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Valis Paperback – July 2, 1991
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The first of Dick's three final novels (the others are Divine Invasion and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer). Known as science fiction only for lack of a better category, "Valis" takes place in our world and may even be semi-autobiographical.
The proponent of the novel, Horselover Fat, is thrust into a theological quest when he receives communion in a burst of pink laser light. From the cancer ward of a bay area hospital to the ranch of a fraudulent charismatic religious figure who turns out to have a direct com link with God, Dick leads us down the twisted paths of Gnostic belief, mixed with his own bizarre and compelling philosophy. Truly an eye opening look at the nature of consciousness and divinity.
From Publishers Weekly
The quest for God is the binding theme of this trilogy. The "funny and painful and sometimes brilliant" VALIS(anagram) finds protagonist and Dick alter-ego Horselover Fat unable to reconcile human suffering with his belief in God. Invasion is a "fascinating and highly readable" vision of Armageddon, blending New Testament, Kabbalah and Dick's own worldview. In Transmigration , Angel Archer reminisces about her father-in-law, Timothy, an Episcopal bishop obsessed with a set of ancient scrolls that shed faith-threatening new light on Jesus: "This finely crafted, odd but compelling book demonstrates Dick's great erudition, keen human insight and subtle ironic sense of humor," said PW.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
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 writing is excellent but the topic and characters are so odd that I quit after about 60 pages. The dialog between the two personalities inhabiting a single body grows very tiresome. Perhaps if you are REALLY into metaphysical ramblings you'll like this (it's very well done and actually a bit witty) but for me it just wasn't worth the investment in time.
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."
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.