April 12, 2006
The Neanderthal Parallax by Robert J. Sawyer
I have just finished reading The Neanderthal Parallax trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer. The story follows a handful of scientists after a quantum experiment opens a portal between our version of Earth and an alternate version of Earth in which Neanderthals became the dominant human species. The story allows the author to examine our society, science, culture, and religion as an outsider might -- criticizing humanity's errors and identifying questionable scientific assumptions. The author also shares his vision of what a Neanderthal world might be like.
I judge science fiction on its stimulating ideas. A good story with well-developed characters is desirable, but often missing. The Neanderthal Parallax tells an interesting story revolving around two fairly-deep main characters. Ponter Boddit is extremely likable. The supporting characters are shallow, particularly in the second and third books. I highly recommend reading the first book, Hominids (which won the Hugo Award in 2003) and skipping the next two books. Hominids is filled with educational and thought-provoking ideas about anthropology, physics, paleontology, genetics, and religion. The second book, Humans, includes more romance than scientific speculation, although there is at least one fascinating discussion among scientists about halfway through. The third book, Hybrids, is the weakest of the three. I was quite disappointed in the last fifty pages, which include a big unnecessary coincidence, characters behaving unbelievably, and use of a clichéd plot device that writers wore out decades ago. The most interesting parts of the third book deal with neurotheology.