Book Review: VALIS by Philip K Dick (1981)

Release: 1981

The most explicit usage of Philip K Dick as a character, comes in the form of Horselover Fat. quite early in VALIS, it establishes that Horselover Fat is the narrator, but often refers to Horselover in the third person, while talking about Philip K Dick in the first. He establishes himself as Horselover Fat at the start, but the change over is a bit confusing. What makes this confusion acceptable is that it is intentional. The reader is meant to be confused, and then accepting; it parallels Horselover Fat’s craziness. Just as his friends think he is mad, and then just accept it. They learn to go with the flow and even begin to rationalize his madness.

VALIS is about Horselover Fat’s interaction with God. God, or someone like God, reveals themselves to Horselover Fat as an impulse of pink light fired directly into his head. It is a divine revelation, much like that of Saul/Paul of Tarsus. The point of the divine revelation is to force the reader to question sanity, through the window of an individually who is insane. It is a lesson in empathy. The reader knows Horselover is nuts, but they get to glimpse his logic. Horselover could be the crazy person passed on the street without any more thought than ’That guy is nuts’. For once we can see the man and the history behind the nonsensical ideas.

Why make his insane ideas divine? It is because of the times. The instance of divine inspiration the struck Paul on his way to Damascus is widely accepted; at least by christians. It happened so long ago that it is just a story. What Christians and non-believers would agree with is, if a similar incident happened in the present day, the recipient of the revelation would be widely regarded as insane. There isn’t really much about Horselover’s interaction with God that is any more insane than the story of Paul. The rationalization of the incident with modern technology is a perfectly reasonable reaction to such an incident. Had Paul lived in the modern era he might have done the same.

It is a hard task to synthesize the philosophy and teaching that run through Philip K Dicks mind in the novel. At glimpse, he comes across as just another crazy. Reading the novel shows the method to his madness. It is a journey of inspiration and the search for God. It is about relationships, both healthy and unhealthy. It is a tale of divinity’s true nature, and if it could be recognizable. It is about the potential for unseen forces at play influencing individuals lives and world events. Even if we did see the steps revealing a great controlling or influencing hand, would we believe it?

Lastly, this book is about Philip K Dick’s exegesis. It gives a short picture of his mind and his world belief. It is mad and engrossing. It makes sense and comes out of nowhere. Paradoxical and logical. The reader can see it is a series of mad ravings, but what is important is that some real lessons and understandings can be gleaned. There is value in madness. He says the Empire Never Ended, and though he paints this as a literal standstill of time in the first century AD, what it really means is an establishment of modern mankind’s ideals. The world changes, but the black prison of materialist culture has gone unchanged since the first century AD. The road to this point is never quite explicit, but somehow skirts close to clarity, close to its own divine revelation. Whether the reader agrees with this or not, Horselover does. We get a glimpse of why he believes it.

Like most of my reviews, I don’t want to get too embedded into the plot or the meaning. A quick glance should suffice. Hopefully enough of a view to inspire someone to pick up the book, without dictating their opinions or the books meaning. It was a wild ride. A ride I thoroughly enjoyed. I’d give it five stars; and remember, the empire never ended.


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