istediğini yaptıran güzel ve alımlı bir bilimkadını, erkeklere her istediğini yaptıran kadını kıskanan iç güzelliğin önemi vurgulayan düşüncelere sahip diğer kadın karakter... Bu karakterlerinizi hikayenin ön planına getirmemeye çalışın ki göze batmasınlar. Hatta iki karakter arasında romantik ve seksüel bir ilişki başlatacaksanız bunu ucuz ve bayat klişelerle yapınca elinizde kötü paragraflar ve diyaloglar oluyor.

Uzatmadan Hugo kazanmış ve Türkçe'ye çevrilmiş eserleri okuma mücadelemde bir kitabı daha sonlandırdım. Devam kitapları şu an için okumayı düşünmüyoum. Kitapların sonunun dizi finalleri gibi "devam edecek" şeklinde bitmesi çoğu zaman beni soğutan bir durum ve açıkcası bu karakterlerin başına ne geldiğini hiçte merak etmiyorum.

Not: Çevirmen olan Petek Tozan'a teşekkür etmemek haksızlık olur. Hard sci-fi çevirmenin zor olduğunu düşünüyorum.
Profile Image for Grumpus.
498 reviews247 followers
July 27, 2016
Not bad. Good enough that I will likely read book two in the series. I liked the concept of a parallel world in which Neanderthals survived and humans did not. To them we are the extinct and spindly Gliksins.

The story revolves around a Neanderthal physicist who was accidentally transported to our world during a scientific experiment in their world. The author then focuses on the reaction to a discovery of Neanderthal in our world while simultaneously covering a murder trial involving the scientist in the Neanderthal world who is accused of murdering his missing-in-our-world co-worker.

As the Neanderthals say to each other in greeting, “Healthy day.”
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,949 reviews1,295 followers
December 29, 2009
Few things are probably scarier than suddenly being utterly and totally alone. Robert J. Sawyer reminds us of that fact by transposing Ponter Boddit, a Neanderthal physicist, from the parallel universe in which he resides to our universe, where Neanderthals have been extinct for tens of thousands of years. Aside from having instant celebrity status—including the paparazzi that come with it—Ponter must face the fact that he might never return to his own universe. And back in his universe, this has ramifications for people he cares about. As the consequences of Ponter's transposition unfold in two universes, Sawyer shows us what might have been if evolution had happened differently, and he presents an interesting contrast to contemporary human society.

I am disappointed with Sawyer's use of physics—more accurately, with his explanations—in Hominids. He gets the premise, quantum computing breaching a parallel universe, as a freebie. With such an intriguing premise, however, I would have expected a more thorough look at the physics behind quantum computing and parallel universes. Instead, we get a watered-down conversation between a physicist and a geneticist that compares the "Copenhagen interpretation" and the many-worlds hypothesis.

Sawyer's explanation of the Copenhagen interpretation is quite misleading. Yes, quantum mechanics is complex, so I don't expect more than a simple explanation of anything—yet Sawyer has demonstrated in other books that he's up to the challenge. Firstly, there is no one explicit "Copenhagen interpretation." It's actually an umbrella term for several related, sometimes contradictory interpretations. Secondly, the Copenhagen interpretation does not strictly rely on a conscious observer; rather, the act of observing a system alters the system. Some interpretations pair Copenhagen with a conscious observer, but not all.

Of course, the more I read Sawyer's work, the more I realize that his underlying theme is one of consciousness. Specifically, Sawyer's interested in what makes us conscious and the implications that consciousness has for human development. I saw this in Wake , in which Sawyer juxtaposes a new emergent consciousness with human consciousness; in Flashforward , consciousness is a key component of the reason behind the eponymous global event.

In Hominids, consciousness is a dichotomous moment: in our universe, Homo sapiens received the quantum fluke of consciousness, as Sawyer interprets it here; in Ponter's universe, Homo neanderthalensis achieved consciousness. That event caused the first divergence of the universe, and since then it's consciousness (specifically, having it) that has made all the difference. But these two conscious species, while both achieving success and dominance on the planet, have developed very distinct societies.

The description of Neanderthal society is probably the most intriguing aspect of Hominids. Everything from the non-agricultural, decimal system of timekeeping to the Companion and alibi archive technology is both different yet familiar. Sawyer manages to take disparate, well-used ideas, like that of a "surveillance society" and combine them in order to create a well-realized, seemingly functional society filled with Neanderthals. Ponter's world has almost no crime and is arguably more environmentally conscious. However, it has its problems too, as we see from Adikor's almost capricious encounter with the judicial system. The parts of this book that take place in Ponter's universe are the best parts, because they're interesting and also exciting.

Would that the rest of the book could keep up! It's an unfortunate consequence of the nature of a linear narrative that authors must occasionally compress the span of events. Otherwise, I don't think that our Earth would have accepted so quickly the idea that Ponter is from a parallel universe; likewise, there would have been more inquiry into exactly what happened to Ponter when he reappeared in his universe. Sawyer presents interesting snippets of news articles that let us know how the wider world is reacting to his plot development, but his scenes are never global in scope. Instead, he focuses on individuals, usually of limited authority, close to the centre of the crisis.

Unfortunately, most of the human characters leave much to be desired. The main character, Mary Vaughan, is raped in her opening scene, doesn't report the rape (because the plot requires it), but tells Ponter about it moments before he leaves to return to his universe. And she apparently manages to fall in love with him because he's attractive and flustered by humanity's paradoxical approach to ethics. I've no doubt that Sawyer's put in a good effort to forge the relationships he needs to explore his larger issues of consciousness, religion, and inter-species romance. But it just comes off as very contrived and even, dare I say, stereotypical, particularly when it comes to how Mary copes with being raped. The fact that the major relationship in this series is shallow does not help Hominids and will not help the other two books.

There's no question here: I heartily recommend Hominids to anyone interested in a glimpse at a world where Neanderthals became the dominant species. As with any Sawyer book I've read, this is a fast read; Sawyer keeps the plot moving and keeps you wanting more. While I can't always laud the results, Sawyer does know what he's doing as a writer, and Hominids demonstrates that with every page.
Profile Image for Kristenelle.
237 reviews29 followers
July 30, 2019
This is a great example of "men writing women." As many other reviewers have noted, the premise is fun and interesting. Neanderthals evolving instead of humans? Parallel worlds? Portals? Totes fun! But the women characters are all super cringy.

The first character introduced is a post doc who is female and never once referred to as a doctor. We are constantly reminded that she has a super sexy body though. In the first scene she is reading Cosmo while on the job at a neutrino research facility.

Another female character is raped in her first scene. He rape is super ...what everyone imagines, but rarely actually happens. A stranger wearing a balaclava drags her into a dark alley, does the deed, and disappears. The character grapples with the experience the rest of the book. Guess what?! She finds love, but pushes it away at first because she "isn't ready." Her character arc is complete once she realizes that she can love a man again. Yay.

I think this author was really trying. He wrote characters that were simultaneously women and scientists. He talked about rape being about power. But at the end of the day, he still can't conceptualize women who are whole human beings apart from their sexuality and sexual availability.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11.2k followers
January 20, 2010
3.5 stars. Excellent premise, great world-building and well drawn characters. The concept of a society evolved from Neanderthals was deftly handled. Recommended.

Winner: Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Novel
Nominee: John W. Campbell Award for Best Science Fiction Novel
Profile Image for Nick Imrie.
296 reviews132 followers
August 18, 2023
This story and all the characters in it, are so decent and well-meaning that it's impossible not to love them.

The amiability rescued the story from being otherwise a little annoying.

Almost all first-contact novels annoy me for the same reason: in order to get to the fun part of comparing and contrasting different cultures the story always skips through the 'learning to communicate' part with the most implausible speed. Even between different homo sapiens species it takes years for people to learn even the basics of language, and generations to really grasp the metaphysical differences in cultures. In this book, the neanderthal Pontar is equipped with a prototype AI which learns English almost immediately.

The second annoying thing is that Pontar isn't really from a strange or alien culture - he's a turbo-charged progressive: atheist, egalitarian, bisexual, polyamorous, scientific, pacifist, evironmentalist. And our world could be just as cool as his if we were all just rational, pacifist, athetists like him.

And his world does sound pretty cool: awesome herds of megafauna, no pollution, living houses that are grown not built, no disease, and absolutely no violence or crime. But the info-dumping dialogue - (and that's not a criticism, I wouldn't read SF if I didn't love a good infodump) - is all about how the neaderthals are morally superior and that's why their world is better. The real, nitty-gritty, hard SF is in the world-building: how did they build advanced civilisation when their numbers are just in the low millions? How did they solve the problem of pollution when we know that they have mines and build advanced technology. How do you leap from hunter-gatherer to solar power without going through all the steps of industrialisation? These are the ideas that are fun to explore - much more interesting than converstations in which the neaderthal says extinction is bad and everyone nods and crys and says that we're just the worst species ever.

The neaderthals have acheived their utopia through birth control, eugenics, and total surveillance. And while the second plot line does show that their world is not perfect: vexatious litigation nearly gets a man and his whole family castrated, the philosophical dialogue is always about how their world is better. It's easy to see how on Earth, if we allowed eugenics and total surveillance it would soon lead to persecution of political enemies, but that never happens to the Neaderthals because they're just all good and noble people.

When Mary asked Pontar if anyone has ever compromised the surveillance system for personal or nefarious reasons he asks:
"Why would anyone want to do that?"
"Well - um, I don't know. Because they can?"
"I can drink urine," said Pontar, "but never have I felt the urge to do so."

These characters are world-class scientists. They have the moral intelligence and imagination of glue.

That's what makes this book so average. It has potential to be great SF, but there is simply no real disagreement between the characters. Mary is supposed to be a Roman Catholic but she can't provide even a very basic Christian argument against eugenics or breeding plans. It feels like cheating to set up your political utopia and then fill it with saints - every system of civilisation would work perfectly if we were all saints.

Despite all this grumbling, it was a good book. A fun, easy little read that I wish I had first encountered as a teenager which it would have been fascinating. I think I'm just jaded now because I feel like I've read this before: same story, different aliens.
Profile Image for Chris.
2 reviews
June 14, 2010
What a pity a book with a reasonable array of new angles on ideas and social commentary had to be marred by clunky, clumsy, even offensive, writing, such as the author's emphasis and harping on what he unblushingly calls "periods" (no, not a full-stop, but yes indeed, that very embarassing menstruation thing); not to mention the graphic rape scene that he introduces one of the main characters with.

..and indeed the character undergoing this (seemingly unneccessary to the plot, except for it allowing for a very contrived juxtaposition of the "gentle" Neanderthal as opposed to us brutal humans) rape, is a very incongruent character indeed. A mass of contradictions, she feels a bit under the weather because of the rape for a day or so, but very quickly perks up again. In thruth, real rape victims are usually in denial for days (or weeks or months) and it takes real victims months and years (or never) to recover.

..but then Mary's character is just as paper-thin (though more confusing) than the other characters in this jumbled novel. It is especially the way this scientist experiences and clings to the less rational aspects of religion, that had me a bit puzzled. I came away from it still trying to puzzle out whether Sawyer sees himself as a Christian (Catholic)apologist, or an atheist one? Perhaps he was trying to be a neutral observer and trying to strike a fair balance between the two viewpoints?

I find it interesting that some reviewers tout the Neanderthal Big Brother system as a "totalitarian" state, while it is made quite clear that there is no political coercion and that the members of this society can indeed vote.

..so, interestingly, the Big Brother voyeristic system is, in this scenario used purely for reasons of detecting crime, (and not for political reasons) which of course, will never work in a homo sapiens society, where a system such as this will of course be used for information gathering for marketing and other purposes of influencing the population for ostensibly benevolent or not-so benevolent reasons.

So, yeah, nice idea if humans could have been as simplistic as the Neanderthals that Sawyer portrays. I won't say anything about his genetic manipulation ideas, since I think Sawyer quite ably pointed out some of the possible evils that such a system would carry with it.

All in all, I would have given this book four stars for the nice attempt at an alternative history, and the rolling around of ideas, were it not for the clumsy and offensive bits.
Profile Image for [Name Redacted].
797 reviews400 followers
March 26, 2016
This book is drivel. And that's coming from a man who otherwise enjoys Sawyer's work. This book is utter drek, a long overly-simplistic, willfully-ignorant screed.

What is more, i feel a cruel sort of delight comparing Sawyer's childish utopian fantasy of Neanderthals which he seeks to juxtapose with his vision of Humanity when I compare it to all the recent archaeological & neurologial findings which reveal that, actually, Neanderthals were more hostile, aggressive, insular & clannish while Humans were able to work together peacefully outside our own individual clan-groups and species (in part thanks to the relationship we developed with canines -- which Neanderthals evidently did not).

2/26/2015 -- 11.0% "Wait... is this going to be ANOTHER diatribe about how uniquely horrible humans are and somehow (against ALL EVIDENCE TO THE CONTRARY IN NATURE) we are the only beings that kill other creatures/one another or alter our environment? Dagnabbit, how do so many science-fiction novels wind up so terribly un-scientific?"
02/26/2015 -- 11.0% "Aaaaaaand, after looking at other reviews it seems this book doesn't get any better. It's just anti-human propaganda grounded in a childish fantasy of how Neanderthals would have evolved without us and I can't take much more of that sort of thing. It ignores science to push a series of secular humanist sermons which are ironically MORE faith-based than the things they're trying to criticize... I'm done."
Profile Image for Cindy.
257 reviews264 followers
March 8, 2010
Part of my March 2010 Hugo Award winner bonanza.

Here's what my husband had to say about the book after he picked it up from the university library: "It appears to be about monkey-men. Therefore, it appears to be awesome."

There's something to be said for a book that draws you in every time you pick it up. Each time it only took a page before I was fully in the "flow" - ignoring everything around me, forgetting my own life. And there are evolved Neanderthals and parallel universes! Neanderthal technology and Neanderthal cosmology! It's so silly and so much fun.

Even though Hominids is the first book in a trilogy, it is very self-contained, so don't worry that you will be left with tons of loose ends and teasers for the second book.
Profile Image for Lost Planet Airman.
1,250 reviews73 followers
July 18, 2010
Given my love of the Old Grand Masters (Heinlein, Asimov, Niven), I was not expecting to like this book as much as I did. Decent science, well described; memorable characters; and good plotting well paced combined to make a sharp novel -- well deserving of the Hugo Award.
I had found a few flaws that irritated me. (Without providing spoilers) I felt the personal tragedy of the female lead, occurring so suddenly before it was necessary to advance the plot, was a bit contrived. Similarly, the revelation/explanation of the relationship between quantum computing and parallel universes seemed too easily accepted by the characters. Altogether, a little suspension-of-disbelief was a worthwhile admission price for a great science-adventure.
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