The portal between the Neanderthal world and ours is reopened, leading to an increased exchange between the two societies. But will the differences between the two present insuperable obstacles for Ponter Boddit and Mary Vaughan?
Robert J. Sawyer mixes it up for the second part of the Neanderthal Parallax trilogy, with a framing sequence featuring Ponter Boddit admitting to a personality sculptor (fulfilling the same role as a psychiatrist on our Earth) that he’s done a “terrible thing”. It doesn’t take too much to deduce that this relates to the rape that Mary Vaughan suffered immediately before she met Ponter for the first time (as related in Hominids), but Sawyer throws a few curveballs as Humans plays out that means you may well come to one conclusion as to what he’s done before the eventual revelation (which is in fact completely appropriate and in character).
Although Ponter and the other Neanderthals who cross to our world continue to function as outsiders looking in on our society – and the sequence set at the Vietnam Memorial is one of the most powerful pieces of writing I’ve yet read from Sawyer – we also get to see the reverse. By the time Mary crosses to the Neanderthal world, we’ve become quite accustomed to its differences, so when we see it through her eyes, it becomes fresh again – and some of our own prejudices are put to the test through her. Could we really be as accepting of a society that acts in the way that we claim we want, or are some things completely inbuilt?
Verdict: Resolving some issues, but leaving others for the conclusion, this is a love story played out against a serious scientific and moral discussion. 8/10