Transcendental by James Gunn (book review).

‘Transcendental’ by James Gunn is the first of two books, with the latest, ‘Transgalactic’, being released this year after a gap of three years. The nice lady publicist at TOR provided me with the first that was originally published in 2010/2013 to get me in the mood to read the sequel.


You’re thrown in the deep end from the beginning when Riley and a mixture of aliens and one other human, Asha, are on a cable space elevator capsule on the way out of a planet. A bunch of them form a protective alliance, apart from Asha, who doesn’t trust anyone. If anything, it’s something Riley might have learnt from as, apart from nearly being attacked in a sleep period, the cable breaks and the capsule is thrown into space. Thankfully, they are rescued by Captain Hamilton ‘Ham’ Jones and his spaceship, the Geoffrey, but things are no better there when a dead crew member is found in Riley’s cabin. Said person was preparing to kill Riley and even he says it couldn’t have been himself because why would he be so stupid as to leave someone dead in his own cabin. Riley actually knows the Captain but is worried by events and seeks out his cabin to see what is in his log. Things aren’t helped when the starship is jumped across the galaxy. The passengers and crew have then got to work together to protect themselves in a starship they have no control over but which is taking them on their pilgrimage to the Transcendental Machine, assuming they can find it.

Breaking up these events are the various passengers telling how they came to go on this pilgrimage. This is where Gunn really excels by describing alien cultures and Tordor’s is certainly an odd elephantine species.

Other aspects are more akin to ten little Indians where people are killed or incapacitated and Riley has to uncover what is going on. It is this element that is less than revealing as there are few clue for you to work it out for yourself. As such, I have to be careful what I write as too much can become spoiler.

Something that isn’t really apparent, until the second chapter, is that although the dialogue is present tense, the text is past tense which is a little disconcerting. Considering Jim Gunn has written many novels, I would have thought he would known better than that.

In some respects, there is almost a rush towards the end which, when you consider all the breaks for personal stories along the way, makes for an almost anti-climax at the end. Then again, the sequel might just prove this is all build-up and for that, you’ll have to wait until next month.

GF Willmetts

April 2016

(pub: TOR/Forge, 2010. 302 page hardback. Price: $25.99 (US), $29.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-3501-2)

check out website:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.