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Transcendental    by James Gunn order for
by James Gunn
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2014 (2013)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

James Gunn's Transcendental takes Chaucer's Canterbury Tales out into space, as aliens from diverse worlds embark on a long quest together - and share their stories of life in different skins and on very different planets.

But human Riley, a pragmatist and warrior who grew up on Mars, is not part of this group of starry-eyed idealists by choice. He was abducted by mysterious powers. A very advanced pedia (biological computer) was inserted in his head (its removal would prove fatal) and he was ordered to join this pilgrimage in search of transcendence. He was also tasked to identify and kill the Prophet who was expected to anonymously join the travellers. Those giving the orders want the galactic status quo maintained.

Transcendental opens with an attack on the pilgrims by barbarians on Minal, giving Riley a chance to assess the abilities of his fellows. He notices a very skilled human woman, Asha, and gradually gets to know her better. Alliances form and shift amongst travellers and crew, with trust a scarce commodity, and violence a common occurrence. It's all rather mysterious and slow moving. To pass the time as they journey into the unknown, Riley's core group of (more or less) allies tell their stories, but none reveal their true agendas.

Eventually Riley identifies the Prophet who asks for his help to attain their goal. What should he do? His choice will affect an entire galaxy. I must say that I like more action in my SF reads and there isn't much in this one. What I did appreciate in it though was the imaginative invention of alien races and their evolution. Transcendental is worth reading for that alone.

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