The second book of the Transcendental Trilogy picks up right where the last one left off: Riley and Asha, having passed through the Transcendental Machine, are separated from one another and stranded at separate locations across the galaxy. Let’s journey across the Universe with Transgalactic, by James Edwin Gunn.
When Riley and Asha finally reached the planet Terminal and found the Transcendental Machine, a matter transmission device built by an ancient race, they chose to be “translated.” Now in possession of intellectual and physical powers that set them above human limitations, the machine has transported them to two, separate, unknown planets among a possibility of billions.
Riley and Asha know that together they can change the galaxy, so they attempt to do the impossible–find each other.
Let’s talk about trilogies. As one of the most basic storytelling structures, there is a long-established tradition as to how trilogies are supposed to work. The first book introduces the world and the protagonist, details his rise from humble origins to hero, and concludes with his first triumph over evil – while making clear that the greater war between good and evil has only just begun. That war is concluded in the third book, which features the climactic final battle between the hero and the ultimate villain. What, then, of the second book? Well, in a good trilogy, it marks the point where the villains are ascendant – where the Empire strikes back, if you will. But in bad trilogies, the second book is just padding. The conflict engine which drives the story is set to neutral, plot and character development idle, and nothing much happens at all.
Transgalactic is a total snorefest.
The plot is actually not that different from Transcendental, in that it follow Riley and Asha on perilous space journeys, albeit this time towards rather than away from galactic civilization. The difference in circumstances, however, means that none of the previous’s book’s tension carries over. In Transcendental, they were aboard a pilgrim ship packed with strange and exotic aliens, any of whom could have been the Prophet, assassins sent by the conspiracy to kill the Prophet, or just plain harboring some strange ulterior motive all of their own. There was a whole Canterbury Tales / Hyperion Cantos theme, with each alien recounting its story, revealing fascinating details about its race’s outlook on the universe and hopes for or fears of the Transcendental Machine. Transgalactic has none of that. Sure, Asha and Riley each pick up an alien sidekick, Solomon and Rory; but both are from primitive pre-technological races, clearly cowed subservients rather than enigmatic equals to their traveling partners, and both get summarily ditched as soon as possible. Was I supposed to care?
The only thing that could pass for actual plot development is the revelation that the Pedias were behind the conspiracy from the previous book to assassinate the Prophet and destroy the Transcendental Machine. But even that doesn’t end up going anywhere. There’s some talk of making an effort to avoid detection by the Pedia, but the Pedia locates them anyway and chooses not to do anything about them. There’s some talk of instigating a great rebellion against the Pedia, but everyone agrees that a violent uprising would cause more problems than it’d solve and immediately drops the issue. Then Asha and Riley just have a friendly chat with the Pedia; and just like that, everything is resolved. Other trilogy protagonists, take note: next time, instead of trekking all the way to Mt. Doom in the land of Mordor where the shadows lie, consider just politely asking Sauron to loosen up a bit.
You know, if you’d rather your story be boring.
Final Rating: 2/5