Fiction Reviews


(2002) Robert J. Sawyer, Tor, 7.99, pbk, 444 pp, ISBN 0-765-34500-5

Set in the present day, there is a parallel Earth in which Mankind never made it but instead the dominant species is Neanderthal. They have developed a different (in some respects more developed) technology than our own (though we have explored some areas they have not). All well and good. Then a Neanderthal scientist researching quantum computing opens a temporary gateway into our universe and falls through. Unable to speak English, he causes much puzzlement and, of course, is confused himself at this unexpected turn of events...

Sawyer has a personal interest in palaeontology and especially in human evolution (palaeoanthropology) and this shows. This is an incredibly well researched book and any speculation as to Neanderthal nature, even though it is sheer speculation, is founded on solid ground. Furthermore, I found out quite by accident that his non-palaeontological research for this work was equally thorough and not confined to literature trawls at his local academic library but also site visits. So as a work of hard SF, this novel definitely gets the thumbs up (or is it thumbs down in the context of what the Roman Emperors actually did overlooking the arena pit: it's appropriate to be Sawyer-thorough in one's historic references when reviewing this man's work).

I won't spoil the story as that in itself is quite a simple one and much of this book's delight is seeing the pattern of events unfold. Hominids won the 2003 Hugo for 'Best Novel' and so it definitely has fan appeal. Personally I find Sawyer's work a tad clean cut, though each of his books I have read are workman-like and sound. This may not be a classic but it is - as is much of his output to date - a proverbial 'good read'. It is also the first part of a trilogy. I'm sure it will sell well in North America, and Sawyer could easily be a market hit this side of the Pond if given a chance. At the moment (2003) the big Brit chains don't seem to have recognised him, but then equally they don't seem to keep a track of Hugo nominations let alone winners. That's their loss, but it means you'll have to go to either real bookshops or specialist ones to pick up a copy.

Robert Sawyer is interviewed elsewhere on the site.

Jonathan Cowie

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