Home | Books By Year | Books from 1981



Buy VALIS now from Amazon

First, read the Wikipedia article. Then, scroll down to see what other TopShelfReview readers thought about the book. And once you've experienced the book, tell everyone what you thought about it.

Wikipedia article

'VALIS' is a 1981 science fiction novel by Philip K. Dick. The title is an acronym for 'Vast Active Living Intelligence System', Dick's gnostic vision of one aspect of God.

It is the first book in the 'VALIS trilogy' of novels including 'The Divine Invasion' (1981), and the unfinished 'The Owl in Daylight'. Together with Dick's last book, 'The Transmigration of Timothy Archer' (1982) (thematically related to the unfinished trilogy and included in several omnibus editions of the trilogy as a stand-in for the unwritten final volume), 'VALIS' represents Dick's last major work before he died. 'Radio Free Albemuth', a posthumously published earlier version of 'VALIS', is not included as a component of the 'VALIS' trilogy.


Horselover Fat believes his visions expose hidden facts about the reality of life on Earth, and a group of others join him in researching these matters. One of their theories is that there is some kind of intelligent machine in orbit around the planet, and that it is aiding them in their quest. They eventually go to an estate owned by a popular musician, after said musician stars in a movie which contains obvious references to the same revelations Fat has experienced. They decide the goal that they have been led toward is Sophia, who is two years old and the Messiah anticipated by well-known religious teachings. She tells them that their conclusions are correct.[http://www.philipkdick.com/works_novels_valis.html "VALIS Plot Summary"], Philip K. Dick Trust


* Phil: narrator, science fiction writer

* Horselover Fat: narrator; Philip in Greek means "fond of horses"; "dick" is German for "fat"

* Gloria Knudson: suicidal friend of Fat's

* Kevin: friend of Fat's, skeptic, based on K.W. Jeter

* Sherri Solvig: Fat's friend, dying from lymphatic cancer

* David: Catholic friend of Fat's, based on Tim Powers

* Eric Lampton: rock star, screenwriter, actor, aka "Mother Goose" - apparently a fictionalised version of David Bowie

* Linda Lampton: actress

* Brent Mini: electronic composer, a fictionalised version of Brian Eno.


Thomas M. Disch reported that "the fascination of the book, what's most artful and confounding about it, is the way the line between Dick and Fat shifts and wavers. Disch concludes that "as a novel, as a 'whole' novel . . . it went off the rails sometimes. But the first half holds together wonderfully, considering how much there is to be held together."[http://press.umich.edu/pdf/9780472068968-16.pdf "Talking with Jesus", 'F&SF, July 1981, pp.36-38]

Dick's 'Exegesis'

VALIS has been described as one node of an artificial satellite network originating from the star Sirius in the Canis Major constellation. According to Dick, the Earth satellite used "pink laser beams" to transfer information and project holograms on Earth and to facilitate communication between an extraterrestrial species and humanity. Dick claimed that VALIS used "disinhibiting stimuli" to communicate, using symbols to trigger recollection of intrinsic knowledge through the loss of amnesia, achieving gnosis. Drawing directly from Platonism and Gnosticism, Dick wrote in his ' Exegesis': "We appear to be memory coils (DNA carriers capable of experience) in a computer-like thinking system which, although we have correctly recorded and stored thousands of years of experiential information, and each of us possesses somewhat different deposits from all the other life forms, there is a malfunction - a failure - of memory retrieval."

At one point, Dick claimed to be in a state of enthousiasmos with VALIS, where he was informed his infant son was in danger of perishing from an unnamed malady. Routine checkups on the child had shown no trouble or illness; however, Dick insisted that thorough tests be run to ensure his son's health. The doctor eventually complied, despite the fact that there were no apparent symptoms. During the examination doctors discovered an inguinal hernia, which would have killed the child if an operation was not quickly performed. His son survived thanks to the operation, which Dick attributed to the "intervention" of VALIS.

Another event was an episode of supposed xenoglossia. Supposedly, Dick's wife transcribed the sounds she heard him speak, and discovered that he was speaking Koine Greek-the common Greek dialect during the Hellenistic years (3rd century BC-4th century AD) and direct "father" of today's modern Greek language- which he had never studied. As Dick was to later discover, Koine Greek was originally used to write the New Testament and the Septuagint. However, this was not the first time Dick had claimed xenoglossia: a decade earlier, Dick insisted he was able to think, speak, and read fluent Latin under the influence of Sandoz LSD-25.

The UK edition of 'VALIS' also included 'Cosmology and Cosmogony', a chapbook containing selections from Dick's 'Exegesis'.

Philosophical and cultural references

Theology and philosophy, especially metaphysical philosophy, play an important role in 'VALIS', presenting not just Dick's (and/or Horselover Fat's) own views on these subjects but also his interpretation of numerous religions and philosophies of the past. The most prominent religious references are to Valentinian Gnosticism, the Rose Cross Brotherhood, Zoroastrianism and Buddhism, as well as Biblical writings including the Book of Daniel and the New Testament epistles. Many ancient Greek philosophers are discussed, including several Pre-Socratics (Pythagoras, Xenophanes, Heraclitus, Empedocles and Parmenides) as well as Plato and Aristotle. More recent thinkers that are mentioned include the philosophers Pascal and Schopenhauer, the Christian mystic Jakob Bhme, the alchemist Paracelsus, the psychologists Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, the Romanian historian of religion Mircea Eliade, and the author and psychologist Robert Anton Wilson. In Wilson's autobiographical 'Cosmic Trigger' (released shortly before Dick commenced work on 'VALIS'), Wilson describes similar musings concerning the 'Sirius Connection', contemplating the idea that alien entities are sending out waves of information that we can tune in on.

The action of 'VALIS' is set firmly in the American popular culture of its time, with references to the Grateful Dead, Frank Zappa and Linda Ronstadt as well as the fictional rock musicians Eric Lampton and Brent Mini. However, the novel also contains a number of high culture references such as the poets Vaughan, Wordsworth and Goethe, and the classical composers Handel and Wagner. In particular, the novel contains several extended discussions about Wagner's metaphysical opera 'Parsifal'.

Black Iron Prison

'The Black Iron Prison' is a concept of an all-pervasive system of social control postulated in the 'Tractates Cryptica Scriptura', a summary of an unpublished Gnostic exegesis included in 'VALIS'.

In popular culture

'VALIS' was adapted in 1987 as an electronic opera by composer Tod Machover, and performed at Centre Georges Pompidou, with live singers and video installations created by artist Catherine Ikam.

On February 1, 2004, 'Variety' announced that Utopia Pictures & Television had acquired the rights to three of Philip K. Dick's works: 'Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said', 'VALIS', and 'Radio Free Albemuth'.

John Alan Simon, director of the film adaptation of 'Radio Free Albemuth', remarked that 'VALIS' will form the basis of a sequel to that film if it is successful: "Since 'Radio Free Albemuth' is essentially the first draft of 'VALIS', we ended up with rights to both from the estate of Philip K. Dick. If 'Radio Free Albemuth' is successful, 'VALIS' the book would form the basis for the sequel to 'VALIS' the movie. In other words, the story of 'VALIS' would form the basis for 'VALIS 2'."[http://www.webcitation.org/query?url=http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Nook/3661/dick/interv.htm&date=2009-10-25+10:03:14 AN INTERVIEW WITH JOHN ALAN SIMON]



* Galbreath, Robert, (1982). "Salvation-Knowledge: Ironic Gnosticism in 'VALIS' and 'The Flight to Lucifer'," in 'Science-Fiction Dialogues', Gary K. Wolfe, ed. Chicago: Academy Chicago, pp. 11532.

* _______________ (1983). "Redemption and doubt in Philip K. Dick's VALIS Trilogy", 'Extrapolation' 24:2, pp. 10515.

* Palmer, Christopher, (1991). "Postmodernism and the Birth of the Author in Philip K. Dick's 'VALIS'," 'Science-Fiction Studies' 55, 18:3, pp. 33042.

* Stilling, Roger J., (1991). "Mystical Healing: Reading Philip K. Dick's 'VALIS' and 'The Divine Invasion' as Metapsychoanalytic Novels", 'South Atlantic Review' 56: 2, pp. 91106

Buy VALIS now from Amazon

<-- Return to books from 1981

comments powered by Disqus

This work is released under CC-BY-SA. Some or all of this content attributed to http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?oldid=512884110.