Humans: A love polygon

Humans by Robert J. Sawyer science fiction book reviewsHumans by Robert J. Sawyer

Ponter, the Neanderthal from another dimension, is back on Earth – our Earth.

This time, Ponter has brought nearly a dozen of the most celebrated scientists and intellectuals from his world. Though we humans are a difficult bunch to deal with, the Neanderthals seem determined to make contact work. Thank goodness, since a lone gunman on our side shoots a member of their delegation as soon as he gets the chance. Mary, meanwhile, is recruited into an American think tank that is determined to figure out how the Neanderthals and their technology work.

All of this sounds like a very standard science fiction story about complications related to alien contact. Robert J. Sawyer’s Humans, however, is not overly concerned with the complications between the two worlds. It instead focuses on the growing relationship between Ponter and Mary. They consummate their relationship (Mary later describes the scene as “hot,” though readers will have to decide for themselves) and begin seeing whether they can found a lasting relationship.

They will have to clear many hurdles. Human mates spend most of their time together; aside from when Two Become One, Ponter spends most of his life with Adikor, his man-mate. When Mary watches them together, she finds it more difficult to endure than she expects. There’s more: Ponter is a widow, he has children, and the woman who has raised his children is interested in bonding with him. Mary, meanwhile, is married, though long separated from her husband, and she is still recovering from her rape in the first novel. Humans sometimes feels like a love triangle (I hesitate to guess what kind of love polygon this actually is). Can this cross-dimensional love endure?

Humans is a middle novel, which is often tricky to pull off. Hominids, which introduces the Neanderthal world, devotes more time to what our scientists have discovered about the origins of our species. Humans has a more complicated plot that is driven by love, jealousy, and the practicalities that so often take over a long-term relationship. Humans may be too dramatic to please science fiction fans, but, well, you can’t please everybody.

As in the previous novel, Sawyer often juxtaposes the Neanderthal world against our own to invite reflection. Readers are invited to question the value of our many parking lots, our often thoughtless use of the planet’s resources, and our tendency to go to war. In one scene, Ponter suggests that the American president should only declare war while standing before the Vietnam War Memorial. My favorite part of this novel, however, was the discussion of hunter-gatherers and the way they’re often misunderstood and misrepresented by agrarian cultures.

Though I expect many will disagree, I ultimately liked that Sawyer explored Ponter and Mary’s relationship in Humans. Having said that, my favorite character remains Hack, the computer that Ponter carries on his arm. Sawyer excels at writing light, easy-going stories, which makes it easy to recommend his novels to anyone looking for a comfortable read. On the other hand, this series is rarely weighty enough that I’d add it to a “best of” list or insist with excitement that someone must read it.

I listened to Audible’s production of Humans. Jonathan Davis’s performance is excellent.

Neanderthal Parallax — (2002-2003) Publisher: Hominids examines two unique species of people. We are one of those species; the other is the Neanderthals of a parallel world where they became the dominant intelligence. The Neanderthal civilization has reached heights of culture and science comparable to our own, but with radically different history, society and philosophy. Ponter Boddit, a Neanderthal physicist, accidentally pierces the barrier between worlds and is transferred to our universe. Almost immediately recognized as a Neanderthal, but only much later as a scientist, he is quarantined and studied, alone and bewildered, a stranger in a strange land. But Ponter is also befriended — by a doctor and a physicist who share his questing intelligence, and especially by Canadian geneticist Mary Vaughan, a woman with whom he develops a special rapport. Ponter’s partner, Adikor Huld, finds himself with a messy lab, a missing body, suspicious people all around and an explosive murder trial. How can he possibly prove his innocence when he has no idea what actually happened to Ponter?

Robert Sawyer Neanterthal Parallax 1. Hominids 2. Humans 3. HybridsRobert Sawyer Neanterthal Parallax 1. Hominids 2. Humans 3. HybridsRobert Sawyer Neanterthal Parallax 1. Hominids 2. Humans 3. Hybrids


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RYAN SKARDAL, on our staff from September 2010 to November 2018, is an English teacher who reads widely but always makes time for SFF.

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2 comments

  1. Umm… it does sound a bit — just a teeny bit — like a General Hospital storyline.

    • Yeah. I get the sense that the novel is often intended as a parody, but then Ponter starts pontificating about war.

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