Hybrids by Robert Sawyer
Tor HCVR: ISBN 0312876904 PubDate: 08/01/03
Review by Asta Sinusas
368 pgs. List price $24.95
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The concluding volume in the Neanderthal Parallax trilogy, Hybrids is what you read Humans and Hominids for. Sawyer neatly ties the plot lines together while still giving readers more than enough to ponder, and leaving ample room to return to pick up the story again, perhaps someday. Currently nominated for a Hugo Award for his book Hominids, Sawyer is sure to gather attention for the stunning series, and whether he wins or loses SF’s most coveted award (it’s still an honour to be nominated) the trilogy is another credential in his long resume. Hybrids features a pushed up publication, to take advantage of Sawyer’s hometown advantage at Torcon. One has to wonder also at the willingness of publishers, now that the Matrix movie trilogy has led the way to deviate from annual (or longer) releases. The fans may benefit, but the pressure is now on the writers to type faster, and to keep themselves present in the minds of an audience that has been encouraged to have an ever-shortening attention span.
While debates reign between the Grey Council of Neanderthals and the United Nations of the Sapiens, Hybrids explores the possibility of the two worlds uniting politically. However, greedy individuals often seek to arrange matters to their own advantage. Although the blame lies mostly with the Sapiens, a few Neanderthals profit as well. Individually, the book also explores Ponter Boddit and Mary Vaughan, who are struggling to find a compromise between their cultures. However, unlike most modern couples, they have a few unique challenges, starting with the question ‘your universe or mine?’ The theme of a civilized female and an undomesticated male is older than Tarzan meets Jane, and the question is not who tamed who or whose world is better, but what one partner can teach the other.
Mary decides to try and live in the Neanderthal world, but soon becomes frustrated with only seeing Ponter four days a month, along with all the other females who are kept separate from the males the rest of the time. She also tries to grow accustomed to her new roommate, who hints broadly that she would like a deeper relationship with Mary. Further confusing matters is the discovery that a DNA machine is available so that Ponter and Mary can genetically ensure they will have a child together. However, the issue grows thorny when the discovery that Neanderthals have no ‘God organ’ is made. Mary, torn by her faith, must decide whether or not their future child should be able to experience religion.
Where Humans and Hominids were leisurely explorations, Hybrids is fast paced and Sawyer jumps from one development to the next, racing towards a shocking, dramatic conclusion. Science fiction is always about the question “what if?” Sawyer has chosen his characters and motivations, and delved scientifically as well as philosophically into the heart of the matter and chosen his own set of outcomes. However, the subject matter of cries out for further exploration to see if the two cultures can coexist (or at least spawn a Neanderthals versus Sapiens rematch).