BOOK REVIEW: VALIS by Philip K. Dick

VALIS (VALIS Trilogy, #1)VALIS by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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VALIS is the first book in a final—unfinished–trilogy of Philip K. Dick. The other two books of the trilogy were to be The Divine Invasion (finished) and an unfinished book that would have been entitled The Owl in Daylight. Some (notably people who want to sell books at any cost) will claim that The Transmigration of Timothy Archer is the last novel of this trilogy. It’s true that “Transmigration” was Dick’s last complete book and that it shares a domain at the nexus of religion and science fiction with the VALIS trilogy, but it wasn’t intended to be part of the trilogy.

“Trippy” might be the best word to describe VALIS. The narrator is a writer named Phil, who we know from details like the mention of past titles is really the book’s author, Philip K. Dick. The lead character is a man named Horselover Fat. If one is reading carefully, one learns early that Horselover Fat and Phil are one in the same—although we don’t learn until late in the novel that Philip means “fond of horses” in Greek and Dick means “fat” in German. For most of the novel Phil speaks of Horselover Fat as though he was an entirely separate person, and even describes times when the two were said to be in two different places (Horselover goes on a global search for the new messiah, while Phil seemingly stays home.) There’s a point late in the novel in which Phil is “cured,” and his multi-personality delusion disappears.

It’s hard to concisely describe what the book is about because it’s so strange and ranging. One can easily vacillate between thinking it’s brilliant and that it’s gobbledygook. Horselover Fat is in search of a messiah, and he thinks he can simultaneously see the world as it is and as it was in Roman times. He has visions that he comes to believe were laser transmitted into his brain. He is writing a rambling exegesis that features throughout the book in random order as seems “relevant.”

Horselover has friends that are in their own ways both less and more crazy than he—not including Phil who is actually one in the same and, therefore, is equally insane. His big break comes when one of these friends, Kevin, introduces him to a surrealist film that seems completely incomprehensible, but—given their laser beamed “inside knowledge”—they’re able to discern clues in what seems like nonsense. This leads them to rock star and actress, respectively, Eric and Linda Lampton. (While I was under the impression that this was a thinly veiled pseudonym for Eric Clapton, it was apparently a more sophisticated pseudonym for David Bowie.) It turns out that the Lamptons are even crazier than Horselover / Phil, but—nonetheless–they do have the messiah with them in the form of an immaculately conceived two-year old girl named Sophia. I won’t get into what happens next as I don’t want to give away too much.

The ending is not strong, but that’s the nature of writing in trilogies (or multi-book sequences more generally.)

If you are wondering about the title, VALIS is the name of the surrealist film that leads Horselover and his folks to the Lamptons (who were involved with the film along with an electronic musician who is supposedly supposed to represent Brian Eno.) In said fictional film the acronym stands for “Vast Active Living Intelligence System” and it’s an artificial intelligence and / or god.

If you like Philip K. Dick for his clever and clear science fiction story arcs, you may like this work but you probably won’t find it to be Dick at his best. If you like Philip K. Dick for taking you on a walk inside the mind of a drug-addled and bat-shit crazy genius, you’ll find this to be one of his best works.

I found it to be an intriguing read and would recommend it for lovers of the strange.

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