by Robert J. Sawyer
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Hybrids forms the conclusion to Robert J. Sawyer's "Neanderthal Parallax" trilogy, only a little more than a year after the first volume, the Hugo Award-winning Hominids was published. While the middle novel of the series, Humans, was told mostly in a flashback sequence as Neanderthal physicist Ponter Boddit spoke to a "Personality sculptor," Hybrids returns to the more straight forward narrative style of the first book.
While the book's title seems to indicate that Mary Vaughan and Ponter Boddit are somehow going to try to have a hybrid child, it actually refers to much more than that. As their relationship progresses, each of them finds that they must select aspects of their own culture to jettison and aspects of the other's culture to embrace. In perhaps the most important instance, it is a question of whether Catholic-raised Mary can accept the utter non-theism of the Neanderthals, something which comes into play more than it otherwise would have with the introduction of a device which seems to indicate that religion is entirely a man-made concept.
By the time Hybrids begins, Sawyer has a strong grasp on his characters and their relationships, and readers who have been acquainted with them since the beginning of Hominids also have a relationship with Mary, Ponter and others. It is in this novel, however, that Sawyer really begins to change his characters' viewpoints. Again, Mary's changes are the most noticeable since she serves as the Everyman character who is exploring the Neanderthal world with human eyes. For her to completely enter into their world and a relationship with Ponter and not show growth would question Sawyer's point in writing the trilogy. Fortunately, this does not happen, although the reader can quibble with some of the changes which Sawyer introduces to her.
In Humans, Sawyer began to more fully show the Neanderthal world, and he continues to do so in Hybrids. More and more characters are passing from one world to the other in this novel, which allows more of a free flow of ideas. While some of the ideas from the Neanderthal world make it appear to be a utopia, it is clear that that is an effect of Mary only seeing the good and the new. Other aspects of their culture appear to niggle at the back of her mind, setting up the conflict which she must deal with before making decisions about her relationship with Ponter.
Religion forms a major part of the series, especially for the Catholic Mary who began the books by dealing with her rape and in Hybrids must come to terms with the fact that she feels she is moving away from the precepts of the Catholic Church, especially after a conservative Pope is appointed when she hoped for a more reformist one. However Mary's viewpoint isn't the only one, and in a major subplot, Mary's rapist, first identified in Humans, seeks redemption for his acts and Sawyer provides a new face for evil.
Hybrids forms a strong conclusion to the Neanderthal Parallax. While portions of the book may seem a little too pat and some of the character changes don't quite ring true, Sawyer has built a world akin to ours and explored what it means to be human and the meaning of redemption whether one believes in a deity or not.
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