In addition to having a "publishing problem", Robert Sawyer has, IMO a "Neandertal problem" as well. Again, it's not because he exactly negatively portrays Neandertals in his books Hominids, Humans, and Hybrids. His Neandertal characters are very engaging, and he writes very well of them. Still, he has a problem.
Maybe I should call it a "religion problem", because it became very obvious, when I was reading Hominids, that he honestly believes "religion" is bad. So he wrote his Neandertals in such a way that they were very, very "rational" , and never developed spiritual beliefs. Which prompted person of the cloth to write him and ask if "Is it a copout that Neandertals never had religion?" Sawyer gave a very "rational" answer, which reflects his beliefs, far more than it reflects any beliefs about the unknown, Neandertals might or might not have had. And that shows very strongly in his Neanderthal Parallax trilogy as well.
For example, in the very first book, Hominids, Sawyer goes to great pains to deny that Neandertals ever buried their dead. To do this, he apparently has read the now-discredited theories of Robert Gargett, who claimed, in effect, that Neandertal burials weren't "really" burials. Gargett did a useful service in pointing out that, in some cases, what looked like Neandertal burial sites, may have been the result of something else. Gargett was especially hard on the Shanidar "flower burial", which he claimed, in essence, was "just accidental", as was the evidence of flower pollen. Some people still believe this about the flower pollen, however it is odd that five of the six pollens found at the Shanidar site are used as traditional herbal medicinals to this day, and also that these flowers bloom in the spring, whereas the excavation of Shanidar Cave took place in August.
Furthermore, if you know how to look evidence for deliberate Neandertal burial is reasonably easy to determine. Most, if not all, Neandertals that are known to have been buried, are buried in a "flexed" position. People who just "drop dead", or even fall in a faint, never, as far as I know, fall or drop dead in a "flexed" position. The Kebara burial, for instance, is shown buried flexed, minus the skull, but whoever buried Mr. Kebara, thoughtfully left his jaw and his hyoid bone(the bone that attaches your tongue to the rest of your throat so you can talk), for future humans to ponder.
Then there's the famous(or infamous) La Chapelle Aux Saintes fossil. The excavators(two brothers who also happened to be Catholic priests), took a photograph of the fossil. Click the link and look closely at the fossil and see how it lies. All of these practices suggest deliberate burial, which suggests some kind of rituals were involved. If rituals were involved, this practice also suggests, at least intuitively, some kind of spiritual beliefs. We have no idea what these spiritual beliefs, if any, might have been, but rituals of this kind do, at least, suggest some form of symbolism or symbolic thinking. And I don't care who they are, nobody is completely rational when they lose some important or well-loved member of their family or band, or tribe, or whatever.
So the real question here isn't whether it's a "copout" to create Neandertals who never "had religion". The real question here is, how much of our own beliefs or nonbeliefs about Neandertals(or anybody else, for that matter), are we simply "imposing" on poor Neandertals, who aren't here to defend themselves? Of course, one can argue that the same could be said of people who claim they had a "religion", and they would be right. We have no way of actually knowing, absent a time machine. But there is enough archaeological evidence, which, for his own purposes, Sawyer seems to have conveniently ignored, to suggest that they did have some sort of ritual or spiritual beliefs -- about something. We just don't know what.
Finally, we should keep in mind that all of us have "spiritual beliefs" of one kind or another. Heck, even many atheists have "spiritual beliefs". They just don't rest on believing that a deity exists. So, my final question to Mr. Sawyer and other "rationalists" of this type is, why can't we accept the idea that Neandertals had them, too?