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Humans    by Robert J. Sawyer order for
by Robert J. Sawyer
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2003 (2003)
* * *   Reviewed by Wesley Williamson

Humans is the second volume in Sawyer's Neanderthal Parallax trilogy. It began with the very well received Hominids, in which Ponter Boddit, a Neanderthal physicist, opened a portal from his world (where humans have been extinct for thousands of years) and found himself in our very different culture (where it is the Neanderthals who are extinct.)

In Hominids, Ponter met Canadian geneticist Mary Vaughan, who was struggling with her own personal problems after being raped on the University campus and finding herself unable to report it. Despite the obvious physical and cultural differences, they were mutually attracted. However Ponter is able to return to his own world, in time to clear his man-mate Adikor from conviction for his supposed murder. There, he pressures the ruling High Gray Council to reopen the portal and permit him, and other Neanderthals, to return to the human world.

Cutback scenes of Ponter's sessions in therapy with a personality sculptor lead up finally to the reason for Ponter's feelings of guilt for a great sin he has apparently committed. These help to add to the tension of the story, already high due to the obvious headlong clash of cultures, an attempted assassination, the involvement of both Canadian and U.S. Government agencies (Ponter is very hastily awarded Canadian citizenship), the possible reversal of the Earth's magnetic field, and another rape at the University and the search for the rapist.

The Neanderthals are peaceful hunter-gatherers, who have acquired advanced technological tools such as the Companions built into their left forearms, which record all of their actions to storage in the Archives. Viewing our world through Neanderthal eyes lets Sawyer provide a pungent analysis of our failing attempt at civilization, including uncontrollable population growth and the resulting economic absurdities, environmental destruction, and ever increasing violence. He faces our moral values squarely from both sides when Ponter brings Mary to his world and she meets his male lover Adikor, and has to face some of the consequences of sex between men and women being restricted to two days each month.

Humans is an excellent novel which can be read alone, though for full enjoyment it is advisable to have read Hominids first. Sawyer has, with almost total success, provided a fascinating romance between a man and woman of different species. He has interlinked this with a strong science fiction theme, which has given him the opportunity to comment wisely and wittily on our present condition with all its absurdities. The final volume can be expected to match the first two and provide, as a trilogy, a classic of the genre.

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