Hegira is the first book in The Brin Archives series by Jim Cronin and brings us a superb combination of world building, alien races and time travel.
Members of the Skae species find a derelict alien spacecraft with DNA samples onboard. From these samples two are able to be cloned, one of whom grows up to be Karm. Karm is trained by one of the Skae to go back in time to help save his species (the “Brin”) from extinction.
The main thrust of the plot is what and how Karm orchestrates events and people in order to complete his mission.
Naturally, nothing is easy…whilst he’s back on his home planet of Dyan’ta, Karm needs to deal with a monarch with cut throat political intentions and whose younger brother is the leader of an increasingly powerful and influential religious sect. Will power and greed cost the Brin their future?
Not so final destination
Hegira is mostly a destination based time travel novel and deals with how Karm acts to preserve the original time line. He doesn’t flit around from one time to another, or fiddle with the nuts and bolts of a time machine – but he is continuously aware of the impact of his actions of today on tomorrow.
Admittedly my first thought after a couple of chapters in was “Ah – another pseudo time travel novel and not a ‘proper’ one with the time travelley bells, whistles and (un)murdered grampas 🙁 ” But like a blob of wet clay spinning on a potters’ wheel, Hegira morphs majestically into a juicy time travel novel with some serious clout!
I shouldn’t knock the destination side of things. Going back in time and saving a species from extinction – now that should be pretty griping – right?
Despite my momentary misgivings about the nature of time travel in this novel, Hegira had me gripped from the outset!
Time travel element
Where Hegira‘s focus is on being in a new temporal destination, there is plenty for the die hard time travel enthusiast.
What I particularly like is how the intricacies of time travel are addressed in a delicate undertone which sets this novel apart from many of the destination-based novels out there.
The methodology is touched on only lightly (and actually comes in early in the novel) – but adopts an approach which probably could be justified in science.
It’s explained to Karm (and therefore us) that cosmic strings can be used to travel in space. They can also be used to travel in time (hinting at space-time entanglement) though there is a measure of uncertainties involved. Closed time curves mean that trips in time are one way.
The nature of events in time is also addressed, being described as like ripples on a pond. With Karm restricting his actions to the outer and therefore less important ripples, there is little danger in upsetting the future. At first I liked this idea. We commonly read of time being like a flowing river or setting up waves into the past or future. Ripples (actually a kind of wave) is another variation. The idea of small events being washed out and rendered insignificant in comparison with the main river of time flow is also commonplace, but putting the emphasis on naturally diminishing ripples I thought was good.
But after a little thinking I wonder if it’s misplaced – wouldn’t the time traveller be the stone thrown into this pond of time, and therefore by design be right at the epicentre of temporal chaos? Or am I making the cardinal mistake of taking this analogy literally?
Actually, on the subject of temporal disasters and upsetting the time line, author Jim Cronin has put a grand mechanism in place to avert it – keep an eye out!
In time travel terms, Hegira is about predestination, or at least maintaining it. Then again, if destiny needs to be maintained, then it’s not destiny, is it…?.
Sit enough monkeys on enough typewriters for enough time, and eventually one of them will be reproducing the works of Shakespeare.
The point of the above? That statistically speaking, anything that goes around will at some point come round again. And I think the same can be said of great ideas in science fiction.
Reading Hegira brought to mind several ideas which I’ve read in other novels or seen in movies. To be clear – I’m not pointing a plagiaristic finger, but rather highlighting the fact that Hegira casts its net far and wide when it comes to encompassing genre, style and content.
For example, reanimating / cloning alien DNA is not a new idea (e.g. Species film) but there’s a different spin on it in Hegira. Karm’s life on the planet Dyan’ta whispers d4 (Sherrie Cronin), and Contact (Carl Sagan), Timeshaft (Stewart Bint) and the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams) will certainly be in the minds of those who have read them.
The most obvious similarity to another work of fiction is the Skae’s use of Star Trek’s “Prime Directive”. And here it’s clear what I’m on about – although popularised by Star Trek, the prime directive is just a normal idea; it was around before Star Trek. The Prime Directive isn’t Star Trek’s.
At its most basic, a parent who lets go of the hand of their child whilst they’re learning to walk (and letting them fall), employs the prime directive – watching, but with no interference. The professor watching over students having an increasingly heated discussion, and letting them carry on to see where it leads and what ideas will come out of it, employs the prime directive. It’s all around us.
Author Jim Cronin takes the prime directive and applies an original twist to it. It goes one way; where the more advanced Skae don’t inform Karm of their technology, they can learn new cloning processes and techniques from the Brin – and apply this new knowledge. Brilliant!
It’s clear that Jim is a master in finding new angles in existing ideas – as well as creating his own – but these need to find a place where they can find a home. Jim’s created a world and a universe in which these ideas can form and blossom.
The Brin world of Dyan’ta is such a place. Naturally it has its own clock / calendar system (26 hours a day, 10 days a week – so we know that this is indeed an alien world). Vegetation has blue leaves (so no chlorophyll; no photosynthesis but some other form of bio energy extraction) and animals differ from those on Earth.
World building also extends to financial, political and social angles. Don’t tell the kids, but there are Brinnish (Jim – is that a word?) swear words! There’s even a sport (“rings”). As in many other aspects, details don’t spoil the narrative – these things are just there and in place. Compare this to the nonsensical quidditch crap in Harry Potter where the rules don’t even make sense (everything done by the team counts for nothing if Potter gets a seeker ball or something).
Time travel methodology aside, less is more! 😉
Ah yes, and of course there’s technology; faster than light travel, for instance – and time travel! 🙂
My only complaint is that I didn’t have a good handle on how the Brin species looked. I know they have feathers, talons and heels…but no wings?
Overall I thought the writing style of Hegira is really well done! As I mentioned earlier I was immediately drawn into the characters and the plot which is very impressive considering that there’s a huge backdrop against which the novel is set.
There’s a huge variety of aspects packed into this novel; everything has its (equal) place, and there’s no area which seems weak in comparison to others.
The Brin world of Dyan’ta really comes to life; does it really exist?
Rating * * * * *
Hegira by Jim Cronin earns an easy 5 stars. It’s well written, covers a phenomenal range of subject matter, and (importantly) deals with many aspects of time travel too!