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Transcendental (The Transcendental Machine) Hardcover – August 27, 2013
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From Publishers Weekly
Fascinating, frustrating conundrums are the core of this novel by one of the oldest living SFWA Grand Masters. Riley, a disillusioned soldier of fortune, has been sent on a pilgrimage in search of a machine rumored to offer transcendence, which here means fulfillment of one's potential. Riley's anonymous employers are worried that faith in transcendence might disturb the Galactic Federation's uneasy balance of power following a devastating war between humans and aliens. His orders are to destroy the machine and kill the mysterious prophet guarding it. But Riley is only one among a crowd of human and alien pilgrims aboard a rundown spaceship; all are suspicious of each other, and only a few are willing to explain themselves in lengthy tales that might or might not be true. Gunn keeps the action dancing nimbly through uneasy alliances, abrupt betrayals, and sudden violence as the ship sails through the starless void toward its destination. Perhaps inevitably, the conclusion is anticlimactic, making the novel feel like the first installment of a much longer story. (Sept.)
*Starred Review* Gunn, whose science fiction novels include the classics Star Bridge (1955) and The Immortals (1962), hasn’t published a new title in about eight years, which is too long for a voice as strong as his to remain silent. Considering how good this novel is, readers will probably forgive him his lengthy absence. The story involves a human ex-soldier, Riley, who’s coerced into joining an interstellar, multirace pilgrimage in the hopes of identifying the Prophet, the man or, perhaps, the alien being who promises transcendence to another spiritual plane at the end of the long journey. Identify the Prophet, and then kill him—that’s the plan. But as Riley begins to learn more about his fellow passengers aboard the dilapidated spaceship Geoffrey, he begins to question his mission and his own feelings about transcendence. Very loosely structured like a far-future Canterbury Tales (the ship is named after Chaucer, and individual chapters recount the stories of some of the key characters), with literary allusions to works as varied as T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy, the novel offers a thoughtful and thought-provoking examination of the delicate nature of personal faith and the power of human (and nonhuman) relationships. An ambitious and resoundingly successful novel from the resurgent Gunn. --David Pitt
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