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Hybrids: The Neanderthal Parallax Book 3

by Robert J Sawyer

(Tor, US$7.99 / Canada $10.99, 396 pages, paperback, 2003.)

Review by Elizabeth Barrette

cover scanFor those of you already familiar with the Neanderthal Parallax series, here is the next book. If you haven't already read Hominids and Humans though, you should go back and read those in order before continuing to this one. Hybrids won't make much sense unless you already know the characters, the setting, and the background action. Robert J. Sawyer has created quite a fascinating branch of reality here -- two branches, actually, one for humans and one for Neanderthals -- so it's worth exploring carefully.

Hybrids opens with Mary Vaughan meeting the legendary Neanderthal scholar, Lonwis Trob. Unlike some people (of both species) Lonwis Trob heartily favors cooperation between humans and Neanderthals, and his support becomes important to Mary's efforts in that regard -- along with her Neanderthal lover, Ponter Boddit. Another key theme in this book is religion; specifically, Neanderthals seem to lack a certain genetic sequence that makes humans capable of spiritual experiences (or at least, experiences that can be interpreted as spiritual) and so all Neanderthals are atheists. It's quite fascinating to watch Mary trying to explain some of the weird details of Christianity to Ponter.

In dealing with social pressures to separate the two species, Mary and Ponter come up with a uniquely personal way to demonstrate that humans and Neanderthals are compatible. Since the Neanderthal culture is preparing to produce a new generation, Mary and Ponter decide to conceive a child together. The difference in chromosome count poses a challenge but -- thanks to Mary's knowledge of genetics -- not an insurmountable one.

Hybrids raises some amazing questions about what it really means to be sentient, to be human. Sawyer examines the way our societies work and speculates how we might deal with other people who are like us, but yet not like us, and the fundamental differences in their society that might create. Science fiction fans will love this -- and it's well worth a look for anyone who's into prehistoric fiction, just for the Neanderthal angle. Most highly recommended.

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