“14. The universe is information and we are stationary in it, not three-dimensional and not in space or time. The information fed to us we hypostatize into the phenomenal world.” -from the Tractate, VALIS
VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligence System) was published in 1981. It follows Dick’s A Scanner Darkly and precedes The Divine Invasion. It’s difficult to write a spoiler-free synopsis of this novel but here goes:
Horselover Fat, a *friend* of the author Philip K. Dick, has a nervous breakdown. His friends help him attempt to deal with it. They talk a lot about theology, reality and extra-terrestrials. Towards the end of the book they watch a movie called ‘Valis’, then meet the movie’s makers.
I read this as the third book in Book Punks mind-warping “Exegesis with a side of fiction: the 2016 PKD read along”. It was interesting to read VALIS after reading Radio Free Albemuth, as VALIS is considered to be a rewrite or reworking of Albemuth. Both books include Philip K. Dick as a major character in the stories. They also contain a lot of autobiographical details that touch on Dick’s experiences leading up to and after February & March 1974, (mystical experience or onset of schizophrenia??).
“Fat made obscure references to information fired into his head by a beam of pink light.”
If I’m being honest I have to admit that I struggled with this book at times, especially during the first half. It is bursting with ideas, but they could just as easily be labelled “conspiracy theories” or “the deranged ramblings of a broken mind”. It is easy to see why there is so much negative criticism of VALIS, but I don’t want to be so dismissive. This book is a different animal to some of PKD’s earlier, more famous works. It’s more introspective, more philosophical.
Like my earlier Radio Free Albemuth review, I would only recommend this novel to PKD fans. It’s not the best story to start with if you’ve never read PKD before. I’ve been reading Dick’s Exegesis at the same time and I think this has made it more accessible. (VALIS almost feels like light-reading when compared with his 900-page behemoth!) The author includes a sort of condensed version of his Exegesis in the pages of VALIS, a tractate as he calls it.
“In my opinion, Kevin may go ‘deedle-deedle queep’ whenever Fat reads or quotes from his tractate, but Fat is onto something.”
I think my expectations were wrong for this book. I was hoping for less theological musings and more sci-fi action or more plot. I wanted a break from the rambling and diffuse style of the Exegesis, something more akin to Ubik or Electric Sheep. It looks like I’ll have to dip further back into his oeuvre for that. If you are looking for a bit of a PKD challenge try this book.
Some favourite lines:
“Once God started talking to him he never seemed to stop. I don’t think they report that in the Bible.”
“We are talking about Christ. He is an extra-terrestrial life form which came to this planet thousands of years ago, and, as living information, passed into the brains of human beings already living here.”
“A question we had to learn to deal with during the dope decade was, How do you break the news to someone that his brains are fried”
“I know a lot of people who think God sleeps in pot.”
I could keep on and on quoting…