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February 2003
© 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Humans by Robert Sawyer
Tor Hardcover; ISBN: 0312876912(February 2003)
Review by Asta Sinusas

320 pages List price $19.95  
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More about Robert Sawyer in SFRevu:
- Interview/Review: Illegal Aliens (SFRevu Dec '97)- Factoring Humanity (SFRevu Jul '98)
-
Iterations (SFRevu Jan'01)

- Hominds (SFRevu May '02)
If Hominids (SFRevu May '02), Robert Sawyer’s first book in the Neanderthal Parallax series, was about a Neanderthal visiting Earth from a parallel universe, then book two should be about us visiting them, right? Wrong. Ponter Boddit is back. The Neanderthal made it back to his world just in time to absolve his man-mate, who was accused of murdering him. Now Ponter can relax and work on defending to his people why they should re-open the portal. The big debate is whether or not to establish a permanent link with the Sapien world, or leave well enough alone. They argue that if a bridge were constructed, what’s to stop people from the other side from invading or bringing deadly diseases? When the logistical points are worked out, it’s decided that Ponter and an Ambassador will go back to the other side. That works well for Ponter, as there’s a certain geneticist named Mary Vaughan who he wouldn’t mind seeing again. (Do Ponter's gender/species preferences confuse you? Don't worry, it's a hominid thing - ed)

In the meantime, Mary is busy solving the genetic problem of Neanderthals in a cushy US think tank in Rochester, NY where money is no object, or anything else. This works in her favor when she finds out that Ponter’s back and is accompanying his Ambassador to the UN. She eventually makes the journey back to Ponter’s world, but has a difficult time coping with this strange environment and her growing attraction to someone who may or may not be the same species as her. Also puzzling is why his earth has experienced a magnetic field collapse and what the consequences are on this side of the parallel universe. Could Neanderthal and Sapien relations suddenly become a necessity in the face of this potential calamity?

While Sawyer might have stuck to scientific exploration in his first go, Humans revolves around the themes of love and war. As Mary and Ponter’s relationship deepens, so does their introduction to the other’s way of doing things. Mary is delighted to learn that war is not commonplace on his world, but she has a difficult time dealing with the Neanderthal sex arrangements. Not only does Ponter have a man-mate he’s romantically attached to, his dead wife’s woman-mate now has her eye on Ponter. Conversely, Ponter, gets a bit of a revelation as well. Mary introduces him to the concept of an afterlife and how the power of love can reach beyond the grave, which contrasts with mankind’s horrendous ability to make war. In the end, the high concepts are taken down to a personal level as Ponter gets involved in his own war, because of his love for Mary.

Verboten topics in polite conversation are sex, politics and religion, but Sawyer engages all three in Humans, and creates a compelling argument by using the Neanderthal view as a way to examine them from a different angle. In addition, interspersed in dialog with Ponter confessing his “crime” as well as the consummation of his love for Mary. Sawyer manages to add the genre elements of mystery and romance to Humans, while still maintaining the SF flair and is more the genius for it. He also manages to get in a few digs here and there, but quickly steps off the soapbox and lets the story resume.

Humans is a deeper and more satisfying read than Hominids, the first entry in the trilogy, but we'll have to wait until  Dec. 2003, to see if he's saved the best for last.

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