Humans (Neanderthal Parallax Series #2)by Robert J. Sawyer
Robert J. Sawyer, the award-winning and bestselling writer, hits the peak of his powers in Humans, the second book of The Neanderthal Parallax, his trilogy about our world and parallel one in which it was the Homo sapiens who died out and the Neanderthals who became the dominant intelligent species. This powerful idea allows Sawyer to examine some of/i>/i>… See more details below
Robert J. Sawyer, the award-winning and bestselling writer, hits the peak of his powers in Humans, the second book of The Neanderthal Parallax, his trilogy about our world and parallel one in which it was the Homo sapiens who died out and the Neanderthals who became the dominant intelligent species. This powerful idea allows Sawyer to examine some of the deeply rooted assumptions of contemporary human civilization dramatically, by confronting us with another civilization, just as morally valid, that has made other choices. In Humans, Neanderthal physicist Ponter Boddit, a character you will never forget, returns to our world and to his relationship with geneticist Mary Vaughan, as cultural exchanges between the two Earths begin.
As we see daily life in another present-day world, radically different from ours, in the course of Sawyer's fast-moving story, we experience the bursts of wonder and enlightenment that are the finest pleasures of science fiction. Humans is one of the best SF novels of the year, and The Neanderthal Parallax is an SF classic in the making.
Humans is a 2004 Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novel.
The biggest job of science fiction is to portray the Other. To help us imagine the strange and see the familiar in eerie new ways. Nobody explores this territory more boldly than Robert Sawyer.
Hominids is anthropological fiction at its best.
A rapidly plotted, anthropologically saturated speculative novel . . . [with] Sawyer-signature wide appeal.
Read an Excerpt
Book Two of the Neanderthal Parallax
By Robert J. Sawyer
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2003 Robert J. Sawyer
All rights reserved.
It was Mary Vaughan's final evening in Sudbury, and she was experiencing decidedly mixed feelings.
She had no doubt that getting out of Toronto had done her good. After what had happened down there — My God, she thought, had it really only been two weeks ago? — leaving town, getting away from all the things that would have reminded her of that horrible night, was surely the right course. And although it had ended on a melancholy note, she wouldn't have traded her time here with Ponter Boddit for anything.
There was an unreal quality to her recollections; it all seemed so fantastic. And yet there were countless photographs and videos and even some X rays to prove that it had really happened. A modern Neanderthal from a parallel version of Earth had somehow slipped into this universe. Now that he was gone, Mary hardly believed it herself.
But it had happened. Ponter had really been here, and she had indeed ...
Was she overstating it? Magnifying it in her mind?
No. No, it was indeed what had occurred.
She had come to love Ponter, maybe even to be in love with him.
If only she'd been whole, complete, unviolated, untraumatized, perhaps things would have been different. Oh, she'd still have fallen for the big guy — of that she was sure — but when he'd reached out and touched her hand that night while they were looking up at the stars, she wouldn't have frozen.
It had been too soon, she'd told him the next day. Too soon after ...
She hated the word; hated to think it, to say it.
Too soon after the rape.
And tomorrow she had to go back home, back to where that rape had occurred, back to the campus of Toronto's York University, and her old life of teaching genetics.
Her old life of being alone.
She'd miss many things about Sudbury. She'd miss the lack of traffic congestion. She'd miss the friends she'd made here, including Reuben Montego and, yes, even Louise Benoît. She'd miss the relaxed atmosphere of tiny Laurentian University, where she'd done her mitochondrial DNA studies that had proven Ponter Boddit was indeed a Neanderthal.
But, most of all, she realized, as she stood at the side of the country road looking up at the clear night sky, she'd miss this. She'd miss seeing stars in a profusion beyond counting. She'd miss seeing the Andromeda galaxy, which Ponter had identified for her. She'd miss seeing the Milky Way, arching overhead.
She'd especially miss this: the aurora borealis, flickering and weaving across the northern sky, pale green sheets of light, ghostly curtains.
Mary had indeed hoped to catch another glimpse of the aurora tonight. She'd been on her way back from Reuben Montego's place out in Lively (hah!), where she'd had a final barbecue dinner with him and Louise, and she'd pulled over at the side of the road specifically to look up at the night sky.
The heavens were cooperating. The aurora was breathtaking.
She'd forever associate the northern lights with Ponter. The only other time she'd seen them had been with him. She felt an odd sensation in her chest, the expanding feeling that went with awe battling the contracting sensation that accompanied sadness.
The lights were beautiful.
He was gone.
A cool green glow bathed the landscape as the aurora continued to flicker and dance, aspens and birches silhouetted in front of the spectacle, their branches waving slightly in the gentle August breeze.
Ponter had said he often saw the aurora. Partly that was because his cold-adapted people preferred more northerly latitudes than did the humans of this world.
Partly, too, it was because the phenomenal Neanderthal sense of smell and their ever-vigilant Companion implants made it safe to be out even in the dark; Ponter's hometown of Saldak, located at the same place in his world as Sudbury was in this world, didn't illuminate its streets at night.
And partly it was because the Neanderthals used clean solar power for most of their energy needs, rendering their skies far less polluted than the ones here.
Mary had made it to her current age of thirty-eight before seeing the aurora, and she didn't anticipate any reason to come back to Northern Ontario, so tonight, she knew, might well be the last time she'd ever see the undulating northern lights.
She drank in the view.
Some things were the same on both versions of Earth, Ponter had said: the gross details of the geography, most of the animal and plant species (although the Neanderthals, never having indulged in overkilling, still had mammoths and moas in their world), the broad strokes of the climate. But Mary was a scientist: she understood all about chaos theory, about how the beating of a butterfly's wing was enough to affect weather systems half a world away. Surely just because there was a clear sky here on this Earth didn't mean the same was true on Ponter's world.
But if the weather did happen to coincide, perhaps Ponter was also looking up at the night sky now.
And perhaps he was thinking of Mary.
Ponter would, of course, be seeing precisely the same constellations, even if he gave them different names — nothing terrestrial could possibly have disturbed the distant stars. But would the auroras be the same? Did butterflies or people have any effect on the choreography of the northern lights? Perhaps she and Ponter were looking at the exact same spectacle — a curtain of illumination waving back and forth, the seven bright stars of the Big Dipper (or, as he would call it, the Head of the Mammoth) stretching out above.
Why, he might even right now be seeing the same shimmying to the right, the same shimmying to the left, the same —
Mary felt her jaw drop.
The auroral curtain was splitting down the middle, like aquamarine tissue paper being torn by an invisible hand. The fissure grew longer, wider, starting at the top and moving toward the horizon. Mary had seen nothing like that on the first night she'd looked up at the northern lights.
The sheet finally separated into two halves, parting like the Red Sea before Moses. A few — they looked like sparks, but could they really be that? — arced between the halves, briefly bridging the gap. And then the half on the right seemed to roll up from the bottom, like a window blind being wound onto its dowel, and, as it did so, it changed colors, now green, now blue, now violet, now orange, now turquoise.
And then in a flash — a spectral burst of light — that part of the aurora disappeared.
The remaining sheet of light was swirling now, as if it were being sucked down a drain in the firmament. As it spun more and more rapidly, it flung off gouts of cool green fire, a pinwheel against the night.
Mary watched, transfixed. Even if this was only her second night actually observing the aurora, she'd seen countless pictures of the northern lights over the years in books and magazines. She'd known those still images hadn't done justice to the spectacle; she'd read how the aurora rippled and fluttered.
But nothing had prepared her for this.
The vortex continued to contract, growing brighter as it did so, until finally, with — did she really hear it? — with what sounded like a pop, it vanished.
Mary staggered backward, bumping up against the cold metal of her rented Dodge Neon. She was suddenly aware that the forest sounds around her — insects and frogs, owls and bats — had fallen silent, as if every living thing was looking up in wonder.
Mary's heart was pounding, and one thought kept echoing through her head as she climbed into the safety of her car.
I wonder if it's supposed to do that ...CHAPTER 2
Jurard Selgan rose from his saddle-seat and paced around the circumference of his circular office while Ponter Boddit told of his first trip to the Gliksin world.
"So your relationship with Mare Vaughan had ended on an unsatisfactory note?" said Selgan, at last returning to his seat.
"Relationships are often unresolved," said Selgan. "It would be nice if that weren't the case, but surely this can't have been the first time a relationship you were involved in had ended in a disappointing way."
"No, it wasn't," said Ponter, very softly.
"You're thinking of a specific person, aren't you?" said Selgan. "Tell me."
"My woman-mate, Klast Harbin," said Ponter.
"Ah. Your relationship with her ended, did it? Who initiated the split?"
"No one initiated it," snapped Ponter. "Klast died, twenty months ago."
"Oh," said Selgan. "My condolences. Was she — was she an older woman?"
"No. She was a 145, same as me."
Selgan rolled his eyebrow up his brow-ridge. "Was it an accident?"
"It was cancer of the blood."
"Ah," said Selgan. "A tragedy. But ..."
"Don't say it, Selgan." Ponter's tone was sharp.
"Don't say what?" asked the personality sculptor.
"What you were about to say."
"And you think that was ...?"
"That my relationship with Klast was cut off abruptly, just like my relationship with Mare was cut off abruptly."
"Is that the way you feel?" asked Selgan.
"I knew I shouldn't have come here," said Ponter. "You personality sculptors think your insights are so profound. But they're not; they're simplistic. 'Relationship Green ended abruptly, and you are reminded of it by the way Relationship Red ended.'" Ponter snorted dismissively.
Selgan was quiet for several beats, perhaps waiting to see if Ponter would say more of his own volition. When it became clear that he would not, Selgan spoke again. "But you did push for the portal between this world and Mare's world to be reopened." He let the sentence hang in the air between them for a time, and Ponter finally responded.
"And you think that's why I pushed?" Ponter said. "That I didn't care about the consequences, the ramifications, for this world? That all I was worried about was getting to resolve this unfinished relationship?"
"You tell me," said Selgan, gently.
"It wasn't like that. Oh, sure, there's a superficial resemblance between what happened with me and Klast, and what happened with me and Mare. But I'm a scientist." He fixed Selgan with an angry stare of his golden eyes. "A real scientist. I understand when true symmetry exists — it doesn't here — and I understand false analogy."
"But you did push the High Gray Council. I saw it on my Voyeur, along with thousands of others."
"Well, yes, but ..."
"But what? What were you thinking then? What were you trying to accomplish?"
"Nothing — except what was best for all our people."
"Are you sure of that?" asked Selgan.
"Of course I'm sure!" snapped Ponter.
Selgan was quiet, letting Ponter listen to his own words echo off the polished wooden wall.
Ponter Boddit had to admit that nothing he'd ever experienced — indeed, probably nothing that any of his people had ever experienced — had been more frightening than being transported bodily from this world to that bizarre other world, arriving in total darkness and almost drowning in a giant water tank.
But, still, of the things that happened in this world, this universe, few could compare for sheer terror with addressing the High Gray Council. After all, this wasn't just the local Gray Council; the High Gray Council ran the planet, and its members had come here, to Saldak, specifically to see Ponter and Adikor and the quantum computer they'd used twice now to open a portal to another reality.
No one on the High Gray Council was anything younger than a 143, twenty years Ponter's senior. The wisdom, the experience, and, yes, when it struck their mood to be so, the sheer cussed orneriness of people that old was formidable in the extreme.
Ponter could have just let the issue drop. Nobody was pushing for him and Adikor to reopen the portal to the other world. Indeed, except maybe for that female group in Evsoy, there was no one who could gainsay them if Ponter and Adikor simply claimed that the opening of the portal had been an irreproducible fluke.
But the possibility of trade between two kinds of humanity was too significant for Ponter to ignore. Information could certainly be swapped: what Ponter's people knew about superconductivity, say, for what the Gliksins knew about spaceships. But, more than that, cultures could be exchanged: the art of this world for the art of that world, a dibalat iterative epic, perhaps, for a play by this Shakespeare he'd heard of over there; sculptures by the great Kaydas for the work of a Gliksin painter.
Surely, thought Ponter, these noble thoughts were his sole motivation. Surely he had nothing personally to gain by reopening the portal. Yes, there was Mare. Still, doubtless Mare wasn't really interested in a being so different from herself, a creature who was hairy where males of her kind were smooth, who was stocky when most Gliksins were gracile, a being with a double-crested brow-ridge undulating above his eyes, eyes that were golden instead of Mare's own blue or the dark brown of so many others of her species.
Ponter had no doubt that Mare had really suffered the trauma she'd spoken of, but surely that was only the most prominent of many reasons for her having rebuffed his advance.
No, that wasn't right.
There had been a real, mutual attraction. Across timelines, across species boundaries, it had been real. He was sure of it.
But could things really go better between the two of them if contact were resumed? He cherished his wonderful, beautiful memories of his time with her — and they were only memories, for his Companion implant had been unable to transmit anything to his alibi archive from the other side. Mare existed only in his imagination, in his thoughts and dreams; there was no objective reality to compare her to, except a few brief glimpses caught by the robot that Adikor had dangled through the portal to summon Ponter home.
Surely it was better this way. Further contact would spoil what they'd already had.
And yet —
And yet it did seem that the portal could be reopened.
Standing in the small anteroom, Ponter looked over at Adikor Huld, his man-mate. Adikor nodded encouragingly. It was time to go into the Council chamber. Ponter picked up the unexpanded Derkers tube he'd brought with him, and the two men walked through the massive doors, ready to face the High Grays.
"The presence here of Scholar Boddit," said Adikor Huld, gesturing now at Ponter, "is direct proof that a person can pass through to the other universe and return unharmed."
Ponter looked at the twenty Grays, ten males and ten females, two from each of the world's ten regional governments. In some forums, males sat on one side of the room and females on the other. But the High Gray Council dealt with matters that affected the entire species, and the males and females who had gathered here from all over the globe alternated in a great circle.
"But," continued Adikor, "except for Ponter's daughter Jasmel, who stuck her head through the portal during our rescue operations, no one else from this world has been to that one. When we first created the portal, it was by accident — an unexpected result of our quantum-computing experiments. But we now know that this universe and that one, the one in which Gliksin people dominate, are entangled somehow. The portal from here always opens to that particular one out of the panoply of alternate universes that our physics tells us must exist. And, as far as we can determine from our previous experience, the portal will remain open as long as a solid object is passing through it."
Bedros, an old male from Evsoy, frowned at Adikor. "So what are you proposing, Scholar Huld? That we shove a stick partway through the portal to keep it open?"
Ponter, standing next to Adikor, turned slightly so that Bedros, at least, would not see his smirk.
Adikor wasn't as fortunate: he was caught in Bedros's gaze, and couldn't look away without seeming disrespectful. "Um, no," he said. "We have something more, ah, versatile in mind. Dern Kord, an engineer of our acquaintance, has proposed that we insert a Derkers tube through the portal."
This was Ponter's cue to unfold the Derkers tube. He got his fingers inside the narrow mouth and pulled. The tube, a latticework of metal, expanded with a ratcheting sound until its diameter was greater than Ponter's height. "These tubes are used to reinforce mining tunnels in emergencies," said Ponter. "Once expanded, they resist being collapsed. Indeed, the only way to get one to return to its original size is by using a defastener to undo the locks at each intersection of the crisscrossing metal segments."
Excerpted from Humans by Robert J. Sawyer. Copyright © 2003 Robert J. Sawyer. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I'm delighted to report that Humans did pick up where Hominids left off. Volume II relies less on technical and scientific data - although that ground is covered in effective and interesting ways - and more on Neanderthal interaction with Homo Sapiens and their two very different worlds. Ponter Boddit, the Neanderthal physicist, is reunited with the paleoanthropologist Mary Vaughan and made an official envoy to the parallel world she lives in. Despite polluted air, filthy cities, and human over-population, Ponter sees a goodness in his Homo Sapien counterparts. He believes there is hope for their world, and that both Mary's people and his can benefit each other with their knowledge. To that end, he and his friend Adikor create another portal and figure out a way to keep it open, more or less permanently. To Mary's way of thinking, Ponter is a gentle hearted man, quite appealing in his guileless fascination with her world. This time around, Ponter learns a great deal more about Homo Sapiens and their history. He's shocked to witness the results of terrorism and war, horrified to learn that millions died in battle, and infuriated to know that Mary's rapist has thus far gone unpunished. And Two finally become One - Ponter's euphemism for making love - on a night that both he and Mary find educational and immensely satisfying. New relationships are formed and old ones shattered as Ponter accepts that he's in love with a female not of his species. Jealousies and very human failings are acted out on both sides of the portal. Mary visits Ponter's world, enthralled by the peace and untainted atmosphere she finds there. And Ponter demonstrates Neanderthal justice in a way no rapist could ever forget. All in all, it was a fascinating read as explorations and information gathering between the worlds begins. As is Mr. Sawyer's hallmark, Humans is well-researched and written with panache. The Neanderthal Parallax is fantasy that reads as very real. I strongly recommend it to mature adolescents and adults. (There is some strong sexual content in this book.) Volume III is due out in September. That's too long to wait. The name alone promises an exciting finale - Hybrids.
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Volume 2 of Sawyer’s Neanderthal trilogy was pretty good. I think where it fails is in its making this reader curious about the events of the two cultures clashing nicely and then shifts over to a soap opera of sorts. That, I was not thrilled with! The book picks up where Volume 1, Hominids, left off. Humans could somewhat stand on its own, but go ahead and read Hominids first. It was fun to read about Ponter and the new ambassador and how they deal with the alternate Earth (us). As the story goes on, there is an assassination attempt (which fails) and the solution the ambassador has for the assassin is surprising to say the least. Instead of shutting down the “portal” between the two worlds, the ambassador brings over the best and brightest of their generation to our Earth for further cultural exchange. She guesses rightly that the High Gray Council would not shut it down and leave them stranded. This was great! I could hardly wait to see how our Earth scientists, sports fiends, artists and so on deal with the new and exciting world of the Neantherdal. And then he drops it. Sawyer drops it. Oh my! Throughout the narration we have Ponter talking to his shrink (“personality sculptor”) which I thought a good vehicle from which we could quickly move through the story. The rest of the book however deals with Mary’s frustration and guilt she feels over a rape that happened back on Volume One, and Ponter’s response to it. We also have Mary falling madly in love with our caveman with a somewhat explicit sex scene in a hotel room. But the love triangle of sorts – man-mates, woman-mates, Mary, her lover, and what about the rapist and her ex, all come together. Hey, what happened to all those artists and scientists? Bottom Line: The book flows well, easy to read and Sawyer sets us up to get the skinny on the relationships between a human and a Neanderthal. But why keep us guessing on the other stuff? Plot points dropped, questions lay waiting for answers. Recommended for only the most rabid of Sawyer fans. But hey, I’ll read Hybrids anyway. I want to see what happens next!
This is an excellent continuation of Hominids. The characters and the Neanderthal society are very well done. Mary Vaughn's reactions to that society and Ponter are very believeable. The Neanderthals do seem a bit too good to be true, but that's O.K. in this sort of book, which is intended, I think, to have us thinking about ourselves.
Nook town all results
The baseline plot for this series is a great idea with vast potential. That is the reason that I, and I'm sure many other, SF buffs decided to read it. However, the author has contaminated this series with environmental ideals, political agendas, criminality critiques, racism rationalities, sexist views, and any other contraversial opinion you can think of. When your done with all the pontification your left with a couple of pages of real science fiction. If your a white male this book is certain to make you feel inadequate if not criminal. This book gets two stars only for the storyline.