I was a precocious reader when I was young. Later, in my mid-twenties, I read a lot of pulp horror. Some of it was intelligent and challenging, but a lot of it was pure entertainment. Which is fine, but I often crave more.

As a teen I read Ballard, Ellison, Malzberg, Spinrad, Aldiss, Farmer, and other mind-expanding science fiction writers. I liked them all, but when I read my first Philip K. Dick novel, it was a revelation. It was The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Reading the book was like ingesting a psychedelic drug. Like any budding addict, I immediately needed another fix.

Dick published a lot of books, and I read nearly every one of them in a feverish period of a year or two. I liked them all. Some seemed to be rush jobs he did in order to pay the rent, but others are certified masterpieces. Every one of his works is worthy of a reader's time. They all have provocative ideas and intriguing plots.

I was especially moved by VALIS when I read it in 1981. The book is what later became known as a meta novel. Dick himself appears as a character named Horselover Fat. Philip, in Greek, means fond of horses, and dick is a German word for fat.

VALIS, and subsequent works by Philip K. Dick, are attempts by the author to come to grips with what he genuinely believed was a experience he had with God. The second book is called The Divine Invasion, and the third is The Transmigration of Timothy Archer.

Dick wrote a number of mainstream novels in the late 1950s, but he failed to find a market for them. So he returned to the science fiction genre to get his ideas across to readers. The literary books were published later, when critics and established literary figures realized the importance of his work.

The final book published by Dick in his life was The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. It was not science fiction, but a new mainstream work of literary fiction. Sadly, just as he was beginning to see real respect and success, he passed away.

The Transmigration of Timothy Archer is loosely based on the life of Dick's real-life friend, the controversial Episcopalian Bishop of California from 1958 to 1966, James Pike. Pike shocked the world by publicly questioning the credence of Jesus Christ as the physical embodiment of God. He was an alcoholic and reportedly a user of recreational drugs. He explored occult subjects and advocated modern changes in the church. After his resignation as Bishop, Pike ventured to the desert in the Holy Land, searching for physical evidence of the origins of Christianity. Taking only two bottles of Coca-Cola with him, Pike perished without finding the answers he desperately sought.

The Transmigration of Timothy Archer is a portrait of a lost generation in despair. The protagonist and narrator of the novel is Timothy's daughter-in-law, Angel. She is an over-educated, underachieving, aging hippie. The war was over. Nixon was gone. While there were still, and always will be, injustices to protest, the counterculture turned to introspection. Grasping at straws to find some sort of spiritual significance, they bore psychic scars of paranoia, anxiety, and of course drug use.

Timothy Archer is a charismatic figure who affects everyone in his orbit. He, Angel, and other academic burnouts can sling metaphors, quote classic poems and plays, cite historical events, but they are adrift and drowning in a sea of indecisiveness and doubt.

It becomes a farce. People want to believe in something so badly it often becomes wish fulfillment. Or they are so stoic they ignore blatant evidence of otherworldly phenomena when it is right in their faces. Inability to determine reality from illusion is a recurrent theme in Dick's fiction. It usually leads to madness and grotesquely obsessive behavior.

The Transmigration of Timothy Archer is sometimes abrasive. It's often cruelly funny. Philosophical discussions abound. Theology is pondered and debated at great length.

I read this book when I was a mere twenty years old. I like to think I understood it, but there is a universe of difference between a twenty year old on the verge of adulthood and a sixty year old man approaching the end of his life.

I loved The Transmigration of Timothy Archer then. Today, I consider it to be one of the finest books I have ever read. Easily in my top ten of all time. Philip K. Dick was finally escaping the restraints of genre fiction and with this novel was becoming one of the best living writers. It's too bad he is known by a lot of people from action movies that distort the concepts of his work.

Dick was clearly a troubled person. His well-documented drug use had to have taken a toll. His mind was overflowing with maddeningly complex ideas and emotionally crippling paranoia. His acute intelligence and unbridled imagination came with a price. A mind, a soul, can only take so much. He had two strokes in February 1982 and died just two months after the publication of The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. He was fifty-four years old.

To the uninitiated, I probably would not recommend this one as a starting point. I'd suggest A Scanner Darkly, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, or maybe Time out of Joint.The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch would be perfect. It would be wise to ease into the Dickian mindset before plunging into the thematically connected VALIS trilogy. Just don't expect easy or light reading. The work is challenging, but infinitely rewarding.

Written by Mark Sieber

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