[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
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Novel Synopsis


by Robert J. Sawyer

Copyright © 1999 and 2003 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.

Spoiler Warning! This document discloses some of the details of the plot of the novels it discusses. It's recommended that you not look at this document until after finishing the novels Hominids, Humans, and Hybrids.

This isn't actually an outline — it's a 2,200-word novel synopsis, created after the book was finished. Robert J. Sawyer sold his novel Hominids from a much shorter outline (which is included in his essay "Commiting Trilogy"). However, when the novel was serialized in four parts in Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine, editor Stanley Schmidt requested a synopsis of the first three-quarters of the novel, to be run in successively longer versions at the beginning of the second, third, and fourth installments of the serial. This document started out as that synopsis, but Rob Sawyer continued it to include the ending of the novel, of which, obviously, no summary was required for Analog's purposes.

The present day. Ponter Boddit and Adikor Huld are male quantum-computing researchers living on a parallel version of Earth, where Neanderthals survived to the present day and our kind of Homo sapiens did not. While attempting to factor an enormously large number, a portal opens between their timeline and ours, and Ponter, as well as all the air in the quantum-computing chamber, is transferred here. Ponter and Adikor's lab had been built in a unique location: 2 kilometers beneath the surface, in their world's deepest nickel mine, where their sensitive equipment would be shielded from cosmic rays.

For similar reasons, in this version of Earth a physics facility exists at the same subterranean location, in what we call northern Ontario: the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory. SNO consists of a giant acrylic sphere filled with heavy water suspended in a six-story-tall chamber full of regular water. The arrival of all the air transferred with Ponter bursts the sphere apart.

Ponter almost drowns in the neutrino detector, but he is rescued by Louise Benoît, a postdoctoral physics student from Montreal. Ponter is taken by ambulance to hospital, accompanied by Reuben Montego, the mine-site physician. There, an astonished doctor with a degree in osteology identifies Ponter as being a Neanderthal, based on his cranial morphology — although how he could possibly have come to be here, no one yet knows.

Meanwhile, Mary Vaughan, a geneticist who specializes in recovering DNA from ancient specimens, is raped on the campus of Toronto's York University, where she works. She makes her way home and finds a message waiting from Dr. Montego: he wants her to fly up to Sudbury to authenticate a Neanderthal specimen found there "in remarkable condition." Mary, still devastated by the rape, reluctantly agrees to go.

Ponter, like all modern Neanderthals, has a Companion implant embedded in the skin of his forearm. His is a sophisticated model with significant intelligence; it goes by the name of Hak. Although Ponter is severely disoriented by what has happened to him, Hak manages to figure out where they are, and even begins to learn some English.

Back in the Neanderthal world, in which males and females live mostly separate lives, Adikor, who was Ponter's partner in life as well as his research partner, is stunned to be charged with murder. The disappearance of Ponter has suggested foul play, at least to Daklar Bolbay. Bolbay, a female, had lived with the recently deceased Klast, another female; Bolbay had been Klast's woman-mate. But Klast had also had a man-mate, a male she consorted with when Two became One, the four days out of each month during which male and female Neanderthals come together. Her man-mate had been Ponter, and she had two daughters by him, of whom Bolbay is now legal guardian. And on their behalf, she has put forward the charge that Adikor has murdered their father.


Despite it being "Last Five" — the final five days of a lunar month, during which all female Neanderthals, whose menstrual cycles are synchronized, suffer from PMS, Adikor goes into the Center, the female-occupied territory. He entreats Jasmel Ket, Ponter's elder daughter, to speak on his behalf at the preliminary murder trial. If the charge against him is substantiated, Adikor, and everyone who shares 50% of his genetic material, will be sterilized in order to remove the murderous genes from the Neanderthal gene pool.

Adikor explains to Lurt, his own woman-mate, why he has chosen Jasmel to speak on his behalf. Lurt, a chemist, agrees with Adikor's choice, and promises to render any assistance she can.

Adikor has at least an inkling of what has really happened to Ponter, and he and Jasmel head back to the nickel mine to attempt to replicate the factoring experiment, in hopes of retrieving him.

But when they arrive at the elevator that leads down to the quantum-computing lab, Adikor is confronted by an Enforcer. When Daklar's charge against Adikor was filed, Adikor was placed under "judicial scrutiny." Companion implants transmit everything they see to the central "Alibi Archives." But the 2 kilometers of rock overhead would cut off Adikor's Companion transmissions if he went down to the lab, and so the Enforcer won't allow him to do so. It seems that Adikor will have to get the judicial scrutiny lifted before he'll be able to try to retrieve his beloved Ponter.

Mary Vaughan, who had recovered DNA from the original Neanderthal fossil several years before, meets Ponter in the Sudbury hospital and takes samples of his DNA. She transports the specimens to Laurentian University in Sudbury, and, using the genetics lab there, sets about duplicating Ponter's DNA through the polymerase chain reaction (PCR).

While the duplication is occurring, Mary goes to the Laurentian University rape crisis center; after all, she has much more anonymity here than back down south in Toronto.

Hak, Ponter's Companion implant, has identified the strange human-like creatures populating this world as Gliksins: a form of humanity long extinct on Ponter's world. Since there's nothing wrong with Ponter, Dr. Montego sneaks him past the journalists prowling around the hospital, and takes Ponter, and Louise Benoît, out to his country home. Hak is getting better at understanding English, and Louise manages to determine that Ponter is a quantum physicist.

Mary completes her study of Ponter's DNA: he really is a Neanderthal. She joins Dr. Montego and Louise for a barbecue dinner at Montego's house, but Ponter takes ill there, collapsing. Dr. Montego makes an emergency call Health Canada's Laboratory Centre for Disease Control.

The preliminary hearing of the murder charge against Adikor begins. Daklar Bolbay outlines her case, pointing out that Adikor contrived a situation in which the transmissions from his and Ponter's Companion implants could not be received by the alibi archives. This, she says, gave Adikor, whom she believes was jealous of Ponter's greater scientific stature, the perfect opportunity to commit murder.

Daklar then shows recordings that were made of transmissions from Ponter's Companion implant 19 years previously, when Ponter and Adikor were students together at the Science Academy. During an argument, Adikor who has a history of trouble controlling his temper but who has since been receiving treatment for that, smashes Ponter in the face with his fist — and when a Neanderthal does that, with all his strength behind it, the blow can easily be fatal. Ponter narrowly survives.

Adikor protests that this is unfair evidence to introduce: Ponter forgave Adikor and never pressed charges against him, and so, under Neanderthal law, no crime was committed. But Daklar contends that Adikor's past violence against Ponter establishes an excellent circumstantial murder case, and says the matter should be sent on to a full trial.


Mary, Dr. Montego, Louise, and Ponter are quarantined in Montego's house by order of Health Canada. After Ponter's fever breaks, Mary begins to find herself attracted to the big guy, in a general sort of way. This is actually a relief to her: she'd thought that after the rape, she'd never be able to look at a man in a sexual way again.

Mary and Dr. Montego realize that because Ponter doesn't come from an agricultural society, he probably didn't bring anything regular humans are susceptible to from his world; rather, he's probably suffering from something he caught since arriving on this version of Earth.

Ponter's Companion has now learned enough English to allow for meaningful conversations. Mary and Ponter talk about the differences between their two worlds. Mary is shocked to learn that Neanderthal society has absolutely no religion or belief in an afterlife. She's also surprised to learn that the Neanderthals purge their gene pool of aberrant genes.

Still, by this time, even Montego has noticed Mary and Ponter's growing attraction for one another — which makes all the more shocking Ponter's revelation that he has a male lover back home. Mary tries to digest the bisexual nature of Neanderthal society.

Ponter's daughter, Jasmel Ket, presents a defense of Adikor to the preliminary hearing, and Adikor himself tries to introduce the idea that Ponter may have disappeared into a parallel world rather than having being killed. But the adjudicator rejects this seemingly outlandish notion, and Adikor is indeed handed over for a full trial.

Having honored her commitment to speak for Adikor, Jasmel now deserts him, having been appalled by the site of Adikor almost killing her father years before. But after reviewing more of Ponter's archive recordings, she realizes that her father really did love and trust Adikor, and so she agrees to continue to help him prove his innocence.

Jasmel has now figured out why Daklar is pursuing Adikor with such vengeance, but she won't tell him the reason, saying he must hear it directly from Daklar.


When confronted, Daklar breaks down and admits the truth: she hates Adikor because he got away with his original violent attack on Ponter, whereas Daklar's own man-mate was sterilized because his brother, with whom he shares 50% of his DNA, had committed a similar crime.

Adikor figures out a way to circumvent his judicial scrutiny. Neanderthal noses are very sensitive to smells, so Adikor arranges for his woman-mate, the chemist Lurt, to set off a stink bomb in the archive pavilion, driving out the Enforcer who is observing Adikor's companion transmissions, along with everyone else accessing archive recordings. While his companion in unmonitored, Adikor and Jasmel head down to the quantum-computing lab to attempt to retrieve Ponter.

Mary admits to Ponter that humans on her version of Earth not only wiped out all the megafauna, they almost certainly killed off the Neanderthals here.

Health Canada decides to lift the quarantine, but Mary, Louise, and Dr. Montego conspire to sneak Ponter away from Montego's home before the press can descend upon him. Mary and Ponter escape to the countryside of Northern Ontario, where, after much searching, they find the spot on which Ponter's home stands in his version of Earth. By an effort of will, Ponter tries to force himself back to his world — and his beloved Adikor and his two daughters — but of course fails to do so. Ponter cries over his loss, and Mary comforts him, holding him in her arms.

Mary and Ponter stop at a secluded country inn for what turns out to be a rather romantic candle-lit dinner. Afterward, they pull over to the side of a country road so that they can look at the stars, which Mary never gets to see so clearly back in Toronto. While looking up at the night sky, Ponter slips his hand into Mary's own. Suddenly, Mary freezes, the horrid memory of the rape coming back to haunt her. She moves away from Ponter, and the two of them drive back to Sudbury in silence.

Louise Benoît works out the origin of the two versions of Earth, citing the dawn of consciousness 40,000 years ago as a quantum-mechanical event that split the timeline. In one branch, her kind of humanity went on to be dominant. In the other, Neanderthals did so. The so-called "Great Leap Forward" — the first appearance of art, ceremonial burial of the dead, and personal adornment in the archeological record — marks the point at which the timeline split.

Adikor and Jasmel use a mining robot to stand in the same spot Ponter had occupied the first time Adikor had run the factoring experiment. The robot gets transferred to our world, and Adikor and Jasmel are astonished to see through its cameras the now-drained Sudbury Neutrino Observatory chamber, filled with strange hominids that resemble their world's long-extinct Gliksin people.

A phone call goes out from SNO to Mary, telling her to find Ponter, who is somewhere on the Laurentian campus. She locates him, and tells him a portal has opened to his world, but no one knows how long it will stay open.

Ponter can run much faster than Mary, but he can't drive — he needs her with him to make it out to the SNO site. He sweeps her off his feat and runs with her in his muscular arms out to the parking lot. Mary and he drive to the SNO site.

The 2,000-meter elevator ride down to the neutrino observatory takes several minutes. Mary knows she would never forgive herself if she didn't explain to Ponter why she hadn't responded to his romantic touch when they were looking at the stars. She tells him about the rape. Ponter is aghast, and wonders why the recordings from Mary's Companion implant haven't been used to identify the criminal, but of course Mary has no such implant.

At last they reach the SNO chamber. Mary hugs Ponter, and kisses him on the cheek. She presses into his hand a small crucifix she usually wears, and he scrambles up a ladder and escapes through the portal back to his world.

In the Neanderthal world, Ponter is reunited with Adikor and Jasmel. He then appears in person at the opening of Adikor's full murder trial, to the astonishment and delight of the spectators.

An engineer friend of Adikor works out a way to keep the portal between the two worlds permanently open. Ponter looks forward to seeing Mary again, and, he hopes, to continuing their relationship as the two kinds of humanity learn to live and work together.

More Good Reading

More about Hominids
More about Humans
More about Hybrids
Other novel outlines and synopses
Other novels by Robert J. Sawyer

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