Tor, out now
Although Ponter Boddit and Mary Vaughan are determined to demonstrate their love for each other, there are those who regard the other Earth with envious eyes…
Robert J. Sawyer sets himself numerous challenges with this closing part of the Neanderthal Parallax, tying up plotlines in a way that is true to the characters, while still providing a resolution that allows those characters to live on beyond the ending of the book in the reader’s imagination. This he does with his usual style, almost casually throwing in discussions of the foundations of religious belief (is it a physical part of our make-up or something that is purely sociological – his answer may surprise you), the perils of positive discrimination, and the ramifications of manipulation of the gene pool, at the genetic and testicular levels, and within society as a whole. To cap it all, he throws in an epic chase and a race against time, proving long before Triggers made it clear that he can write gripping action sequences.
Much of the story is told from Mary Vaughan’s perspective, and we follow her as her “mental conditioning” from our society breaks down as she finds a way to live within the world of, rather than simply just visit, the other Earth (which in this book is regularly referred to as the world of the Barasts). There are elements of their society which continue to feel wrong to her – and perhaps to the reader as well – but which she comes to understand, and although it’s clear that she will never fully accept everything, she discovers strengths within herself that allow her to do more than simply cope.
I’ve commented before on Sawyer’s respect for those who don’t share his beliefs about religions, and he walks a fine line in this book: the Barasts, as is established early on, do not have the capacity for such a way of life; humans do, and there are moments within the climactic scenes that may not sit well with those with religious convictions. That doesn’t stop Sawyer asking some uncomfortable questions about the nature of faith: how would we react if we apparently were given proof that what we believed was right – and so was what everyone else believed too?
In an essay on his website, Sawyer notes that he was asked about a fourth book. While I agree that he has told the stories of those we meet in the first book – and their society – I wonder if there is scope for a tale set two Barast generations down the line, as Ponter and Mary’s daughter reaches an age where her worlds treat her very differently…
Verdict: An epic yet intimate trilogy reaches a powerful conclusion. 9/10