Transpluto by Herbert W. Franke – A review

I recently read the German-speaking science-fiction novel ‘Transpluto’ by Herbert W. Franke. I took notice of the small book while doing research for my short story ‘Aufbruch ohne Wiederkehr’ (‘Take-off without return’) which participates in a story contest; the contests announcement is to deal with the topic ‘journeys beyond the planet Neptun / the planetoid Pluto’. This kind of space travel is called Transpluto or newly Transneptun (due to the fact that Pluto isn’t classified as planet yet). Back to the book: What initially looks like a space cruise becomes a hijacking of a rescue vessel which is set to a route in the direction to Alpha Centauri.

Summary

In the future space travel within our solar system became usual. Curt is a passenger on a cruise ship which is densely occupied by the rich. Curt can’t remember his embarking on the vessel. To make the trip as convenient as possible, all passengers have been on drugs without their knowledge. The passengers are amused with lightweight parlour games and meditation. The daily schedule and the passengers’ experiences are monitored and controlled by the ships crew and androids.

But among the crew there’re hijackers and Curt is one of them, although he can’t remember. When the ship reaches Pluto, the hijackers assume power of the cruiser and steal a secret life boat vessel, which is then set to a route in the direction to Alpha Centauri. Three of the four hijackers have been on the way to Alpha Centauri several years ago. In order to restore Curts mind, his former colleagues tell him what the expedition once explored: On the track to Alpha Centauri they detected a strange planet-like object and touched down on it. And this planet is genuinely strange. It provides friendly to life conditions, but consists totally of sponge. But what they then experienced can’t be comprehended by man’s mind.

Discussion

‘Transpluto’ is divided into three parts. The first describes daily routine and life on the space cruiser, the second part tells the story of three hijackers and their motivation to steal the vessel, part three handles with explanations what the exploration could be.

As many other commentators I agree that ‘Transpluto’ is a strange book. Due to the fact that Herbert W. Franke is a nature scientist, the book describes physics in detail, e.g. what might happen when travelling near the speed of light. He also describes in which way such a space travel might be organized. To reduce the stress for mans body during acceleration; the crew is put into small coffin-like chambers to secure health. In terms of science Frankes description may be on solid ground, but the book is difficult to read because of his scientific language.

The book got crucially interesting in part three, when Franke handles with alternative theories of world and space. He posits that outside our solar system different principles might rule. This is embedded in a quick side-trip to the ‘Hollow Earth’ theory. This makes the book intriguing. In favour for the explanation of a four-dimensional world he abandons the hollow earth idea. Maybe he thought about linking both ideas, but the connection doesn’t get cleared up during reading.

The characters remain flimsily described. The motivations of the hijackers aren’t really clear. Aims and hopes aren’t explained as well as the reason why they try to reach the sponge planet again.
There’s no connection between man and technology, surveillance and drug use or individualism and collectivism as well as reality and virtuality as the reader might suggest after reading the first pages; but that’s naturally characteristic for Franke! After reading the first pages it seems, that Franke will give a negative prospect of how society will be in the future. He describes drug as means to control man, and goes on at mass media role. Instead of Franke draws up a mysterious universe and leaves the reader quite alone with the described phenomenon. In other words: He rocks our world and doesn’t present an explanation.

Conclusion

I’m on the fence about this book. Franke is doing philosophy to some extent and does designs on alternative world theories. Additionally he’s fine in detailing physics of future technology; but his characters remain faintly and he missed to think about a common thread. And that’s why the book maybe interesting only for fans of Frankes writing.

Herbert W. Franke: Transpluto. Science-fiction-Roman. 1. Auflage, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 1983. 195 Seiten, ISBN-10: 3518373412, ISBN-13: 978-3518373415.

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2 Responses to “Transpluto by Herbert W. Franke – A review”

  1. Rob Randall sagt:

    Hallo Stefan,
    ich bin mal so frei hier einen Kommentar zu hinterlassen…
    einen schönen Blog hast du - und du rezensierst ja sogar zweisprachig :o

  2. Hi Rob,
    yes I do. This the best way to improve your english.

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