Philip K. Dick
Completed 12/24/2017, Reviewed 12/26/2017
Wow. What a crazy book. This is the story of a paranoid schizophrenic incident in the author’s life, vaguely veiled as fiction. I was engrossed by it, finding it equally intriguing and terrifying. Basically, how do you tell the difference between reality and fantasy, especially when the fantasy has an element of truth in it? It calls into question all the rest of the fantasy as well.
The story is basically about an episode the author has that causes a split personality. At least, I don’t think the split personality existed before the episode. Anyway, in this episode, the other personality, Horselover Fat (a Greek and Latin translation is Philip and Dick, respectively), receives a data transmission from God in the form of a pink laser beam. In the transmission is the correct diagnosis of his son’s mysterious stomach ailment. Confirmed by doctors, the question becomes, if this is correct, wouldn’t everything else in the data transmission be correct? So Fat searches for the truth, including the birth of the new messiah.
Dick is the narrator of the story, retelling Fat’s experiences searching for the truth as if Fat was a separate person, even though right in the beginning, Dick tells you he’s one and the same person. That’s one of the scariest aspects of the book: he is aware of his own schizophrenia while relaying Fat’s experiences. And he reinforces the notion that if the diagnosis of his son was real, why aren’t the rest of his experiences real. Even more coincidentally, one of Dick’s friends finds a film called VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligence System) that seems to mirror the schizophrenic incident, including the pink beam, and many of the seemingly paranoid imaginings that Fat has. Are there others out there who have received the same messages?
Dick also studied and analyzed his experiences in what became known as The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick. It’s a nearly one thousand page collection of notes and reflections on the schizophrenic incident. He includes the main theses of the exegesis in VALIS. For me, including these statements simultaneously added a veracity to his experience and exemplified how detailed the incident was. I found it truly frightening how complete the experience was. His delusion didn’t come as a simple fleeting thought, but as a complex and detailed encounter with God.
Valis is the first of a loose trilogy of the last three works before he died. They are a trilogy only in that they are thematically similar, questioning God, reality, and existence. I’m about 50 pages into the second book and I’m glad I read VALIS first. It adds insight into the plot of the second book. However, I don’t think this is a good first book to read by Dick. I would make sure to start with one of his other stories. VALIS, as I mentioned before, is thinly disguised fiction. It’s really the search for truth by a mind in crisis. I give the book four stars out of five.