Review: Hominids, by Robert J. Sawyer

Pages: 444
ISBN: 0-765-34500-5
Publisher: Tor

This is the Hugo award winner for 2003. I have absolutely no idea why. With the possible exception of Kiln People, which I've not yet read, it's far and away the worst book on the short list. I'm getting very close to the point of just ignoring the Hugos completely.

The basic story is that the Neanderthals prospered in a parallel world while Homo sapiens becomes extinct. One of the Neanderthals is accidentally shunted into our world as a side effect of a scientific experiment. A clash of culture ensues.

Well, sort of. What actually ensues is a pile of self-righteous, cliched, preachy tripe. The Neanderthals have perfect population control, have bred violence largely out of their society (without losing anything important, no less), have a perfect judicial system without real privacy concerns, are generally happy, well-adjusted, near-perfect people. And so on and so on, until the reader is utterly sick of it. The unrelenting, simplistic slam on Homo sapiens culture is at least woven into the story rather than concentrated in chunks of preaching, so there's some reason to keep reading, but it never reaches the point of credibility.

Some sections are just spectacularly bad. At the point that the only justification for religion that one of the human characters could muster was Pascal's Wager (!) and the Neanderthal concludes that the reason why human society is so messed up is because the belief in a God means no one cares about the current life nearly had me throwing the book across the room. I don't even like religion, but come on.

I like books that challenge assumptions and that tackle hard questions about human identity, but they have to actually say something interesting. I don't even mind books that get preachy if they offer some compelling story, but this one doesn't, and the preaching says nothing interesting. It just handwaves through all of the reasons why human culture is the way that it is and seems to have as its goal making the reader feel guilty about how screwed up Homo sapiens is. The random rape of one of the main human characters at the beginning of the book, just so that it can be used as an illustration of how our society is full of evil male violence, is typical of this whole book.

The book is competently plotted and the writing isn't horrible, although the characters occasionally come across as ham-handed cliches. The book is not, however, competently thought through. Avoid.

Rating: 4 out of 10

Posted: 2004-05-11 13:40 — Why no comments?

my sentiments pretty exactly, except that i am probably even more annoyed than you by the sexist claptrap sawyer passes off for relationships.

this is just so sad. instead of improving, i think his writing has gotten worse, and now he wins the hugo with this. he has many absolutely marvelous ideas; i just wish he'd give them to somebody else to write.

Posted by piranha at 2004-05-11 20:05

Oh, yeah, I didn't even start in on that. The love at near first sight was stupid but I could almost forgive that; the man and woman sleeping together just as a matter of course when they're trapped by a quarantine is another matter.

There was a ton of focus on appearances and physical beauty, too. Gah.

Posted by eagle at 2004-05-11 20:13

I read Sawyer's "Calculating God" and that was pretty good up until the ending whichwasrushedandshithappenswhoa!okit'sover. I guess i'll just avoid his other stuff.

Posted by rone at 2004-07-05 16:53

Thank God! I was thinking I was the only one who saw what drivel this really is.

That rape was so poorly written into the story that I almost put the book down there. The only thing that kept me going is that I bought all three together.

The misandry within the plot lines is the most offensive part: sapien men are evil (rape), neanderthal men required seperating from females to control violence, sapien males only think about females in a physical fashion (quaranteen, Mary's thoughts about Louise).

This was my first, and last Sawyer novel (I'll finish the series first).

Posted by kavius at 2005-03-14 10:08

Last spun 2013-07-01 from thread modified 2013-01-04