The Transmigration of Timothy Archer is the final book of Philip K. Dickís life and career, the third in his Valis trilogy, and one of his best. Thatís saying a lot; he wrote many notable science fiction novels which are among my personal favorites. Many of his novels have been made into moviesóBlade Runner, Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly, to name a few. While two of Dickís earlier novels rank higher up on my favorite SF books list (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Ubik, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer is an excellent novel that is well worth reading. While itís not really science fiction, it deals with many themes that Dick explored in his SF novels: like religion, death, drugs, sex, and alternate realities. Itís a retelling of a book written by Dickís close friend, the Bishop James Pike, told from the first-person point of view of Angel Archer, Bishop Timothy Archerís daughter-in-law.
The novel commands attention from the very first sentence, about Angel attending a seminar conducted by another important character in the book, Edgar Barefoot. Then there are the references to The Beatles and John Lennonís death; I, like millions around the world, was extremely saddened when Lennon was murdered.
Barefoot conducts his seminars on his houseboat in Sausilito. It costs a hundred
dollars to find out why we are on this Earth. You also get a sandwich, but I wasnít
hungry that day. John Lennon had just been killed and I think I know why we are on
this Earth; itís to find out what you love the most will be taken away from you,
probably due to an error in high places rather than by design.
I donít care what genre you like the most; I didnít care that this novel isnít science fiction after I read that first paragraph. Itís the writing of a damn fine author, my only real criteria for any book. The genre in such cases matters but little to me. I was drawn into the story from the very beginning, and the rest of the novel never failed to captivate my attention.
Timothy Archer is the American Episcopalian Bishop of California. He has his own take on certain parts of the Bible, even questioning the validity of the Holy Ghost. This learned man faces a heresy trial because of his view on the nonexistence of the Holy Ghost, but he feels confident that his analytical skills, logic, and reason will win the day. Archer/Pike advocates for the rights of women, homosexuals and transgender people, while getting to know and becoming friends with such towering figures as Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy.
Dick writes about the everyday struggles with faith and more mundane things, and how everything fits into the Grand Scheme of Things (if there is one). Angel Archer suffers genuine skepticism and doubts; when Timothy dies and Edgar Barefoot claims that the bishop lives within him, she doesnít initially believe him. The actual Bishop Pike, like Bishop Timothy Archer, dies of exposure in Israelís Dead Sea Desert. Dick does a spectacular job of writing from a womanís perspective, and his depiction of Angel is realistic. She is an intelligent woman just trying to get on with living while those around her die, commit suicide, and get placed in mental institutions. Through her, Dick references famous poems, songs, and works of literature. The author was no lightweight; he often quotes lines from operas and literature in his novels.
The Transmigration of Timothy Archer is a masterpiece, the culmination of Philip K. Dickís writing career. A novel of joy, of sorrow, of life, of death, it tackles the Big Questions most major works of literature deal with: what the meaning of life is, if there is in fact any meaning. Highly recommended to fans of Philip K. Dick and to anyone who like to read fascinating, thought-provoking, page-turning fiction.