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Hominids (2003)

Hominids (2003)

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3.75 of 5 Votes: 1
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0765345005 (ISBN13: 9780765345004)
tor science fiction

About book Hominids (2003)

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: -- THIS IS A (RANTING) SPOILER REVIEW -- 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 environment3) They travel in flying cubesFrom 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!*facepalm*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!*sigh* 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

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.

Do You like book Hominids (2003)?

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.

I wish I could give this 3.5. Hmph. Anyway, I liked the premise - Neanderthal physicists accidentally open a gateway into our version of Earth. Their alternate universe is one in which Neanderthals, not Homo sapiens, became the dominant (and only) humans. One of the physicists gets trapped on our side of the universe for a bit, and hilarity ensues.The descriptions of Neanderthal society are v. interesting, with a good basis in what we know of them - it's plausible they would have evolved in that way. Though I'm a bet skeptical of the complete lack of religion, but yeah.The homo sapiens scenes, though, fell flat. Author Dude is suffering from a severe case of white male syndrome. The main character gets raped right at the beginning and spends the book trying to process it, and her inner monologue feels very fake to me. I can't really pinpoint it, and there's nothing that jumped out at me as overtly offensive, but it just didn't seem like a genuine reaction. But I'm skeptical of men-writing-from-women's-perspectives in general, as it tends to work wonderfully (5%) or completely not at all (95%), so take that as you will. And wow is there a sexist/racist moment in the second book, but I have to finish that one first.But yes. Enjoyable for its concept, good if infodump-y explanation of quantum physics about 2/3 through, interpersonal relations get a C-.

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 resourcesDuly 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 menAs 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 sillySure 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.
—Mike Moore

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