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Hominids    by Robert J. Sawyer order for
by Robert J. Sawyer
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by David Pitt

Ontario's Robert Sawyer returns with another original, intelligent, compassionate, thought-provoking science fiction novel. I've interviewed Sawyer twice (once in person, once by email), and reviewed as many of his novels as I could, and I'm a big fan, so forgive me if what follows sounds a little, well, enthusiastic.

I used to read science fiction, and nothing but science fiction, while I was in high school, and right through my first couple of years of university. Then I started noticing, once I had read all the classics (Heinlein, Asimov, Pohl, Bester, etc - you know, writers from the early years who established science fiction as a legitimate genre), that most of the modern writers were doing one of two things. They were either repeating what other writers had already done, or they were getting so bogged-down in realism that they were forgetting science fiction was also fantasy. Science fiction, for me, got downright boring.

I first read Sawyer when I was assigned the review of Starplex, a novel which, as they say, blew me away. So did the stuff he wrote before Starplex, which I hungrily sought out; so did Starplex's successors, like Frameshift and Illegal Alien and Flashforward. Sawyer made science fiction exciting for me, again - he took brain-bustingly evocative ideas (Calculating God, for example, is a rumination on the existence of God) and combined them with colourful characters, extraterrestrials, and just plain fine writing.

All of which needed to be said before I say this: Hominids is more of the same. More brain-busting ideas (what if a doorway appeared between this universe and an alternate one in which Neanderthal Man evolved on Earth instead of Homo Sapiens), more lively characters (Mary Vaughan, a geneticist; Reuben Montego, a physician; and Ponder Boddit, the Neanderthal physicist who finds himself plunked down in our world); more splendid writing.

Sawyer tells two stories here, simultaneously. In our world, there's Ponter's fish-out-of-water story, as the Neanderthal tries to adjust to the idea that he might be stuck here forever; in the alternate world, there's a courtroom drama, as Ponter's partner, unable to explain how his colleague seems to have vanished, is brought to trial for his murder. (This isn't Sawyer's first courtroom drama; check out Illegal Alien.)

Sawyer's won a whole bunch of awards, but that's not really important here. What's important is this: he is, quite simply, an excellent writer. Not merely an excellent science fiction writer, not merely one of the genre's best, but a first-class, top-notch novelist. Even if you absolutely, positively hate science fiction, I urge you to read Hominids. It'll change your mind.

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