The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1982) by Philip K. Dick

TheTransmigrationofTimothyArcherI’m experiencing a moment of short-term book amnesia as I stare at this post, which, I think, comes from reading too much Philip K. Dick, too quickly, at too cursory a level. Especially considering the few big and noteworthy elements of this book, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer should be more memorable than other PKD novels, especially within the VALIS framework: it’s PKD’s last novel before his death, the “official” third of the VALIS trilogy, and it’s atypical for its first-person, female protagonist. The story is a fictional working of the strange life and unnecessary death of PKD’s friend, the Bishop Jim Pike -again, more real-life nonsense that PKD is trying to make sense of by adding more nonsense. (This all reminded to me thanks to the Wikipedia plot summary).

Angel Archer, the rare PKD female protagonist, is the strength of this novel, though not from any skill PKD brings to the table. PKD narratives– be they third- or first-person– are written exclusively in PKD’s limited voice, making criticism of the lack of nuance in PKD’s women characters less potent when, in actuality, all of his characters are drawn from the same rotating cast of four to five stock voices. In Transmigration, Angel Archer benefits from PKD’s lack of variety, emitting a neutral, albeit cynical tone– eg. like any other PKD protagonist. She is prosaic in her dealings with other characters (even while high and/or paranoid), absent the irritating nagging/sassy/flirty squawks that male writers tend to bestow upon their beloved female characters. Angel’s voice, an accident of neglect, is a refreshing alternative to most male-written women in SF. This is a woman I would lunch with, if she weren’t so intense. (And she desperately needs my lunchtime camaraderie to break away from that unhealthy codependency on her dead husband’s father).

But that’s about all I have to say about it. Nearly halfway through the Book Punks’ Exegesis with a side of fiction challenge and I’m drawing the conclusion that comprehending PKD, particularly the VALIS sequence, is completely out of reach without the willingness to engage with his novels with the same intense metaphysical fervor he brings to the page. I just can’t muster up the enthusiasm. His books are these curious, contradictory things where things are both linear and skewed, superficial and oblique, shoddy, yet figurative. But to summon a PKD-like fervor requires tiresome, focused attention to blunt, but minor– and/or majorly confused– symbolic detail, supplemented by drugs and/or a religious conversion, and yeah, a psychedelic pink light piloted by Roman-era martyred AI would probably help, too.

TheTransmigrationofTimothyArcher2More important, to explain my unwillingness/inability to engage with PKD, is simple transference. At this point, after seven novels, a brick-sized chunk of short fiction, and one-third of The Exegesis, I feel like I know Phil as a person, as a family friend: that entitled guy we know from high school who kind of fell apart after partying too hard in college and now sometimes thinks the CIA is watching him, and other times thinks Satan is. Although that’s supposed to bring little to bear on his novels, I am that annoying reader who tends to believe the author is the most important character in every novel, and discovering who they are via the similarities and peculiarities of their oeuvre is one of the most enlightening aspects of reading vintage fiction. But because I get that sense of familiarity with PKD, rather than with his work, I feel both dismissive and compassionate toward him, as if I’m there mostly just to humor him; ignoring his most outrageous episodes while making sure someone brings him some lunch.

Anyway, here’s this month’s BINGO card:

PKDBINGOTheTransmigration (1)-page-001

Hey! No breast-ogling!

Onward to The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965).

6 thoughts on “The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1982) by Philip K. Dick

  1. This is definitely the best of the so called trilogy.It isn’t science fiction,or even worst, speculative fiction.Does that matter? I think we have Norman Spinrad to thank for that,who told him to leave the SF tropes out.Some very strange things do go on though,as you would expect of him,that does make you wonder what he’s doing behind the apparently sane surface of the novel,even though much of it is subjective,such as the nature of schizophrenia.Is it insanity or the pathway to truth?Is everything what it seems,or is ordinary life very strange? He is perhaps adopting a modernist view of arguing against realistic fiction,yes?

    I think that the views formed on his treatment of women in his books,is misleading and misinformed.I think in contrast to their minor placement in earlier SF,he included quite a strong cast of leading female characters in his early sixties books,such as “The Man in the High Castle”,”We Can Build You” and “Dr. Bloodmoney”,that was exponential at the time.The difference between these and TTOTA,is that with Angel Archer,we have a symphathetic woman that is different to most of his previous female characters that were vindictive,controlling,predatory or dangerous.Juliana Fink in “The Man in the High Castle,might be an exception to these though.

    TTOAA is a clear-headed,well structured,uncluttered novel,written in a precise and uncomplicated prose,without the clinical theology of “Valis” and “The Divine Invasion”.It’s what they should have been like.

    Good luck with your ascent to “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch”.It might make you a fan,I don’t know.In it,you’ll find I think,a woman who could be an early model for Angel Archer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That sounds promising about Three Stigmata. I’ve long been eager to try Man in the High Castle and Dr. Bloodmoney, so I’m really looking forward to those, too.


      • I’d say you really have been missing out on what are novels of rare quality in SF,considering all the long years you’ve been reading it.The upside is,that it will make it all the sweeter,as you still have them to look forward to,unlike me and others,who read them earlier.


  2. jameswharris says:

    Philip K. Dick was one of those tortured souls whose life would have been a lot easier if they made just one assumption: there is no metaphysical level to reality.

    Liked by 2 people

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