SFWRITER.COM > Novels > Hominids > 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
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
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
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
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.
END OF PART ONE
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
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
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
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.
END OF PART TWO
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
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.
END OF PART THREE
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
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
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
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
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