Guest Post by Dave Hyde – Book Review – A Kindred Spirit by e.j. Morgan
A KINDRED SPIRIT by e.j. Morgan. Reviewed by David Hyde January 2011
e.j. Morgan’s recently released novel A KINDRED SPIRIT tells the story of Niki Perceval, a young newspaper reporter from Ottumwa, Iowa who, in 1982, is determined to go to Los Angeles to report on the end of the world. She wants to interview British scientist Dr. John Gribbin whose best-selling book, The Jupiter Effect, predicted the world might end on March 10th 1982. Gribbin’s prediction was based on a complex series of events triggered by a planetary alignment which would throw planet Earth out of kilter. This, in fact, did not come true, as we know. We’re still here.
While Niki was engrossed with Gribbin’s end-of-the-world speech at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles early that year (1982), famous science fiction writer Philip K. Dick was eagerly anticipating a radio interview with another kind of prophet, Benjamin Crème, who was supposedly in telepathic contact with Jesus Christ. This excited the famous writer because in the mid-70s he had himself been visited by strange beings beyond space and time and had experienced weird visions of apostolic times and the imminent return of the Savior. These experiences had such an effect on Philip K. Dick that he spent the rest of his life trying to understand and explain them. He even wrote a novel, VALIS (1978) in which these strange events were interwoven in the narrative. For some of his readers VALIS is a masterpiece that signals a major change in the structure of the modern novel, but for others it is incomprehensible and dismissed as the ravings of a writer gone mad from too many drugs and not enough sleep. But for Niki Perceval VALIS is an unknown. She is searching for it but does not know it even exists. Why, then, is she searching for something she doesn’t know exists?
This brings us to the heart of A KINDRED SPIRIT. For Philip K. Dick experienced a stroke in February 1982 and died on March 2nd of that year—a sad loss for his many fans and the world of American letters. But for our heroine, Niki, PKD’s death began a series of events that would bring her to her own cosmic revelations. For, you see, Philip K. Dick had unfinished business that he must now conduct from the Afterlife, and resolving his business will soon involve solving hers, as well.
But before we can continue with the story of Niki Perceval we must again mention Philip K. Dick because after writing VALIS he wrote two more novels before he died: THE DIVINE INVASION (1980) and THE TRANSMIGRATION OF TIMOTHY ARCHER (1982). These three novels are known as ‘The Valis Trilogy’ and together they not only shook up the world of literature but firmly established Philip K. Dick as the pre-eminent writer of the 20th Century, beating out such greats as Orwell, Kafka, Fitzgerald and the lesser lights championed by the New York Literary Establishment throughout the century.
THE TRANSMIGRATION OF TIMOTHY ARCHER figures prominently in e.j. Morgan’s novel since both her novel and THE TRANSMIGRATION OF TIMOTHY ARCHER involve fictionalized versions of the late Bishop of California James A. Pike’s efforts to communicate from beyond the grave. Like PKD, Bishop Pike was a real-world figure, one whose controversial ideas about Christianity caused his censure and resignation as Bishop of the Episcopalian church. Philip K. Dick and Bishop Pike were friends in life and shared an interest in theology. During a visit to the Holy Land in 1969, Bishop Pike went in search of the historical Jesus and early gospels suppressed by the Roman Empire after the official establishment of Christianity as the state religion by the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century Anno Domini. What he found is unknown because Pike got lost in the Israeli desert and died during his quest. PKD’s novel, THE TRANSMIGRATION OF TIMOTHY ARCHER, speculates on Pike’s search and interweaves subtle fictional ideas of Pike’s discoveries in Judea with efforts by his surviving wife to contact him in the Afterlife.
In A KINDRED SPIRIT ideas about what Pike searched for and may have found are also key points. But here, Philip K. Dick, alas, now dead also, is tasked by “the Big Guy” to act as guardian angel to young Niki Perceval who, unbeknownst to herself, has a quest and a task of her own to fulfill. Success, for both, will require that her task combine with PKD’s own unfinished business.
But our heroine Niki has no knowledge of Philip K. Dick, has never read any of his stories and, in fact, has never even heard of him. She knows she must write something – a vague ‘peace treatise’ – that will greatly affect the world. Then one day in 1982 she phases out of normal reality and sees a vision of ancient Rome overlaying the commonplace buildings of Ottumwa and a voice in her head tells her the time is now! She is mightily upset. What’s going on? Is this the work of PKD as he tries to get the girl to pay attention to his ethereal self and dovetail their separate but entwined missions? Probably, because Phil in the Afterlife is excited with his new-found spiritual freedom and, despite certain “directives” (no direct contact, no sudden appearances in physical reality, no scaring the living) he is eager to try out his new wings and get on with his task.
Complications arise when PKD is joined by his friend, Bishop Pike, and together the two spirits try to influence Niki efforts. The strange auditory anomalies continue: The Empire never ended! Nag Hammadi! Tractates! Not yet but soon! She feels she must get away, get out of Ottumwa and on the road to Los Angeles. She trades in her prized Datsun Z-car for a hippie van and hits the road. But it’s a long way from Iowa to California and the road takes her to New Mexico where Niki falls under the spell of the Land of Enchantment and encounters shamans and charlatans who all in their fashion try to help her on her way. She has more strange visions and meets another spiritual guide who takes her to hidden places in the mountains where ancient Indians lived and left their own magical traces on the land. Meanwhile, from their omniscient place in the spiritual realm Dick and Pike continue their sometimes inept and hilarious efforts to gain the attention of a distracted Niki.
What is reality? This is a question Philip K. Dick asked in many of his stories and it is a central question in A KINDRED SPIRIT. Many readers of PKD are fascinated by his wonky novels and the revelations that fly from the written page and which leave us stunned at the end. His life, too, has become a part of science fiction. Michael Bishop was the first to write of PKD in the afterlife with his novel THE SECRET ASCENSION or PHILIP K. DICK IS DEAD, ALAS (1987) and this is a tradition that e.j. Morgan continues in her novel. To his fans, PKD is known as Phil and he is thought of as an absent friend, sadly now passed on, but a man whose work has changed the world. As a reviewer once wrote: “This is Philip K. Dick’s world and we just live in it.” Any writer who would write of Phil in fiction or fact has a lot of study to do before they can even begin – there is just so much to comprehend let alone understand in his life and stories. It is no easy task to produce a novel of such outstanding quality as e.j. Morgan’s A KINDRED SPIRIT; obviously, she is one of the few post-PKD writers who have made the effort to truly understand this great American writer.
As host of the Philip K. Dick Festival, Colorado 2010, I had the pleasure of meeting e.j. who goes by Jami Morgan to friends, and speaking with her over the three days of the festival. Like all dedicated fans she has a depth of knowledge of all things related to Philip K. Dick and her lucid insights into his life added greatly to the enjoyment of the hardy fans who attended the festival. I read her novel afterwards with great anticipation and was not disappointed. A KINDRED SPIRIT is a wonderful novel that personally affected me greatly. Indeed, like one of Phil’s novels A KINDRED SPIRIT opened my mind to things unconsidered before: the meaning of signs and symbols, of time itself, and what it is to be alive. I cannot recommend this novel highly enough. For all fans of Philip K. Dick it is a novel that must be read and for the casual reader it is one that will give great enjoyment as they follow Niki Perceval’s quest into the sands of New Mexico in search of what is really real.
The novel A Kindred Spirit was released September, 2010, through ZiaLink Ink, a small press in New Mexico. It is a trade paperback, 350 pages, ISBN: 978-0982761908, retails for $14.95, but is often $10 – 12 on Amazon. It can be ordered through the author’s website: www.AKSbook.com. This is e.j. Morgan’s first novel, but she is no stranger to writing or to PKD. She was a news reporter and personal friend of Paul Williams, Literary Executor for PKD’s estate and Editor of The Philip K. Dick Society Newsletter, who had discussed publishing the book through Entwhistle Press before his health declined a few years ago. Morgan is anxious to donate some of the proceeds from sales of AKS to his care.
Dave Hyde, host of The Philip K. Dick Festival, Colorado 2010 is author of ‘PINK BEAM: A Philip K. Dick Companion’ (Lulu Press 2007) available here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/pink-beam-a-philip-k-dick-companion/1254787