When Riley awakens in the Transcendental Machine, he discovers that he is on a planet inhabited by creatures similar to carnivorous dinosaurs. A sentient species also inhabits it, but what interests Riley most is that the Machine builders left a still-functioning starship. Together with one of the natives, he sets out in search of Asha.
When Asha awakens in the Transcendental Machine, she discovers that she is on a planet inhabited by a humanoid species who treats her as a kind of deity. She’s only interested in leaving the planet, and luckily for her, it’s not isolated but there’s a Dorian embassy. Asha convinces the local ambassador to lend her a starship and she, along with one of the natives, sets out in search of Riley.
In “Transcendental”, James Gunn introduced a fictional universe full of sentient species, the mystery of transcendence, and intrigue around the prophet of transcendence. For Riley and Asha, the pilgrimage in search of transcendence ended with the discovery of a Machine that modifies anyone who enters it, eliminating their physical and mental imperfections.
“Transgalactic” follows in parallel the adventures of Riley and Asha after they are separated and sent to distant planets. The second book of a trilogy is always the critical one because it has to develop a story started in the previous book but interrupting it to get to the ending in the next book. In this case, it seemed to me that even an old master like James Gunn fell into the middle book trap. The consequence is the impression that he couldn’t develop its strengths enough to make me forget its flaws.
The first problem is in the opening part of “Transgalactic”, with Riley and Asha awakening on two different planets. They both make contact with a native sentient species and both manage to quickly leave the planet. What happens on those planets, with a period in which they lived together with the natives, could be interesting, but there are no real insights and it’s forgotten pretty quickly.
The story follows the two protagonists but, after the start of their journey, there are a couple of chapters told from the point of view of their traveling companions. Again, this might be interesting but it remains limited to a single chapter for each of them.
The second part of the novel is more linked to the great story that embraces the entire trilogy with a journey that brings various discoveries for the two protagonists. There are discoveries on a personal level but in Riley’s case, understanding what lies behind the mission that was entrusted to him on the pilgrimage is part of the attempt to understand much broader situations related to who really rules humanity. It’s a plot element that goes beyond space adventure, but I found it quite predictable.
In “Transgalactic” it’s good that Riley and Asha’s adventures allow the readers to know that future a little better. This means having new information on technological developments, which include artificial intelligence, and on the human society of that future, with its lights and shadows.
The ending of “Transgalactic” includes an afterword that offers a twist that is supposed to lead to developments in the third book of the Transcendental trilogy. This second book seemed to me a step back from the first one quality-wise, I hope that in the third there’s a recovery to have a strong ending of this trilogy.