Theodicius

Good. Evil. Bratwurst.

Hominids

Posted on by arlen

…, a book by Robert J Sawyer, was the latest to leave its imprint on the wall.

You know how it is, the story is going along nicely, you’re getting in to the characters when suddently the author slips, and destroys the illusion that he’s been building up and that you’ve been enjoying. You want to scream, but settle instead for throwing the book across the room.

Well, that’s what happened here. No, it wasn’t the sneers he throws at religion; I’m getting used to that by now. That seems to be the current trend. When an author today wants to hang the “intelligent” label on one of the characters, the character disses religion. After all, it’s not possible to believe and be intelligent at the same time, is it?

But, as I said, that’s not why the book went airborne. The premise of the book involves the crossing over between parallel universes of a scientist. The twist is the scientist is a neanderthal, coming from a universe where the spark of consciousness lit up the minds of the neanders, not the cro-mags. He’s been learing english through conversation, aided by a computer, which beeps whenever it hears a word it cannot translate.

The situation is handled really well, until at one point the computer translates (into english) the exclamation “That’s so oxymoronic!” As if I’m supposed to believe that word has come up in conversation, when words like “endanger” haven’t. It blew the whole mood, destroyed the credibility of the process. After I picked up the book and read a few more paragraphs I realized that the reason for this was that the author needed to gather some momentum for the obligatory No Thinking Person Can Believe scene (since the author had been silent on religion up to this point, I confess I didn’t see it coming until it got here) and so had to suspend the limititations he’d imposed on his scientist to this point.

Still, the “first contact” scenes are handled well enough. The plot is too flimsy to carry the novel, but that’s more because the book isn’t plot-driven. Nor for that matter could you call it character-driven. It’s more driven by the examination of the concept of quantum states and many worlds, and by the chance to view of Neaderthal scociety.

If you’re looking for a strong plot, or compelling characters, pass this book by. If you enjoy travelogs to unfamiliar societies, however, you’ll enjoy this one a lot.

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July 2006
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