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Book Review – VALIS by Philip K. Dick

I fell out of love with VALIS by degrees. When I first read it in 1999, at the age of eighteen, I was entranced. I distinctly recall starting to read it late in the evening and continuing almost until dawn. But over the years, on subsequent readings, I have grown increasingly uneasy with the status of VALIS as one of PKD’s best novels. Now, on perhaps my fifth reading, I cannot say that I share the high opinion many other PKD-philes have of this book.

What is VALIS about? Herein lies one of the problems. The ‘plot’ (what little of it there is) goes something like this: during the 1970s, a man by the name of Horselover Fat has a strange experience, in which he is bombarded by a pink beam of light. Fat spends years trying to work out what has happened to him, spinning outlandish theories with his friends Phil Dick, Kevin and David. During the course of the novel, we are treated to some stories of Phil Dick/Horselover Fat’s unsuccessful attempts to save the suicidal Gloria and terminally ill Sherri, as well as the aftermath of his own suicide attempt. Eventually, the four friends go to see a film called “Valis,” which seems to corroborate much of what Horselover Fat experienced during March 1974. After this, the four friends go to meet the filmmaker, Eric Lampton, and his wife Linda, who claim to be beings from another star. They also claim that their two year-old daughter is a Saviour in a line that includes Elijah, Jesus Christ and a few others. Phil Dick and Horselover Fat realise that they are one individual, not two, and the three friends return to their homes, whereupon they learn that the two year-old Saviour has died. There’s more to it than that, of course, but that’s the bare bones of the actual plot.

In many respects, VALIS picks up where A Scanner Darkly leaves off. Both novels are about the after-effects of the sixties drug subculture, and both address the themes of suicide and despair. Crucially, both books also detail a ‘splitting of personalities:’ whereas in A Scanner Darkly, Bob Arctor ends up narking on himself, in VALIS Philip K. Dick himself splits into two personalities, one rational and the other deranged. In fact, there is a novel that comes between these two in terms of composition: Radio Free Albemuth, which PKD originally called “Valisystem A.” That book (which wasn’t published until 1985) also addresses the theme of split personalities, although it does so in a slightly different way. Thus I find it useful to speak of a ‘split personality trilogy’ – A Scanner Darkly, Radio Free Albemuth and VALIS.

In VALIS , PKD seems to be spinning a metafictional web that appears, in some respects, to take the form of quasi-autobiography. After all, those who know PKD’s life will be aware that he had an incident with a ‘pink beam of light’ in February and March of 1974. Many of the characters in VALIS appear to be based on real people in PKD’s life: Beth is based on PKD’s fifth wife Tess; Kevin is K.W. Jeter; David is based on Tim Powers and so on. But PKD has presented VALIS as fiction, and thus I will read it as fiction. Therefore, I will not make any further attempts to align events in the novel with events in the writer’s life. Crucially, PKD has created the alter-ego of Horselover Fat, whom he uses as a speaker in the third person to gain “much-needed objectivity” (p 11). I’m sure that PKD enjoyed blurring the boundaries between fictional worlds and ‘real’ ones.

The bulk of VALIS basically consists of a series of conversations and interior monologues on the nature of the divine. This is in response to the ‘pink beam of light’ incident. All of this is quite interesting, but it’s not really a novel in the normal sense. What few events there are have taken place in the past, mainly dealing with the consequences of suicide and attempted suicide. It’s not until around 150 pages into the book that we get the first forward movement in time: namely the watching of the film ‘Valis.’ Previous to this we get a number of bizarre and outlandish theories. “Every day he developed a new [theory], more cunning, more exciting and more fucked.” (p 36) Most of VALIS basically consists of extended discussion on these theories, which include but are not limited to: the universe as information; the universe as a hologram; a two deity cosmology in which an inferior creator wreaks havoc on the world while the superior deity tries to fight back; humanity as descended from a race of three-eyed beings from Sirius; two realities interposed – one being Rome circa 70 C.E, and the other the U.S. in 1974; a notion of the universe as a ‘Black Iron Prison’ from which we cannot escape. All of this is very interesting, rather bewildering, and ultimatly (for me anyway) less than enlightening. And I suppose therein lies the crux of my argument against VALIS.

At one stage, there is even mention made of the fact that Horselover Fat’s theories about the universe tie in with PKD’s own primal loss: that of his twin sister Jane, who died at six weeks of age from malnutrition. This is interesting, as it helps to unravel the complexities of PKD’s theories. One strength of the early part of the novel is the juxtaposition of these outlandish theories with the terrible realities of life in the ‘Black Iron Prison.’ There is one moment early on where Fat is drawn back from his world of ideas by a woman trying to retch into a tub in front of him. This is in a psychiatric ward. This juxtaposition of the high and low is further reflected in the relationship between Horselover Fat, the creator of wild fantastical ideas, and Phil Dick, the skeptical science-fiction writer. This is an effective technique and may serve as a kind of ‘self-interrogation’ of PKD’s mind. One might speculate that this inner dialogue might be seen to represent the two hemispheres of the brain: one rational, the other deranged; one grounded in a mundane reality, the other residing in a higher world of ideas. But of course, with PKD, the question always becomes, “How can I tell whether any of this is real?”

What can we take at face value in VALIS? It’s really hard to say, as PKD as an authorial voice never confirms nor denies the truth of what is described. For example, there is an extraordinary conversation between Horselover Fat and Dr Stone, a psychiatrist at the mental ward. This conversation covers a vast number of highly eclectic and intellectual topics relating to the nature of Gnosticism and reality itself. It’s a stunning piece of work, but it places several demands on the reader in terms of ‘suspension of disbelief.’ Are we to believe that this conversation actually took place as written within the world of the novel? Are we to interpret it as the deranged fantasies of Horselover Fat? There is, of course, no way of telling. Herein lies PKD’s greatest strength as a writer and possibly one of the weaknesses of VALIS. We simply don’t know what to believe. Now, a young and very enthusiastic PKD reader, such as I was at the age of eighteen, is inclined to accept even the most outlandish of ideas as feasible, but an older and more tempered PKD reader is given to wonder. What the hell is VALIS about, anyway?

What I am trying to say here is that I now have some reservations both about the usefulness of the ideas presented in VALIS and also about the quality of the novel as work of art. In VALIS , PKD has almost but not quite abandoned the vehicle of fiction itself as a means to present his ideas. Much of what we have here could just as easily be presented in essay form. There’s precious little plot in VALIS , virtually no attempt at characterisation or description of settings etc. Now I know that many PKD acolytes are inclined to claim that PKD was ‘beyond’ the realms of proletarian fiction by this stage of his life and career, but I remain skeptical. PKD wrote this as a novel because that is what he did for a living. As a novel, I’m not sure that VALIS can be deemed a success. As a snapshot of PKD’s mind, however, it is fascinating. This is both an attempt at autobiography and a ‘selection from the exegesis,’ long before Lawrence Sutin’s In Pursuit of Valis.

My sense of unease with VALIS is reflected in my attempt to write about it. Am I stupid to question this book? Am I unable to think on the level required? But the book itself seems to question its own findings: “Fat’s encounter may not have been with God, but it was certainly with something.” (p 120) As proof of the ‘reality’ of VALIS (or God, or Zebra), PKD cites an experience from his own life: his miraculous diagnosis of his infant son’s serious medical condition. We are on uncertain ground here. How much of this is to be believed? Even if we do believe it, we are being asked to consider something beyond the scope of the book itself, i.e. Christopher’s condition and subsequent recovery. This seems perilous to me. The notion of three-eyed invaders from Sirius is particularly difficult to swallow. This reflects nothing if not Kurt Vonnegut’s time-defying Tralfamadorians from his novel Slaughterhouse Five. There’s only one difference: Vonnegut was joking; PKD, apparently, isn’t: “We are talking about Christ. He is an extra-terrestrial life form which came to this planet thousands of years ago.” (p 125)

At long last, the ‘plot’ actually gets going when Horselover Fat, Phil Dick, Kevin and David go to see the film ‘Valis.’ This psychadelic film seems to corroborate much of Fat’s ravings, and suggests that the U.S. circa 1974 is in fact a ‘Black Iron Prison’ which God is trying to reconquer. (As a small aside, the U.S. circa 2008 seems to reflect nothing if not a Black Iron Prison. Most of PKD’s fears have been confirmed.) After the film, the four friends go to see the filmmaker Eric Lampton and his wife. It turns out that they believe they are God-like aliens. Furthermore, their two-year old daughter is in fact a Saviour in a line including Jesus Christ. At least, at this late stage, the novel starts to question the veracity of these wild claims. Horselover Fat and Phil Dick merge back into one entity, and the (now reduced) group of friends retreats back to their homes. Not long after, it transpires that the infant Saviour has died, which seems to cast the entire framework of ideas into doubt. And then Horselover Fat makes a late re-appearance, leaving California to search for the next Saviour around the world. He sends postcards.

I like something that Phil Dick says to Horselover Fat so much that I will transcribe it in entirety here: “‘There is no ‘Zebra’, I said. ‘It’s yourself. Don’t you recognize your own self? It’s you and only you, projecting your unanswered wishes out, unfulfilled desires left over after Gloria did herself in. You couldn’t fill the vacuum with reality so you filled it with fantasy; it was psychological compensation for a fruitless, wasted, empty, pain-filled life and I don’t see why you don’t finally fucking give up.” (p 245) I guess here we are getting down to my beliefs, not PKD’s: I am more inclined to believe this ‘version of events.’ But I suspect that VALIS is as much a book the reader helps to create as any other. You can take or leave anything you find here.

Wow, I’m a little shocked that I’ve done what is essentially a hatchet job on this novel. I hope I haven’t offended anyone. It’s not that I think that PKD had lost his mind, nor had he lost his abilities as a writer. His last novel, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, serves as a testament to that. The latter novel is beautifully written, sombre, searching and controlled. VALIS, on the other hand, is unruly. The character of Phil Dick himself admits at one stage that the material is starting to get the better of him. It’s this lack of control and lack of shape that troubles me. Well, there it is: I’ve said what I wanted to say about VALIS. I would appreciate your comments, but please be kind. Don’t flame me for daring to doubt the genius of Philip K. Dick.

  1. November 24, 2008 at 11:42 pm

    I know what you mean. I still like Valis very much and, no, you didn’t offend me at all because (a) I like to compare different point of view and (b) you might be right.

    One of the things I like about Valis is that it seems to be leading to some profound revelation, but by the end of the book, it’s like we’ve come full circle around to knowing nothing again. I have experienced that feeling in real life and PKD did a good job of replicating that feeling in me through Valis, which is one of the things a book should do. It struck a chord in me. Of course, in those days, I used to get high quite often. Something might seem beautiful and profound when one is high, and the next day, it’s just a shiny aluminum can. You wonder, what was so special about it? But just because I no longer see something profound in the aluminum can, that doesn’t mean I was wrong about it the first time. It’s like the old Zen saying, “Before I became enlightened, I chopped wood and carried water. After I became enlightened, I chopped wood and carried water.”

    I will say this: Philip K. Dick was quite a writer! What other books have you read by him? I recently read Time Out of Joint and The Divine Invasion. A few years ago I read UBIK, A Maze of Death, and a few others. I think PKD was an idea man. His prose is not the most poetic in the world, but he put some really good concepts out there. The movie world is finally catching up.

  2. guysalvidge
    November 25, 2008 at 7:34 am


    PKD is not a writer, PKD is THE writer. He remains my favourite author, both of ideas and (at times) of beautiful prose. The Man in the High Castle is beautifully written, which shows what the man could do given enough time. I’ve read all of his books – all 50 of them – and there are probably around 10 of these that are essential. Off the top of my head:

    The Man in the High Castle
    Martian Time-slip
    The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
    A Scanner Darkly

    These five are clear cut for me, but then it gets harder from 6 – 10:

    Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
    The Transmigration of Timothy Archer
    A Maze of Death
    The World Jones Made (underated – in my opinion)
    Time out of Joint
    Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said
    Now Wait for Last Year
    Doctor Bloodmoney

    Okay, that’s 13. I would read those, and then read all of PKD’s mainstream novels (about 8 of them). I’d say there are around 20 PKD books that aren’t essential, although opinions do vary. I’ve written reviews of some of these books on this site. Thanks again for your comment – I always appreciate talking to PKD fans.

  3. Lord Running Clam
    June 24, 2009 at 3:29 am

    Guy, I think you should have gone with your first feelings on reading the book – you stayed up all night entranced continuing to read to near dawn.
    On analysis anything falls apart due to the process. In analyzing one breaks a thing into components, tries to understand the components and at the same time one attempts to describe what is the structure that holds it all together as an object – or story. Then the analysis is reconstructed to conform to some over-arching scheme or theory. But if one is trying to understand something that is outside the bounds of a given theory then any reconstruction must surely be incomplete. You later in your review say that:
    “…Are we to believe that this conversation (between Horselover Fat and Dr. Stone) actually took place as written within the world of the novel? Are we to interpret it as the deranged fantasies of Horselover Fat? There is, of course, no way of telling. Herein lies PKD’s greatest strength as a writer and possibly one of the weaknesses of VALIS. We simply don’t know what to believe.”
    But I think that this is not a weakness of the novel but, as you say, one of its great strengths, indeed, the fact that we don’t know what to believe is the foundation on which the novel is based.
    PKD’s burning goal was to be a major mainstream writer. One analysis of VALIS would have it that PKD was so maniacal on this point that he conspired with himself in some life-long effort to attain this goal. If you look at VALIS as being written by a man who had had some strange experiences (the events of 2/3-74) and who had in his prior novels (A SCANNER DARKLY and RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH) turned first to a solidly mainstream approach with sf trappings in A SCANNER DARKLY and then discovered the writing device of including the author as a character in the story in RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH, then we can get an idea of what PKD was doing in VALIS. This was a mainstream novel in which PKD declared his genius.
    PKD doesn’t mess around; the very first words in the novel are “Horselover Fat’s nervous breakdown began the day he got the phonecall from Gloria asking if he had any Nembutals”, followed by the details of Gloria’s madness and then mentions Fat’s suicide attempt in the then near future of the book in 1972.
    What is insanity? It can be defined as a way of apprehending the world that does not accord with the general apprehensions of one’s society. What is at stake here is the meaning of reality itself – a dangerous subject for anyone, insane or not. For PKD in his quest to write that great American Mainstream Novel he had to embrace this subject of ‘what is reality?’ once again. With that very first line in the novel he jabs at the heart of consensus (mainstream) reality. Horselover Fat – who or whatever that is! – has a nervous breakdown. OK, but, in reality no one has a name like ‘Horselover Fat’ so why does such a name exist? And this Horselover Fat had a nervous breakdown. With a name like that we are not surprised! And strange drugs come into the story immediately and we all know the dangers of strange drugs and their actions on perception and interpretation of reality. One sentence and the reader is thrown into confusion; there will be no solid ground in this novel, that’s for sure. One sentence and already we as readers are presented with three different realities:
    1. The name ‘Horselover Fat’ – it accords with no known naming conventions in Western society.
    2. A nervous breakdown is a failure to cope with reality.
    3. Nembutals are a drug that numbs and blunts the effects of reality; they’re downers that help the user maintain themselves within a harsh reality – an unwanted reality.
    VALIS goes on from there, of course, and we soon find out that Horselover Fat is actually the author, Philip K. Dick, who has placed himself in the novel in two ways, one as the real person, Philip K. Dick, and the other as a surrogate for the real person named Horselover Fat who is the real person renamed and who the real person states is himself written in the third person “to gain much-needed objectivity.”
    With this first chapter understood (!) as an indirect attack on the nature of consensus reality with the purpose of undermining not its fundamental core (reality itself) but our very agreement on what it is (consensus reality), then we can go on to comprehend how PKD creates an alternate reality that somehow by the end of the novel (the Tractates Cryptica Scriptura included) has proven to be superior to consensus reality, supersedes it and replaces it. All this with the ultimate purpose of having Philip K. Dick acknowledged by the adherents of consensus reality as a great mainstream writer on a par with Dickens and Poe and Hemingway and all the rest who reside in the college of the accepted Great Writers of All Time.
    VALIS is a mainstream novel which demands that it be seen as such not by its accordance with accepted notions of the ‘mainstream’ but because it presents a larger, more encompassing idea of what is meant by mainstream literature and thus incorporates this mainstream into the novel’s redefinition. As we all know from school science any theory that explains and encompasses more than a competing theory and includes that competing theory in its scope soon comes to be accepted as the new scientific explanation for whatever area of reality is being studied and described. The well-known advance from Newtonian physics to Quantum physics is a good example of how this works. So, then, even though we as a society have not yet realized it VALIS gives us a closer, more accurate interpretation of reality than does consensus reality. Whether any of the novel is true or not in its details doesn’t matter, what is important is that VALIS is a declaration of war on our current definition of mainstream reality. It is a quantum leap forward in literature and a Great American Novel.
    (Well, that’s what I think on Tuesdays!)
    I wanted to say something else about your review of VALIS and that has to do with your passing remark that A SCANNER DARKLY is “about the after-effects of the sixties drug subculture.” I agree with you in some part on this but would like to say that I think A SCANNER DARKLY is not about the after-effects of anything but about the ‘sixties drug subculture’ itself. During the early 70s I was a young man heavily involved in this drug subculture and even though I lived in the Midwest and not California, PKD has captured the essence of life in that time for anyone who even only smoked marijuana and popped the occasional random capsule of whatever was going around. I always say to people, if you want to know what it was like to live in the sixties and seventies then you should read A SCANNER DARKLY. As for the after-effects, well, here we are!
    Guy, I will have to read your review of VALIS with more attention when I have more time. Keep up the interesting blog, I think you’ve done a sterling job so far. Best wishes – Lord Running Clam

  4. guysalvidge
    June 24, 2009 at 8:39 am

    Thanks for the comment, Lord RC. I wrote this review about 18 months ago now, and as I haven’t read VALIS again in the interim, my opinions will have to stand as they are (for now…) I think my biggest beef with the novel is that it breaks virtually every rule in the book in terms of narrative structure, narrrative voice etc etc. Obviously PKD did this deliberately, but I’m still not convinced that this is a Great American Novel or Great Novel of any kind. For me, one of the major strengths of PKD’s writing is that he was able to package really interesting and philosophicially sophisticated ideas in a fast moving, interesting plot (Now Wait for Last Year springs to mind as an example here).

    Anyway, you should read Tessa Dick’s The Owl in Daylight if you haven’t already. In my opinion, her book (which is very much a sequel to VALIS – although with different characters) is superior overall. Heresy, I know! Perhaps The Owl in Daylight lacks the theoretical detail of VALIS, but the central ideas (The Empire Never Ended, anamnesis, gnosis, the false deity etc) are there, and packaged in an exciting, fast moving plot.



  5. Laurence Hallam
    August 26, 2009 at 8:16 pm

    I have just finished VALIS and naturally have begun seeking further answers from like-minded folk. Whilst it is refreshing to encounter a challenging stance amongst PKD fans, who for the most part unflinchingly proclaim genius, I am suprised that as a PKD fan you seem so rigidly bound to “the rules” of narrative. I wasn’t aware that there were any! Certainly conventions that allow for safe and linear, dare I say layman enjoyment of a story; yet art with boundaries and limitations is ultimately pointless. James Joyce would certainly have something to say about that.
    That VALIS represents a deeply personal introspection is of course well documented. For that reason alone one could assume that it is up to the reader to meet the author on the author’s terms. However, the concepts explored almost dictate the style; how can one claim time is an illusion by using linear prose? How can reality be challenged without a veil of deception? How could one dismantle the notion of an external saviour by professing to have all the answers?
    At face value VALIS is not easy to get along with and for that matter neither is mental illness and/or serious investigative psychadelic drug use. The latter certainly reveals that the conventions we all cling to are, like all realities both physical and meta-physical, priceless and worthless. VALIS is a work of seminal genius and simultaneously useless to anyone except PKD: it was his reality alone (irony intended). The best we can do is attempt to decipher our own realities and thank whatever deity you are seeking that PKD has already fought this particular battle for us all.

    Thank you for stimulating this debate and I look forward to further discussion.


    • guysalvidge
      August 27, 2009 at 9:44 am


      Whether you describe narratives in terms of ‘rules’ or ‘conventions’ is largely a matter of opinion. While I agree with your wanting to privilege PKD as a very important, evenly uniquely important writer, I challenge your assertion that ‘VALIS as a work of seminal genius.’ A lot of people think it is this, of course, but a lot don’t as well. I’ve read VALIS around 4-5 times over the last decade, and my opinion on the book has changed from wildly enthusiastic on the first reading to my current position.

      • Laurence
        September 2, 2009 at 10:47 pm

        This is the danger of text debating; challenged opinions are more likely to evoke an emotional defence of one’s stance. My assertions do not depend on or are even relevant to what the majority of people do or do not think; nor do they doubt the credentials of those reasoned and interested enough to get involved.

        At the core we are dealing with ego death; in evolutionary terms this is the psychological equivalent of opposable thumbs. If one day a degree course in this concept is realised then VALIS would be on the required reading list, for seminal read: the shaping of future events. If it is a matter of personal taste then there can be no resolution and it would be a waste of all our time to counter argue semantics of style and presentation. It would be like visiting the Iguacu Falls and discussing the spray.

        The content is the key. Art is a springboard to esoteric debate; lets be thankful for that. This weekend I watched a close friend literally enter a holding zone, a personal hell they thought was infinite (thankfully not). A parallel reality of writhing flesh. I have no doubt that the overlapping realities PKD experienced were absolutely true and I continue my search for truth in every possibility that comes my way.

        You are just as entitled to think I’m full of shit as find that these ideas register deep in your consciousness, my feelings on the matter are irrelevant. Good luck with that, I sincerely mean it.


      • guysalvidge
        September 3, 2009 at 8:54 am

        I would say that all reading is emotional. Certainly the reading of prose. In terms of PKD offering a ‘springboard to esoteric debate’ I wholeheartedly agree. The amount I have learned from that man, not just within his actual works, but from the links I have made to other fields of study, is massive. I owe that man about 30% of my mind, and I feel a deep love and respect for him. That’s an emotional response. But while I certainly learned a lot from reading VALIS (such as about gnosticism) I no longer feel it is a successful work of art. Therein lies the debate. I am a writer myself and I am always looking for ways to learn about the writing process from PKD. See my review of Martian Time-Slip, which I am very enthusiastic about, for more on this. I suppose you could say that my reading of PKD now is focused on the technical side of the writing, and as such I am lukewarm about VALIS. When I read the book at age 18 though, the ideas certainly did ‘register deep in my consciousness.’ They have been formative in my adult thinking. I can’t imagine higher praise for a book than that!

  6. September 3, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    Hello again! I must admit that I’ve read VALIS a lot and thought about it a lot. I maintain my stance above (a work of genius) yet sympathise with your point of view, Guy, when you restate that on first reading you were wildly enthusiastic but later had second thoughts. This happened to me with a book by another author that I remember well. This was Samual Delaney’s DHALGREN. When I first read it I thought, Wow! This is great! The moment I was done reading it I thought, Wow! This is the worst crap I ever read! I think this bears relevance, too, Guy, as you are interested in the writing process itself. In DHALGREN Delaney was able to keep me reading eagerly to the end, caught in some bubble of his creating, until the whole thing popped into a nothing at the end. How did he do this? I don’t know as I’ve not re-read it to this day. But VALIS didn’t have that effect on me, it opened my mind to things I hadn’t thought of, like you, gnosticism being one of them. But, you know, all PKD’s novels (most of them anyway) are like that. If you read Dick’s contemporaries we had back then, to put it brutally, gee whiz science fiction on the one hand and PKD and a few others like SImak and Van Vogt on the other hand. It would take forever to describe but essentially PKD’s imagination went into unknown and unconventional areas of science fiction. His writing, including VALIS and even Dr. FUTURITY, has, like Laurance suggests, had a marked affect on the shaping of the future. In many ways this is a thing that is already done, a fait accompli: here we are in PKD’s world (who can deny it?). So, what then is a genius? We think of towering intellectual figures, their work almost beyond comprehension, like Einstein and da Vinci, whose ideas are heretical. I believe the same about Philip K. Dick: there’s something in VALIS and his other stories that we havent quite figured out yet, but it’s in there somewhere. Perhaps it is Laurance’s idea of ego death (which I’d like to know more of) or something else, maybe even something so obvious as Gnosticism. Would taking VALIS literally be going too far?
    Best wishes Lord RC

  7. February 5, 2011 at 4:08 am

    Hi Guy, I’m not offended, and I understand much of what you don’t like about VALIS. I’m the gal who is holding VALIS in my Fbook pic 😉 and who was so blown away by it on my first reading that I had to write a sort of “sequel.” (I first read in 1996, but I was not 18 😉 If you can click on my book blog, to a post about Rudy Rucker’s Transrealist Manifesto you’ll pretty much see what I think of VALIS and my own novel. I’ll post more on Facebook… love your site and book reviews!
    *** ej “jami” morgan

  8. Nick
    September 20, 2015 at 3:14 am

    Twenty-something years ago I worked in a bookstore across the street from the university in Albuquerque. That section of Central Avenue had a lot of the homeless, drug addicts, beggars, and insane people. One of my favorite customers was a schizophrenic homeless man who used his begged money to get his ideas printed in flyers, brochures, and bookmarks. He would write about God about New Mexico history and about the Constitution. He was happy and enthusiastic, and was having a great time sharing them with me. At first reading, his ideas would seem deep and meaningful, but hard to understand. I would get this ‘wow’ feeling. But his ideas didn’t lead anywhere, and they didn’t hold together one to another. There was no meaning to what he wrote and I was be no wiser for having read it. A couple weeks later he would show up again with a new flyer, and I’d get that temporary ‘wow’ feeling again.

    When I read Valis, I went through the same cycle. At first it seemed deep and meaningful, but the ‘wow’ feeling would evaporate and I was left facing blocks of erudite but meaningless ideas that didn’t hold together. Other Dick books play with a flexible reality and variations of insanity. But Valis isn’t playful. It is a book by an unfortunate man who is insane and has a poor grip on reality. That was disturbing. I’m sure that Dick wasn’t as insane as he portrayed himself in Valis, but I think it was just a matter of picking which aspects of himself to use.

    Dick isn’t happy and enthusiastic either. His attitude is more like the desperate people who used to post on the Government Mind Control newsgroups. (I had also read those before I read Valis.) Those people would post long, intricately argued and carefully researched descriptions of how the government is controlling their minds and how they’re fighting back.

    Valis may portray insanity with verisimilitude, but it’s not unique for doing so.

    • guysalvidge
      September 20, 2015 at 8:48 am

      That’s a really interesting and insightful analogy, Nick, and one I agree with. I was sold on Valis at age eighteen, but when I re-read it in my late twenties, the gloss was gone and all I could see was a big mess!

  9. Dan
    November 3, 2022 at 8:37 pm

    It’s stated in the book, “the zen paradox, the thing that makes no sense makes the most sense.”

  1. March 20, 2010 at 3:37 pm

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