Robert Sawyer is one of Canada’s most popular science fiction authors, whose books are often nominated for Hugo and Nebula Awards. This novel won the 2003 Hugo Award for Best Novel.
I enjoy reading many genres, but hard SF has been one of my favorites since I was a young boy, and Sawyer is one of the best at it. The basis for this novel is that of parallel universes, or rather, multiverses which run parallel with each other, created because of different choices or events. In this story, two universes are of interest—ours, where Homo sapiens became the earth’s dominant species, and another in which Neanderthals did so. Physicists in both worlds are doing quantum computing and heavy water experiments in the same location (in different universes), when an accident causes a Neanderthal physicist to be pulled through to our universe. The cultural differences, the scientific and public responses, and the trial for the murder of the missing physicist unveils a fast-pasted, thoughtful, and quite readable story (despite the heady science). Along the way, Sawyer allows us to ponder philosophical, spiritual, and cultural preconceptions.
The book is the first of a trilogy, but is excellent as a stand-alone read, too. While there are loose ends and questions, they are not the often trite ending to make you buy the next volume. But I will, because the narrative is engaging, the issues fascinating, and the characters are compelling and sympathetic.
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