The Transmigration of Timothy Archer by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a re-read for me and perhaps not exactly my favorite of his last and greatest sequence of linked novels that began with VALIS, but it is still profound and beautiful.
Truly, it is a very good book, but it stands as both a major departure from PKD's normal fiction. That's to say, it's a novel that explores all the same themes that he's is known for, but he does it in a very firmly grounded and mainstream way that very much does NOT touch upon his more traditional SF style.
Suicide, madness, drug use, heavy intellectualism comes right to the fore... but rather than deal with it from inside the person most afflicted with it or get funky with some really strange happenings, we follow Timothy Archer's daughter in law, Angel, as she tries to come to grips with the grief of losing Tim along with all of Tim's friends.
Sound simple? Well, grief isn't simple and Tim's life and intellect was pretty fantastic and the impact he had upon everyone was pretty profound. His struggles with faith and his eventually giving up the cloth and going to great lengths, intellectual or otherwise, to discover the real truth about Jesus, has long term effects on everyone.
That's not to say there isn't a lot of really strange things happening here, however, but they're all based on reality and scholarship and the deepest quest for meaning that anyone can or ought to strive.
What if Christianity was a mushroom cult, that systematic drug use and hallucinations WAS the body of Christ? That all the early Christians were, after all, drug pushers? I love it. It's even based on some really impressive scholarship. But beyond that, there's also the idea that this mushroom also opens our minds to see the truth of reality and in so doing, allows us to link-in with the system of the universe and carry on past death for real. So, blithe and humorous assumptions aside, this was the real aspect of faith and the promise... and the tragedy is... that we lost this bridge.
Even so, my takeaway from this book, with this topic, is only a single feature in a very rich tapestry of characterizations, explorations, and fundamental human experience. Don't take my word for it. Read it with the other VALIS novels and get really surprised that this was so mainstream. I know I was.
And now I really can't wait to pick up Radio Free Albemuth again! It, perhaps more than all the rest, is the capstone of all these ideas and it is a firm adventure in revolution and science fiction greatness as well! All the ideas and themes come back in full force.
What a fantastic storyteller!
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