BONUS AUDIO: Author Robert J. Sawyer explains why Ponter Boddit is his favorite among all the characters he's created.
Hunt and gather: listen to more in the Neanderthal Parallax trilogy.
©2002 by Robert J. Sawyer; (P)2008 Audible, Inc.
"Sawyer is a writer of boundless confidence and bold scientific extrapolation." (The New York Times)
I'm 66. I've read Audiobooks now for 6 years. After an assault, I had minor brain damage and couldn't read. Audible got me back to books
This first book of the Neanderthal trilogy plunges you into the action right away, presenting well defined characters.
In the first book, the second lead character's trial for murder keeps the attention.
Robert's story is science at it's best, mystery at it's most compelling, and love at it's strongest. Jonathan's narration is, as ever, highly attuned to the senses, easily creating the range of characters.
During the conversation between Ponter and Mary the exploring of their two worlds is charged with the clash of mental and social viewpoints.
The Neanderthal Parallax Trilogy is the reason I like Science Fiction. The parallel worlds story is engaging. The characters are people you wish you knew. And the science is cutting edge and full of possibilities.
I did finish listening - the story was not boring. But the dialog was rather clunky and awkward to listen to, especially between Mary and Ponter. Lines from Gone With The Wind, ET, and The Wizard of Oz were shamelessly borrowed. The ending, even for SciFI, stretches credibility to the breaking point and I'm happy to leave the story at its end, though there is a sequel, which is previewed and advertised at the end of this recording.
The narrators were good, though my usual criticism of males affecting female voices applies here - the females sound pretty much like, well, men trying to sound like women.
The names of the Neanderthals didn't seem to have any rhyme or reason - did they all have surnames and if so, how were they derived? I didn't look up the characters to see their names in writing, but I enjoyed hearing them as I imagined them - Ponter's daughters, Jasmine, Jazz-bo, Jazmo or Jazno, and Meg-a-Meg, and many whose names I just couldn't figure out at all.
I was annoyed at the continued put-down of human history/society and the elevation of the noble (and brilliant!) Neanderthal society. Of course there are things in human history that merit our shame, but I don't understand the purpose of the comparison in this book and its creation of a fictional "perfect" sentient species.
Ponter Boddit is a theoretical physicist working with his professional and life partner--his man-mate--Adikor on a quantum computer, deep in the bowels of a nickel mine, when something goes horribly wrong and, from Adikor's perspective, Ponter disappears.
From Ponter's perspective, he's suddenly in a tankful of water in a large, dark room.
Ponter and Adikor are Neanderthals, from a world where H. sapiens sapiens died out, and H. sapiens neanderthalis survived to become the dominant species.
Now Ponter is stuck in our world, where he emerged into the heavy water tank of a neutrino detector deep in a nickel mine in northern Ontario. Reuben Montego, a medical doctor, and Mary Vaughn, a very distinguished geneticist who has done work on recovered Neanderthal DNA, are two of his major allies in this world, but he's facing a huge challenge, building a new life for himself, isolated from everything he's ever known. And since Neanderthal society is much lower-density, the total Neanderthal population much lower, and they never developed agriculture but instead have systemitized hunter-gatherer food collection and distribution, modern industrial civilization with a population in the billions, is very tough for him to quickly absorb.
Meanwhile, back home in the Neanderthal world, the woman-mate of Ponter's late woman-mate has accused Adikor of murdering Ponter. She's not deterred by the lack of a body; Adikor was the only person there when he disappeared, Adikor has a volatile temper, and Adikor, to her way of thinking, must have been jealous of Ponter's greater prominence in their shared profession.
Also, Adikor can't explain quantum physics in a way that makes sense to an adjudicator who was apparently never required to study any science.
There's a lot to like about this book. The science is interesting, though not as new and startling as it was in 2002, and the Neanderthal society is really, really interesting. And who can dislike a world where woolly mammoths still roam North America?
But I do have some problems with it, too.
I won't deal with Mary Vaughn's rape and its aftermath, as others have done that at some length.
It's more than a mite annoying that the contrast between our society and Ponter's is largely used as an opportunity for one-sided criticism of ours. H. sapiens hunted most of the megafauna to extinction. (This is no longer believed to be true.) H. sapiens wiped out H. neanderthalis. (This is no longer believed to be true, and with another decade of research, we now know there was interbreeding among Sapiens, Neanderthals, and Denisovans.) We still have violent crime. We do not successfully feed all of our very large population. We pollute the air. And, oh dear, we have religion.
What's interesting is that Ponter assumes without question that H. sapiens wiped out H. neanderthalis in our world, and H. sapiens wiped out H. sapiens in his world. It would seem that there's another possibility, especially since the means by which the Neanderthals have effectively culled violent behavior from their genome could not possibly have begun until they had advanced scientifically enough to reason out the genetics.
What's annoying is the discussion of religion between Ponter and Mary. Mary's a Catholic as well as a world-class geneticist, and might reasonably be expected to have a slightly more sophisticated understanding of religion. It's treated as an unquestionable fact that religious believers believe that religion, belief in God, is a necessary precursor of morality. That's a belief that is troublesome in many ways as well as demonstrably false. But having been raised Catholic myself, albeit in a different country than Mary was, I was taught that, on the contrary, the moral impulse comes first. "If anyone says "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar, because he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen." 1 John 4:20 (English Standard Version) In short, that the innate moral impulse is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for belief in God.
Robert J. Sawyer is a smart guy, and knows how to do research. Perhaps he didn't realize he needed to do research on this. Certainly, if he had incorporated this view of the relationship between religion and morality, as taught by the religion Mary is said to believe in, it would have made Mary's position in that discussion rather stronger--perhaps uncomfortably so, for the agenda Mr. Sawyer seems to have been pursuing.
Now, it's not that he portrays the Neanderthals as perfect. By no means. It's just that Neanderthal failings seem to be matters of individual character, while Sapiens failings are shown as systemic and pervasive, despite the fine characters of Ponter's friends in this universe.
I think the ideological blinders do weaken the story and the book overall, but I like Ponter, Adikor, and their friends on both sides of the portal, and overall I enjoyed the book.
Recommended with reservations.
Said Ponter, said Adicore, said Ponter, said Adicore.. and the simplest of language.
Either act the reading or read it please! The laid back tone of the reader during intense moments helps make the already simple and barely descriptive writing even less believable. The sudden acting in a few places and not others is frustrating.
The characters are simple, plastic, so surface, no depth of human experience expressed here.
Maybe its because I just finished the Game of Thrones series, searingly written, and masterfully read.
It was painful enough that I only got 1.5 hours through - maybe it became incredible and rich but I couldn't stand it any longer.
I really liked the wide variety of characters and viewpoints. Canada was an interesting setting choice. I cared about the characters and I thought the science was neat too.
This is an interesting concept, but I wouldn't read this again, and I'm not recommending it to anyone I know. Sawyer spends too much time preaching about how his version of neanderthal utopia is superior, and every one of these repetitious little sermons interrupts the narrative and takes the reader right out of the story. On top of that, most of the characters are completely flat and static. With only three or so well developed characters, the plots seem contrived, and those three are the only ones who are affected by the story. Everyone else is robots. It's as if Sawyer had this thought--hey, what if it's a belief in an afterlife that makes society suck--and instead of taking the time to explore that, he tried to write a persuasive essay in the form of a story. There are better speculative fiction explorations of why society is flawed, and I don't see enough original, compelling content to make this a better choice than the others.
Also, heads up: if you were taught to pronounce neanderthal like -tall, then prepare to cringe every time the reader says it.
Arts & Sciences is what I am about. I have no talent for business. I am an amateur photographer with contest wins and places. Work in a hospital lab. Married 41 years.
The characters were well drawn. The story line was very satisfying. There were no dead spots.
The story back on Neanderthal earth was quite dramatic.
Then Ponder crashed the trial.
Be ware your assumptions.
There is no evidence that Neanderthals had pet dogs.
This is a thought provoking trilogy with original refreshing characters intermingled with believable scientific imagination stirred with the right amount of human behavior and a little romance. A challenging story line that really works. When is the movie coming out?
Middle of the road
When the time wall is breached
A story out of the ordinary. You have to like Sci Fi
I like 'realistic' scifi and once you accept the basic premise this was well thought our and very interesting.
Stirlings Islands in the Sea of Time series
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