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Hybrids: The Neanderthal Parallax    by Robert J. Sawyer order for
by Robert J. Sawyer
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2003 (2003)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This is the third in the author's excellent Neanderthal Parallax, which began with Hominids and continued with Humans. Now a permanent portal has been established between the two Earths, and established cross-species lovers - Neanderthal Ponter Boddit and geneticist Mary Vaughan - are trying to find a way to make a life (and possibly a new life) together, with a minimal commute.

While deciding what to do, they assist as subjects in research exploring the area of the brain that is active during religious experiences - Neanderthals don't have any. This search for a God gene puts Mary's deep (Roman Catholic) convictions to the test. The theme, of whether a tendency to religious belief can be affected by genetic modification, is a significant (and fascinating) one through this episode.

The lovers cross the portal once more to Ponter's world, where they can be together only when 'Two are One'. Mare must decide whether or not to have an AI Companion, and has to make her own living arrangements. She begins to feel thoroughly at home, and assimilates even more with Neanderthal culture through a new (for her) kind of love. Another plotline follows Mary's rapist, Cornelius Ruskin, as he attempts to adjust to the castration (unknown to the world and in particular to Mary) performed on him by Ponter. It changes Ruskin's personality and this in turn affects his future actions in ways significant to the story.

Just as Sheri S. Tepper uses many of her sentient world novels to express her own opinions of modern society, so does Robert Sawyer articulate his views via a comparison between his two worlds - our own that is inherently violent and the peaceful Neanderthal society (though he does raise a couple of aspects that don't thrill Mary, in particular the Neanderthals' sterilization of a criminal's close relatives to improve the gene pool.) Generally I prefer a story to be just a story rather than a platform for ideas, but it helps that these are very interesting ones.

The action and suspense heat up towards the end of the book with an imminent planetary magnetic-field collapse (with unknown effects) on our Earth , and a ruthless ethic cleansing plot against the Neanderthal world, and the ending is satisfying as Mary learns even more 'new ways of being human'. If you've already dived into the Neanderthal Parallax, then this is a must read; if not and you're a fan of SF, you really should try Hominids, Humans and Hybrids.

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