Science Fiction Book Review

The Transfinite Man

by Colin Kapp
Reviewed date: 2023 Dec 30
Rating: 1
160 pages
Original title The Dark Mind
cover art

A brief reaction
Elements of The Transfinite Man echo Alfred Bester's classic novel The Stars My Destination. In particular, the quest for revenge, a teleporting main character, and a man on fire. Beyond that, however, The Transfinite Man is its own story—and that story begins with Failway.

Failway Terminal cut across the old sector of the city like an ugly red house-brick thrown by a vandal on to a Lilliputian town. Almost a square mile of the old town had been obliterated to make room for the monstrous hundred-storied hulk of architectural impotence which was the Terminal building.

Author Colin Kapp never actually explains what Failway is. It's a corporation with power that rivals the governments of the world, and its one and only product seems to be hedonism. Failway (is that supposed to be a play on railway?) has tunnels to other dimensions, and it's in these alternate dimensions that Failway has constructed pleasure worlds where the down-and-out citizens of earth can spend their lives, either in pleasure or in providing pleasure. There are six levels of Failway, each with correspondingly greater excesses of hedonism. The book is stingy on details, but as best I can tease out, these are the levels:

  • Failway One - an Elysian fields world modeled on Greece and Rome
  • Failway Two - an oriental paradise patterned after ancient Japan and China
  • Failway Three - "turbulent wilderness and excitement"
  • Failway Four - "soft, sweet seductive sensuality"
  • Failway Five - "brash, brazen passions"
  • Failway Six - "complete, insanely accurate and believable dream-worlds of fantasy, pleasure and escape"
From the naive nymphs of Failway One to the oriental coquettes of Failway Two, the pattern traced wearily down. Failway Three, with its sharp-eyed, sophisticated adventuresses was replaced by the skillful seductresses of Failway Four and in turn by the gilded, padded courtesans of Failway Five. Failway Six dispensed with dreaming and smacked the hateful cast of cold reality over the souls of men.

Our hero is Ivan Dalroi, a private investigator who's been hired to look into Failway. He's also got a personal vendetta against Failway, so it's a good job. But my goodness, to investigate Failway marks him as a target of assassination for Failway's security team, and he also manages to get in trouble with the Black Knights (who are analogous to maybe the CIA or MI6.)

As the book progresses, it becomes clearer (well, nothing is clear) that neither Failway nor Dalroi are what they seem. For one thing, Failway seems to be controlled by non-human entities. For another, Dalroi is unkillable: put him in a fatal situation and his subconscious mind rescues him, even if it requires interdimensionally teleporting his body. Dalroi is not quite human either, it seems.

Dalroi's uniqueness is confirmed when the Black Knights reveal that Dalroi had been sentenced to death (for supposed crimes) but that the government had been unable to successfully execute him. Instead they turned him over to the Black Knights who reprogrammed his mind and let him go. Dalroi is a weapon aimed at Failway.

The denouement explains everything. (Well, it explains many things.) Homo sapiens is the descendent of an ancient race known as Destroyers. For the safety of the rest of the galaxy, the Destroyers were quarantined to Earth and had their terrible mental powers suppressed. However, occasionally a throwball will appear, with his latent mental powers unlocked, and for this reason the watchers created Failway: it's a trap for latent Destroyers such as Dalroi.

And now Dalroi must die. His terrible powers, paired with his dark destructive mind, are too dangerous. But—surprise!—during the titanic mental battle with his adversaries, Dalroi destroys the dark part of his mind. He is alive, with his powers intact, but he is no longer a Destroyer and no longer dangerous. They let him go.

But surprise! It's a trick. The dark mind still lurks, and Dalroi begins to awake—and is vaporized by a blaster. The galaxy is safe.

The end.


Ivan Dalroi
Zdenka (Zen) / watcher
Harry Dever
Inspector Quentain

Baron "Iron-fist" Cronstadt
Professor Hildebrandt/Car Carra na Leodat
Presley (religious dude)
Monitor of the Black Knights
Doctor Gormalu / field agent

Malmud the Strangler
Michael Neasdon

Chief of Failway Security Peter Madden

Black Knights
A.F.I. (artificial-fear-induction)
Black Knights underground HQ

Ombudsman Walter Rhodes
Chief Commissioner Fritz Van't Sellig

Korch (works for the Monitor)


Destroyers => Homo sapiens

Burning man, mental powers of teleportation, revenge => shades of The Stars My Destination

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