I'm a full series behind in reviewing Robert J. Sawyer's work, but time has not diminished my respect and admiration for the whole Neanderthal Parallax trilogy, especially the opening volume, Hominids.
The Parallax part of the trilogy name comes from a parallel world. The Neanderthal, from the fact that 'over there,' in the battle for survival, Neanderthals won out over Homo Sapiens Sapiens (that's you and me). And what an interesting society evolved. This book, and the whole series, explores the differences between their culture and ours. And let's face facts, H. Sapiens doesn't come off looking all that great.
But, at least we DID develop detectives. And that's important because Sawyer weaves a locked-room murder in and around the social commentary. If you've read Isaac Asimov's classic The Caves of Steel, you will feel right at home with this book. There's the same confounding murder and the same societal abhorrence to this kind of thing. It's unimaginable. In Asimov's book, the problem was people didn't co-mingle, doing all of their working and playing in the comforts of their nigh impregnable homes. In Hominids, the anti-criminal spark is the fact that everybody's life is recorded. 24/7/365. Every second of it.
Except the off-recording 'murder' that kicks off the book and the series.
Addikor Huld is a nice guy for a Neanderthal. He's a loving co-parent to a couple of kids he sees every now and then. Unfortunately, for the time being, he can't produce their father, Ponter Boddit. The reason is that Ponter's over in our universe creating all kinds of scientific curiosity. But that's the secret to the locked room Boddit entered and left by the most amazing scientific discovery of both our world and his. But not being able to figure this out, Boddit's various relatives are sure the unthinkable has happened. Huld has killed Boddit.
So, the book continues along two tracks (as does the series). The disappearance masked as a murder envelops the Neanderthal society in controversy. We get a bird's-eye view of how the well-balanced society starts to develop cracks. And over here, we get a treatise on how we treat newcomers ... especially if they are from a different dimension and are as intelligent, if not more, than we are. Sawyer even throws in a little developing romance between Boddit and Canadian scientist Mary Vaughn. A very s-l-o-w-l-y developing romance.
Canadian Sawyer has always been an idea guy. He's good at developing non-human intelligences in a way that we can identify, while remembering those characters aren't actually human. Or what we call human these days.
The Neanderthal Parallax is out in paperback or available at eStores all over the internet. There are better ways to spend a weekend while evading the heat this summer. But not many.