Review: Transcendental Tales, James Gunn 2017 – 2018.
I did not know until I read Michael W. Page’s Saving the World Through Science Fiction: James Gunn, Writer, Teacher, and Scholar (which I’ll be reviewing two posts down the line) that James Gunn has a law named after him. Gunn’s Law says “Sell it twice”.
Now, I have certainly encountered “fix-ups” before, novels stitched together from shorter works first published in magazines. Most of Gunn’s novels were constructed that way. And I’ve certainly seen novel excerpts published in science fiction magazines.
However, this is something I haven’t seen before: a series of short stories based on chapters from a novel.
Most of these stories are variations of chapters in Gunn’s Transcendental. As Gunn stated in his essay on the Transcendental Trilogy and how it came to be, “Thought Experiment: Space Opera and the Quest for Transcendence” in the January/February 2018 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction, he expanded the individual human and alien pilgrims into more “traditional narratives”. Oddly enough, the fullest explanation of when the Transcendental Tales stories are set, about a 1,000 years in the future, is in the issue with their second to last appearance.
I read a couple of these after finishing Transgalactic and the rest after finishing Transformation.
I’m not going to cover these tales in a lot of detail. I’m not particularly interested in textual variant criticism. Author and theme studies are more my thing.
Nor am I going to address the merits of each tale as individual works.
I will say that, divorced from their original context in Transcendental, these stories do help you appreciate the inventiveness Gunn showed on the individual pilgrim tales. When reading the book, one might feel a bit of impatience as one wants to get through each individual story to get back to the main story of the pilgrimage to find the Transcendence Machine and the intrigues and dangers of that journey.
I don’t know how they would appear to someone unfamiliar with that novel. I would think they were interesting but unsatisfying because, of course, they leave in the air the fate of each pilgrim and don’t answer the question whether they will find transcendence. Some would have led me to seek out the novel. Others wouldn’t.
There are some new background and character bits that are of interest for those who have read Transcendental and my reviews will be from that perspective.
All the chapters I mention are from that novel.
“The Escape of the Adastra: Asha’s Story” (Asimov’s Science Fiction, May/June 2017) is a fairly significant modification of the “Asha’s Story” chapter. The beginning three paragraphs seem to be new. The first paragaph talks about the pursuit of the Adastra after it escapes Federation Central. The second paragraph talks about the launch of the Adastra, the first human starship to leave Earth’s solar system. Asha’s father was born on the ship, and he mentions being taken to a room of Earth relics that the original crew frequently visited in their homesickness. The second generation only visited when forced to by their parents. The third – Asha’s generation – forgot them. The third paragraph expands the depiction of the voyage and alters and expands the opening of “Asha’s Story”. We get more detail of the building and inhabiting of Federation Central. The account of the relationship between Asha and Ren is expanded with added dialogue both on the ship and during their escape. Significantly, Asha, in “Asha’s Story ”, says
“Ren was in love with me, and I thought I was in love with him, although it may have been only sympathy for his plight and admiration for his dedication”.
This story has Asha wondering if she loves him or if she just likes his resolve and wonders if she can make Ren love her. The two stories differ markedly in their conclusion. This one gives details on their escape, their attempts to get a message back to Earth about the Galactic Federation’s plans to wage war on Earth and Ren contemplating that war is inevitable but, maybe with the death and destruction ended by a truce, there may be rewards. It ends with Ren noting that not knowing what will happen to them is exciting. “Asha’s Story” ends with the account of the Adastra landing on the planet of the spiders, battling them, and Asha entering the Transcendental Machine and becoming the Prophet. Continue reading