A wildly comic novel on one man's obsessive, trancendant vision, of secret ruling intelligences, ancient conspiracies and the Second Coming. Valis is a compelling testament of madness, love and hope that shatters the boundaries of science fiction to grapple with the nature of reality itself.
I think this could have been subtitled "The Gospel according to Philip K. Dick". Definitely one of the strangest and disturbing books I have read in some time. I don't know if I would classify this as sci-fi or as religious philosophy. Anyway, it was definitely thought-provoking! The book is also auto-biographical and expands on an event that happened to Dick in 1974. From Wikipedia:
On February 20, 1974, Dick was recovering from the effects of sodium pentothal administered for the extraction of an impacted wisdom tooth. Answering the door to receive delivery of extra analgesic, he noticed that the delivery woman was wearing a pendant with a symbol that he called the "vesicle pisces." This name seems to have been based on his conflation of two related symbols, the ichthys (two intersecting arcs delineating a fish in profile) that early Christians used as a secret symbol, and the vesica piscis. After the delivery woman's departure, Dick began experiencing strange visions. Although they may have been initially attributable to the medication, after weeks of visions he considered this explanation implausible. "I experienced an invasion of my mind by a transcendentally rational mind, as if I had been insane all my life and suddenly I had become sane," Dick told Charles Platt. Throughout February and March 1974, he experienced a series of visions, which he referred to as "2-3-74", shorthand for FebruaryMarch 1974. He described the initial visions as laser beams and geometric patterns, and, occasionally, brief pictures of Jesus and of ancient Rome. As the visions increased in length and frequency, Dick claimed he began to live a double life, one as himself, "Philip K. Dick", and one as "Thomas", a Christian persecuted by Romans in the 1st century A.D. He referred to the "transcendentally rational mind" as "Zebra", "God" and "VALIS." Dick wrote about the experiences, first in the semi-autobiographical novel Radio Free Albemuth and then in VALIS, The Divine Invasion, and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, i.e., the VALIS trilogy.
The book tries to address some of the immortal questions such as Is God trying to communicate with us? Is Life and Death just an illusion? Is the second-coming (or is it the 5th or 7th coming) near at hand? VALIS was a difficult read at first and left you wondering about many unanswerable questions.
A wildly comic, richly imagined novel of a man's obsessive vision...of secret ruling intelligences, age-old conspiracies and the Second Coming. A sardonic, transcendent work of madness, courage and love, VALIS shatters the boundaries of science fiction to grapple with the nature of reality itself. It is Philip K. Dick's most compelling work, a testament of rebirth and hope uniquely resonant of our times.
Incredible book. It will blow your mind and have you checking info on wikipedia to see what Dick made up and what is historical fact. Its been called the "centerpiece" of his Valis religion trilogy (the other two books in the "trilogy" being The Divine Invasion and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer), written after Dick had a spiritual/religious experience in 1974.
I really love some of Philip K. Dick's other books, but I just could not maintain interest in this one. It is described, accurately, on the back cover as a "disorienting and bleakly funny work about a schizophrenic hero...the hidden mysteries of Gnostic Christianity; and reality as revealed through a pink laser. VALIS is a theological detective story, in which God is both a missing person and the perpetrator of the ultimate crime." It is the beginning of a trio of novels.
Like most of Philip K. Dick's novels, the main characters around which the story of Valis revolves are engaging, sympathetic, and mirrors of the social and psychological complexities faced by mankind. Unlike his other novels, however, the main characters in Valis are actually PKD himself. This results in the occasional switch from first and third person narrative, and several instances in which the author and the author surrogate interact with one another.
Valis (the name assigned by the main characters to their vision of God) is less of a novel than it is a fictionalized account of PKD's own spiritual journey. Because of this, a good portion of the middle becomes bogged down with in depth descriptions of PKD's theological views and theories. Anyone not well versed in Gnosticism and Metaphysical Theory will be tempted to skim several pages of text at a time, and might even debate whether finishing the book is worth the trouble. This will be especially true of readers who are only familiar with his early science fiction work and not prepared for a crash course in PKD's exegesis. In some ways, Valis could be considered PKD's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, except the focus of this road trip isn't the American Dream, but the True Nature of God.
Above all else, PKD is a master storyteller, and this is what saves Valis from being a stuffy and unintelligible pseudo-memoir about a spiritual journey. The uncertainty of the narrator's true identity (both to the reader and the narrator), as well as the sympathetic nature of his plight and the conspiracy-drenched plot twists reminiscent of Robert Anton Wilson (whom PKD mentions in the book) will keep you interested enough to struggle through the denser passages. But you also find yourself riveted as you gain closer insight into the mind of one of the greatest science fiction authors of the last century.
Valis is a perfect snapshot of a time not so long ago, when there existed a movement of authors that eagerly blended the lines between science-fiction and spiritualism. It was a time when optimism regarding mankind's future potential was almost intoxicating, and the experimental expansion of the mind and spirit were deemed as important as technological advancements. Looking back, it may seem a bit naive and fanciful, but it was also full of hope and wonder, two traits that seem to be lacking more and more with today's sci-fi authors.