by Robert J. Sawyer
Tor, 2003, ISBN 0-312-87691-2
A book review by Elisabeth Carey
This is a 2004 Hugo Award nominee for Best Novel. No, really, it is. You can check the website.
It's also the second of Sawyer's three novels about our kind of humans and Neanderthals from an alternate timeline. The Neanderthal physicist, Ponter Boddit, having safely returned home to the more civilized Neanderthal dimension, must of course get back, as quickly as possible, to our dimension and Mary Vaughn, geneticist and One True Love of Neanderthal physicists from alternate dimensions. And, also, incredibly naïve and stupid in how she tries to preserve DNA evidence of a rape in exactly the place that some of the logical suspects would most readily find it and recognize it.
There's a frame story here about Ponter's guilt-tripping afterwards, but it adds nothing. The first part of the book alternates between Ponter working to get back to our dimension, and Mary Vaughn accepting an extremely well-paid job in the US, both to get away from the scene of the rape, and to help prepare for the possible return of Ponter and many more Neanderthals. Once Ponter and a diplomatic delegation arrive, we get the necessary reminders of how much less civilized we are than the Neanderthals, and the critical events brought about only by Mary Vaughn's lack of common sense in evidence-preservation occur. And then Ponter takes Mary to the Neanderthal dimension, where Mary meets Ponter's children, Ponter's male partner, Ponter's late wife's female partner, etc., with predictable angst all around. The whole wavers between mildly interesting and annoying, and it's not really helped by the threatened end of human intelligence (our kind of humans) due imminent magnetic field reversal.