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Title: Hominids
Author: Robert Sawyer

TOR, 2002
ISBN 0-312-87692-0

What if Neanderthals built a civilization and all that was left of the Homo Sapiens was bones? What would modern Neanderthal society be like? Sawyer gives us a chance to look at ourselves through Neanderthal eyes (shades of Star Trek!) -- with environmental issues, ethical and privacy issues and religion vs. science.

Ponter and his partner, Adikor, are building a Quantum computer underground. When Ponter and Adikor tell it to factor a huge number, the computer's demand for parallel computers go off into another universe -- ours. Ponter is standing near the machine while it is processing, and he disappears into thin air. In his place are puddles of heavy water.

Meanwhile in our world, 2 kilometers beneath the surface at the Neutrino Observatory in Canada, an explosion rocks a sealed water tank. The scientists find a man floating unconscious -- wearing bizarre clothes and a biotech implant on his arm. They save him, rush him to a hospital and X-rays of the man's head say that he's a Neanderthal.

Which introduces our third character -- a DNA expert, Mary Vaughan (introduced by way of a horrific rape scene) is brought in to authenticate what is indeed a Neanderthal. And a physicist at that.

Back in the Neanderthal world, Adikor is accused of the murder of Ponter. The biotech implants record everyone's activities and locations, storing the records in a main city computer, but they can't record or get a fix on people deep underground. Innocence must be proven -- the Neanderthals have no trust for what hasn't been recorded. Their society, overseen by revered elders, has bred out aggression. Violence is a genetic defect in their society -- and the sentence for violence is an overdose of chlorine in the gene pool.

On our earth Ponter's implant (named Hak) has become a translator, and Ponter is learning about our world. The mammoths are gone. Men and women live together. Overpopulation and hunger. Air pollution -- which is a major problem with his great nose. Crime. War. And a thing called 'God'. The reader starts liking Ponter's Neanderthal society -- but Gliksins (his name for humans) have been to space and walked on the moon.

Then Ponter gets sick -- bringing about the quarantine of Ponter, Mary and 2 other scientists. The media is pounding on the door. Governments around the world are arguing about Ponter's immigration status. Dave Letterman does a Top Ten List. And Adikor cannot explain Ponter's disappearance.

Sawyer develops the Neanderthal world well, on what little is known about them. He focuses on his characters, but throws in plenty of science that is understandable and not boring. I would really like to sit on Ponter and Adikor's patio at sunrise, watching the mammoths wander by. I liked the bio-implants and wish someone would actually invent them, but I don't have a problem with privacy the way some people do. I had trouble with Mary's character -- but Sawyer may have wanted her emotions to be on a roller coaster.

There is an introduction in which he explains the issues concerning the Neanderthal and Neandertal spellings and pronunciations.

The book is the first of a trilogy. It stands on its own, but I can't wait for Book Two.

Thumbs up :)

Reviewer: Gandalara

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