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VALIS (Valis Trilogy) Paperback – October 18, 2011
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From the Back Cover
Dick is one of the ten best American writers of the twentieth century, which is saying a lot. Dick was a kind of Kafka steeped in LSD and rage. Roberto Bolano
What is VALIS? This question is at the heart of Philip K. Dick s ground-breaking novel, and the first book in his defining trilogy. When a beam of pink light begins giving a schizophrenic man named Horselover Fat (who just might also be known as Philip K. Dick) visions of an alternate Earth where the Roman Empire still reigns, he must decide whether he is crazy, or whether a godlike entity is showing him the true nature of the world.VALIS is essential reading for any true Philip K. Dick fan, a novel that Roberto Bolano called more disturbing than any novel by [Carson] McCullers. By the end, like Dick himself, you will be left wondering what is real, what is fiction, and just what the price is for divine inspiration.
Over a career that spanned three decades, Philip K. Dick (1928 1982) wrote 121 short stories and 45 novels, establishing himself as one of the most visionary authors of the twentieth century. His work is included in the Library of America and has been translated into more than twenty-five languages. Eleven works have been adapted to film, including Blade Runner (based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), Total Recall, Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly.
About the Author
Over a writing career that spanned three decades, PHILIP K. DICK (1928–1982) published 36 science fiction novels and 121 short stories in which he explored the essence of what makes man human and the dangers of centralized power. Toward the end of his life, his work turned toward deeply personal, metaphysical questions concerning the nature of God. Eleven novels and short stories have been adapted to film, notably Blade Runner (based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), Total Recall,Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly. The recipient of critical acclaim and numerous awards throughout his career, Dick was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2005, and in 2007 the Library of America published a selection of his novels in three volumes. His work has been translated into more than twenty-five languages.
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Those who do comprehend all the gnostic, Jungian, Platonic, Taoist and so on strangeness of PKD's break-from-reality theology are not really in for a treat, but rather a descent into darkness. Of course, that's why this writer's fans love him. It's a cerebral, surreal ride alright--but it is disturbing.
After all the suicide, mental illness and theology, a genuine plot begins to develop in the second half of the book. It's a cult and second-coming story. God has called special people to whom he communicates through pink lights and a film, made by a rock musician, called 'Valis'. It's weird and the characters are annoyingly wrapped up in their own narrow word-view.
There is, in the end, a humanity to it all. The novel forces you to question your own irrational beliefs and stupidity. It also educates you on quite a wide variety of esoteric theology and philosophy. I loved this stuff when I first read it in college. Now, decades later, I don't think much of it. But I do appreciate how it inspires creative, analytical reflection in its readers.
Perhaps Philip K Dick's greatest quote ever appears in this book. It occurs when the author himself is challenged to define 'reality,' to which he responds,
"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away."
This book is semi-auto-biographical, based on the strange and tragic events in the latter years of Phil's life. And it's pretty weird. And kinda depressing. With no real conclusion. But I liked it enough to reread a couple times. Required reading for anyone interested in the man himself and his tragic mental breakdown.
If you want to know more about Phil's personal life I recommend A Scanner Darkly which is also semi-auto-biographical and details the drug abuse that led to these events.
The book appears to be autobiographical to a large degree. Fat (= "Dick" means "Fat" in German; PKD uses some German and Latin in this book, which he mostly gets right) essentially goes trough a lengthy schizophrenic episode, including hearing voices and a botched suicide attempt. He takes the voices he hears as information projected into his head from a large alien rational agent, or VALIS (vast active living intelligent system), and works hard to connect this experience to ancient theology. He, Fat, just as Dick in real life, is very well read in Eastern and Western philosophy and theology and tries to find a place for what is happening to his mind in these modern and ancient bodies of ideas. The most parsimonious explanation he can come up with is that all history between 70 AD and 1974 is pure invention - the (Roman) empire has never ended.
But during all this theorizing about Jesus' disciples and information gathered from distant alien sources, Dick (Fat) comes back to his (their?) daily life, which is often quite depressing. One of his friends commits suicide. Another one dies of cancer, and the approach of death turns her into a bitter and nasty woman. Fat gets divorced and thrown in the state mental institution after his suicide attempt, and finds his life in shambles after he gets out. Often the transitions between the astral philosophical musings and the descriptions of a call by his ex to remind him about his child support payments happen in one paragraph.
A very unusual book. It made me feel uneasy about the downward spiral Fat's life takes, while at the same time thoroughly thinking trough the outlandish theories he comes up with. It made me purchase the text about the Presocratic Greek thinkers Dick often quotes and I now really want to learn more about psychiatry as well.