Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Transcendental (Transcendental Trilogy, #1)” as Want to Read:
Transcendental (Transcendental Trilogy, #1)
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview


(Transcendental Trilogy #1)

3.32  ·  Rating details ·  615 ratings  ·  108 reviews
Transcendental, an epic, high-concept space opera, is a Canterbury Tales of the far future in which beings from many planets hurtle across the universe to uncover the secrets of the legend of Transcendentalism. Riley, a veteran of interstellar war,  however, is not journeying to achieve transcendence, a vague mystical concept that has drawn everyone else on the ship to thi ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published August 27th 2013 by Tor Books (first published January 1st 2013)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.32  · 
Rating details
 ·  615 ratings  ·  108 reviews

More filters
Sort order
I had high hopes for Transcendental, the new novel by veteran SF author James Gunn, based on the publicity copy from publisher Tor. Unfortunately, my expectations were not met.

For the details, please read the full review on my site Far Beyond Reality!
Leo Robertson
Feb 11, 2019 rated it liked it
There's mad praise on this book's back cover but... I couldn't picture any of it, then I come on here and see it's part of a trilogy? I thought it was supposed to wrap up.

Padded with backstories of a motley crew of unlikely aliens. That look like ferrets and flowers and elephants and stuff. Would they, though?

Why were they doing this again?


This book purchased by me for me for an honest review and a lark, and I got both :)
Lilyn G. | Sci-Fi & Scary
Oct 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-fiction
Transcendental was a fun book! A group of travelers on a rickety spaceship to find a prophesied device which will help life forms transcend. Of course, not everyone actually wants to find this device. Also, you know, there’s at least one person on board that wants to find either the prophet or the device and them go ker-plooey. It’s not long into the trip when alliances start being made, discoveries revealed, and galactics start dropping like flies. Plus, the captain’s a toe-rag. So, obviously, ...more
Fantasy Literature
Sep 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
If you took The Canterbury Tales, Ship of Fools, The Origin of Species, and And Then There Were None, mixed them all up and added a pinch of Asimov, Brin, Blish and maybe a few others, you’d have something approximating James Gunn’s newest novel, Transcendental. While those are some quality ingredients, and there were some long moments of pure deliciousness, in the end the blend felt a bit off in its proportions (I wanted more Chaucer) and the novel left me feeling a bit unsatisfied.

Lest one thi
Apr 16, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fantasy
While a relatively recent release, this is definitely Old School science fiction. The 1950s savor is so strong that I envisioned the entire story in black-and-white, stripped down to warehouse staging, a horn-heavy soundtrack and a cast of dedicatedly earnest actors striding stiffly toward their marks. No tech. No tricks. No ninja-matrix fight choreography. Straight up roundhouse punches to the trademark alien glass jaw. This is science fiction from the era that practically invented it, which on ...more
Nov 05, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: books-i-own
I had a bit of an up and down experience with this book. After the first few chapters I was groaning about how bad this book was going to be and dreading reading the rest. It then started to impress me with its ability to combine Canterbury Tales with Darwinian evolution, and well to be frank...aliens. I will say though that the writing style wasn't really up my alley, and I thought the premise of the concepts and overall plot needed to be explained a bit more. I felt as though I was thrown into ...more
Sep 03, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: owned-ebook
Rating: 2.5: Didn't like enough to recommend.

My feelings about this book are divided, so I'm going with a Pros and Cons List:

1) Interesting Premise
2) Doesn't start with overt exposition
3) Interesting characters
4) Potentially vivid universe

1-9) Not a single positive listed above was fleshed out.
10) Feels like an outline of a multi-novel arc

In short, this novel got be excited to start off, then left me feeling disappointed and unfulfilled. This is my first book from this author, and I ma
Aug 11, 2017 rated it it was ok
I wish this had better writing. Concept was interesting but not well fleshed out.
Feb 02, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
This sci-fi novel by long time author, is set in a multi-species, space faring galactic civilization, where human beings are the newcomers. This is a definite pulp feel to the novel, where the human appearance of course sets off a war. Also, as part of the book is a story of a great alien machine and the quest to find it. One of the quest ship's passengers is on a mission to find and stop one of the passengers, rumored to be a Prophet who has the ability to interact with this machine.
The narrati
Bryan Schmidt
Mar 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars, a masterpiece of craft which only stumbled a little in the middle with some muddiness and dragging then picked back up witha wild ride to the end. Great raed by a true master.
Sep 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2013
originally posted at

Transcendental is the latest book written by Hugo award winning author James Gunn. When I found out that James Gunn was termed the Grand Master of Science Fiction my hopes were directly raised and was awaiting a stellar story! James Gunn was the founder of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction and professor emeritus at the University of Kansas. Since starting his writing career in 1948, James Gunn has written
Megan Baxter
Aug 02, 2017 rated it it was ok
A little while ago, I decided to try an experiment, as I am fond of doing. I looked at my Top Ten lists from the last few years, and decided to check out "read-alikes" of my favourite books of the last little while, using NoveList's handy sidebar for suggestions. So far, the results have been mixed. I think this is the fifth book I've read as a "read-alike," and there has really only been one that I've loved - Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union as a readalike for Jo Walton's Farthing ...more
Mar 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
I don't usually write book reviews but I was saddened that this book only has 39 reviews on Amazon. The other two books in this trilogy have even less, with the last book having 3 reviews. I do not read many science fiction books and gravitate more towards fantasy and urban fantasy. That may change because I really liked this book. I wish I would have know it was a trilogy before reading this first book. I may have enjoyed it a little more. I was getting very impatient with the first half wantin ...more
Jan 14, 2014 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Scientifiction fans; time-travelers from the Golden Age
Recommended to Alan by: I didn't even know the guy was still writing!
Grand Master of Science Fiction James Gunn's 2013 novel Transcendental begins with a universal experience—the tedium and claustrophobia of a long journey among strangers—before abandoning the cozy environs and close-knit star systems of the Milky Way for the agoraphobic emptiness between its spiral arms. This is old-school, big-picture stuff—hard SF, vast in scale, its mind-expanding vistas of space and time showcasing multifarious alien races, exotic technologies, and planets full of ruins olde ...more
Joe Karpierz
Feb 15, 2014 rated it liked it
James Gunn is quite the standout in science fiction. He's a SFWA Grand Master, a Hugo Award winner, and is a past president of SFWA, among other things (this information from the "About the Author" at the end of the book). And yet, I'd never read anything written by Gunn up until now. I'd heard some good things about this book, and a few things that piqued my curiosity. Since the Hugo nominating period is open, I thought I'd pick up this 2013 book and give it a try, with the idea of nominating i ...more
Jessica Strider
Mar 30, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: sf
Pros: variety of aliens, excellent pacing, interesting mystery

Cons: impersonal protagonist, telling rather than showing makes it hard to feel immersed in the story

Riley joins a mixed group of alien and human pilgrims chasing after hints that an alien machine has been discovered that helps entities transcend. But not everyone wants such a device found, for the galaxy is enjoying a hard won peace, a peace they believe this machine will upset.

I was told that this was a sort of Canterbury Tales told
May 17, 2015 rated it liked it
Rumors have hit the civilized galaxy that someone or something has cracked the secret of transcendence, and a crew of desperate pilgrims have set off on a voyage to find it, not knowing if their co-ordinates are true, or their colleagues can be trusted. The easiest way to describe this story is that it's Cantebury Tales with aliens (Which is also the description of Dan Simmons' Hyperion, which is nothing like this book besides also being Cantebury Tales with aliens. But never mind). Chapters on ...more
David Chess
Jun 01, 2014 rated it it was ok
Disappointing. The basic premise is somewhat promising: a group of beings from various species and planets are on a pilgrimage in search of a Machine that may or may not exist, and may or may not offer some sort of transcendence. The ship they are traveling in and its crew are themselves suspect, and one of them may be the Prophet who started the rumors of the Machine in the first place. Each tells a story, Canterbury-Tales-like, along the way.

But the execution falls short of the potential. The
Oct 07, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: sf-fantasy
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Fábio Fernandes
James Gunn is a master of the trade. For works as The Listeners, he deserves all the respect of literary and SF communities. Transcendental, however, is a work of later years, and it should be read as such.

The story - a pilgrimage of humans and an assortment of aliens to the ends of the Galaxy and maybe beyond in search of a supposed Transcendental Machine - is full of clichés, but the clichés are well-worked, and Mr. Gunn belongs from a time when most of them were fresh and full of life.

It wa
Matt Enlow
Aug 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
One of my two favorite books of the summer. Sci-fi Canterburry tales. The ending was abrupt but worked for me, and I was fine just leaving it there.

Found out a month later that it's the first in a trilogy.

I experienced the audio version of this book through my local library, was happy with the narration.
Oct 08, 2013 rated it liked it
The specific stories for each alien race are fantastic. The main story is a bit less so. In particular, each character feels the same. They worry about the same things, think the same way, consider the same things. Each one is particularly wordy and overly analytical. I found it difficult to believe (even boring) that every character considered every situation the same way.
Chris Laskey
Nov 12, 2013 rated it liked it
initially I liked the old school direction and writing but it just couldn't sustain itself and ultimately fell flat. The ending in particular was rushed and clumsy ending somewhat disappointing. There are seeds of a very good work but as such it stands as an ok read. Not a keeper.
Oct 22, 2014 rated it did not like it
This novel reads like a parody of a science fiction story. They might as well have flown in a saucer with green aliens. At a time flush with authors of mind-bending, horizon-expanding speculative fiction, Mr. Gunn may want to try a new genre. Perhaps obituaries?
Nancy Adams
Oct 30, 2013 rated it liked it
I liked the main character and the Canterbury Tales like plot, but found some of the aliens' stories less than interesting and was very disappointed by the ending, which felt more like a whimper than the bang this reader was primed for. Still, some interesting and thoughtful moments.
Roger Neyman
As is usually my practice, this review is for the entire series. My policy is to not read books out of series that are not complete, and my review is meant to be useful for readers that will get through all three books if they start.

I found the title intriguing, and approached this book with the hope that might actually engage some of the questions of the meaning of transcendence in an SF context. No such luck. As a fallback, I might have found a well-written, engaging story. Again, no such luc
Oct 05, 2018 rated it liked it
It's an interesting idea, but doesn't quite work in the execution for me. Somehow, despite meeting aliens that evolved in vastly different environments all over this arm of the galaxy, the aliens all seem rather human. Well, very human, in fact. There does seem to be something essential, according to Gunn, about having sexual reproduction, where there is a subjugated female who is bound to rape. He realized this, I think, and tried to dodge it self-consciously, specifically with one species for ...more
Johan Syahriz
Jan 07, 2019 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 17, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: sci-fi
The Canterbury Tales in space seemed like an interesting concept and I was a couple of chapters into this one before I remembered I didn't much like the original all that much either.
This one's OK. The imagination that went into creating the back stories behind the various alien worlds is pretty impressive but that's definitely the high point.
Low points include:
A forgettable main character (loner / drifter, former military / part-time gumshoe) ... pretty much a cliche.
The female lead, although
« previous 1 3 4 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Central Library S...: Transcendental - Postponed 1 4 Jan 16, 2015 06:35AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Ultra Thin Man
  • In the Mouth of the Whale (The Quiet War, #3)
  • Data Runner (Data Runner #1)
  • The Stuff of Nightmares (Sherlock Holmes)
  • Dealing in Futures
  • By Light Alone
  • Angel Stations
  • Deep Navigation
  • The Clown Service
  • Child of Fortune
  • iD (The Machine Dynasty, #2)
  • Empty Space: A Haunting (Kefahuchi Tract, #3)
  • A Darkling Sea
  • Breath of Iron (Clockwork Agents, #3)
  • A Thousand Perfect Things
  • The Forever Watch
  • The Weight of Numbers
  • The Children Star
See similar books…
American science fiction author, editor, scholar, and anthologist. His work from the 1960s and 70s is considered his most significant fiction, and his Road to Science Fiction collections are considered his most important scholarly books. He won a Hugo Award for a non-fiction book in 1983 for Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction. He was named the 2007 Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master ...more

Other books in the series

Transcendental Trilogy (3 books)
  • Transgalactic (Transcendental Trilogy, #2)
  • Transformation (Transcendental Trilogy, #3)
“Everyone is his or her own messiah.” 4 likes
“A man is what a man is; he recognises his deficiencies and tries to conquer them or plans around them.” 3 likes
More quotes…