Sunday, 17 June 2007

The Transmigration of Timothy Archer - Philip K Dick

The Transmigration of Timothy Archer is the last book written by Philip Dick, and was published after his death. While Dick is most famous for his science fiction, he also wrote significant amounts of non-sci-fi, most of which is very good (The Man in the High Castle, In Milton Lumky Territory).

The character of Timothy Archer is based on James Pike, the late Episcopalian Bishop of California and a close friend of Dick's. A charismatic and highly successful church leader, Timothy Archer is also an intellectual, who finds his faith in Jesus shattered with the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls in Israel. Following the suicide of his son, he begins to believe as fervently in the occult as he once did in Jesus and feels as obliged to spread the message of his new faith as passionately as he once preached Christianity.

The story is told through the eyes of Angel Archer, Timothy's daughter-in-law, an atheist and product of 1960s Berkley, California. In addition to their family ties, Timothy and Angel respect one another as intellectuals and have many conversations touching on philosophy, literature and history. Angel charts the downfall of Timothy Archer which eventually leads to the death of three people: his son (and Angel's husband) Jeff, his mistress (and Angel's best friend) Kirsten and finally Timothy himself.

In addition to being a well-written tragedy, Dick also paints a picture of Californian culture in the 1960s - including the intellectual community, destructive drug use and more liberal attitudes towards relationships. I found it a fascinating, absorbing and accessible read.

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