Hegira (The Brin Archives Book 1)
A derelict ship, the Hegira, is found floating in space, full of vials of preserved DNA from a vanished planet. The crew of the ship Helven manages to recover data from the derelict ship and learns to replicate the DNA. Jumping ahead twenty years, we meet Karn, a clone of the replicated DNA, who is sent back in time to the home planet of the Hegira on a mission to prevent the total destruction of the planet’s population while not changing the history of the planet.
During Karn’s years on Dyan’ta, he becomes rich and powerful and falls afoul of the king and the new religion, The Faith. Karn’s geneticist, Dr. Rocker, develops a method to save the DNA of Dyan’ta’s population while Karn builds a ship to carry a small crew and the DNA to a new planetary home.
Despite machinations by the king, the new Faith, spies, and assassins, Karn does succeed.
Hegira begins with common themes in science fiction: cloning, suns going nova; the search for a new home planet. However, the book is about much more. One of the most interesting and best developed themes in the book is the search for power, through wealth, through political means or through religion. There is also the theme of salvation, in this case of an entire people.
What I Liked About the Story
While the beginning of Hegira offers no surprises, the book develops depth and complexity during Karn’s sojourn on the planet Dyan’ta. Here Jim Cronin’s plot becomes more of a sophisticated study of politics and religion than of simple science fictional space travel and technology. The plotting of the king, Brach, and his brother, who changes names during the story to reflect his new position, is deftly done. Brach takes the throne by killing his elder brother. Lerit, Brach’s younger brother, renounces any claim to the throne but instead becomes the leader of a new religion that becomes politically powerful enough to challenge Brach’s rule. Karn is seen as even more powerful than the king or the new religion simply because of his immense wealth.
This complexity of plot, involving whole areas of culture not usually addressed in science fiction, makes Hegira quite an outstanding book.
The characters presented are quite human. The reader can picture Brach, a consummate plotter, with a Fu Manchu moustache. Lerit is quite adept at psychology and is able to manipulate the followers of the new religion easily. Dr. Rocker is consumed with guilt over the death of his wife and Maripa, Karn’s “niece” is shocked to discover her origins.
While there is plenty of science and technology in the story, it never overwhelms the plot.
What I Didn’t Like About the Story
Jim Cronin’s aliens, the Birn, are bird-like in that they have talons and feathered crests. That is the only way they are alien. They speak, move, eat, drink, react, and love exactly like humans. In fact, if Mr. Cronin did not have frequent references to their feathered crests, the reader would forget he or she was reading the history of an alien world.
The ending also leaves something to be desired. It is an example of deus ex machine in that, amazingly, Karn has planned for the exact trouble he is in and has the answer ready. The ending – which I will not reveal – has elements that are mentioned for the first time in the last chapter.
At the beginning of the story, when the Dyan’tan ship is found, the Helven commanders mention that the discovery of the DNA is important as it may lead to a cure for a genetic virus introduced by the enemy, the Gorvin. This is the first and last time the virus is mentioned. Is the reader waiting for the next installment to find out about both the virus and the Gorvin or has Mr. Cronin simply forgotten?
I am not usually a reader of science fiction. However, once Hegira got moving and Karn’s life on Dyan’ta began, I truly enjoyed the book. It could have been written about any entrepreneur in conflict with the government and with the more reactionary elements of a culture. Mr. Cronin’s work in this section of the book deserves a second look and perhaps a new novel of the same type.