Tantalizing premise for a story but such a let-down once you read the book.
What would happen if a Neanderthal from a parallel universe came to our world? What would civilization be like if the Neanderthal had dominated and Cro-Magnon become extinct? The answers that Sawyer gives are thin and implausible.
While I'm open-minded enough to entertain Sawyer's unlikely theories, what I really disliked about this book was the rape of Mary Vaughan and her immediate (next day) sexual attraction to the Neanderthal, Ponter. This part of the story was unnecessary and irrelevant to the basic premise. Besides, what woman who was just raped would even look at a man, much less a "he-man" Neanderthal that exudes mega masculinity?
Sawyer needs to understand the real world of "Gliksins" before he should write about Neanderthals.
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 couldn't wait for Book Two.
Thumbs up :)
Alright but not great. It seems preachy to me. Humans bad, Neanderthals good. We finally figured out that the hunter gatherer groups of the paleolithic era were heavy hunters and not the tree hugging, at one with nature, paleohippies of myth so now we have to find another group of "Good" humans to populate the earth. Who better than the Neanderthals especially when we can accuse ourselves of genocide at the same time? There were some interesting ideas and people in the story and I want to read more but I wouldn't call it a great story.
In this polished anthropological SF yarn, the first of a trilogy from Nebula Award winner Sawyer (The Terminal Experiment), Neanderthals have developed a radically different civilization on a parallel Earth, as both sides discover when a Neanderthal physicist, Ponter Boddit, accidentally passes from his universe into a Canadian underground research facility. Fortunately, a team of human scientists, including expert paleoanthropologist Mary Vaughan, promptly identifies and warmly receives Ponter. Solving the language problem and much else is a mini-computer called a Companion implanted in the brain of every Neanderthal. A computerized guardian spirit, however, doesn't eliminate cross-cultural confusion permanent male-female sexuality, rape and overpopulation are all alien to Ponter nor can it help his housemate and fellow scientist back in his world, Adikor Huld, when the authorities charge Adikor with his murder. Ponter's daughter Jasmel believes in Adikor's innocence, but to prevent a horrendous miscarriage of justice (Adikor could be sterilized), she must try to reopen the portal and bring her father home. The author's usual high intelligence and occasionally daunting erudition are on prominent display, particularly in the depiction of Neanderthal society.
An interesting book. Lots of science waved away, but that's ok. I do generally like the stories Sawyer tells, and he's got some interesting cross-cultural dialog and introspection going on in this one.
It's the story of a tunnel opened between two similar universes: the one we're currently stuck in, and a slightly altered one where neanderthals, rather than our own ancestors became dominant. And the story of how a neanderthal from the other side got sucked through into our world and then has to deal with us.
(With a separate sub-plot of 'what happened to our scientist' in the neanderthal universe.)
Note that these aren't cavemen. They've arguably got more advanced science than we do. (Though a 40-year tech gap is nothing given 40,000 years of divergent history.) In fact, the magical things that let things like language not be a problem are essentially hand-waved away by advanced neanderthal technology, so it's actually a useful plot device.
Because the interesting things are the interactions between these two different peoples, so we need to get to that interaction.
This was quite enjoyable.
Note however: One of the scenes early in the book is a rape scene, where one of the human scientists gets assaulted by a mystery stranger and subsequently goes through the remainder of the book scared of men. This whole sequence made me feel smarmy... I'm not sure Sawyer handled things as well as he might have, and I can't help but feel that there should have been a different way to get his characters into the state he needed without it. The whole scene doesn't have a whole lot of relevance to this book anyway (though it gets more important in the subsequent novels). The fact that this plot thread is here is why I can't give the book the rating I think it otherwise deserves... The whole thing just kind of hangs over my impressions like a black cloud.
4 of 5 stars.