Sequel to what was possibly Gunn’s best ever, Transcendental (2013)—and second of a projected trilogy.
Previously, we learned that a galactic civilization, comprising Johnny-come-lately humans and many alien species, mostly tries to avoid war and get on with business despite the stultifying bureaucracy that seems to run things. War veteran Riley’s powerful and mysterious employers required him to prevent aliens from achieving transcendence through the agency of an ancient alien machine. Among Riley’s fellow travelers was Asha, a human female with inexplicable capabilities. When after great trials Riley and Asha finally reached the Transcendental Machine, they found it instead to be a matter-transmission device, one that transmits only a being’s essence, leaving the flaws behind. Now, having been "translated" by the machine, Riley and Asha possess superior intellectual and physical powers but find themselves on separate planets, in unknown locations, with no means to communicate. Riley, deposited on a jungle planet inhabited by stone-age carnivorous dinosaurs, discovers an ancient spaceship left by the machine builders and sets off, determined to find Asha and learn who his erstwhile employers are and what they intend. In alternate chapters, Asha, transmitted to a planet inhabited by tiny, seemingly sexless humanoids, borrows a ship from the elephantlike Dorians, who fortunately maintain an embassy there, and heads into space intending to find Riley and learn who’s really controlling the Federation council and why they’re enforcing mediocrity and risk avoidance. Both threads peter out. The creamy-smooth narrative, emphasizing the smothering sense of bland predictability, serves simply to inch the plot toward the final installment.
Transcendental was a very tough act to follow, and, not altogether unexpectedly, Gunn falters.