The VALIS trilogy by Philip K. Dick containing VALIS, The Divine Invasion and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (Italian edition)
The novel “VALIS” by Philip K. Dick was published for the first time in 1981.
Horselover Fat had a very strange experience when he thinks a ray of pink light downloaded to his brain a huge amount of information he doesn’t know how to interpret. He askss for help to his friends Phil, Kevin and David but for him the situation is complicated after the suicide of his friend Gloria and because of his friend Sherri’s cancer.
For Horselover Fat, his experience is of the mystical / religious kind, a search for God. His reflections lead him to believe that reality isn’t what it seems and that the Roman Empire never ended. God’s nature seems to be more complex than he thought, connected to the VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligence System) system.
During his career, Philip K. Dick wrote mostly science fiction. His style was very personal and in some cases his stories included religious elements. In the last years of his life, a series of events led him to take an even greater interest to religion and that can be noticed in his last novels.
In 1974 something happened to Philip K. Dick. He described it as a pink ray in his mind. Someone explained it as a mild stroke but it’s impossible to say what really happened, especially with a writer who has made of reality fragmentation his trademark.
The fact is that in subsequent years Philip K. Dick started interpreting some of the events of his life in a mystical / religious way. He explains it in his article “How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later”.
Philip K. Dick and a priest of the Episcopal Church saw similarities between a scene of his novel “Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said” and one described in the “Acts of the Apostles”. Sometime mouse, Dick found himself in a situation that thought very similar to that scene.
A mystical moment for Philip K. Dick was after he had two wisdom teeth removed. He needed to take painkillers, which were delivered to his home by a girl who was wearing a necklace with a golden fish. When Dick asked her the meaning of the fish, she explained that it was a symbol used by early Christians.
At that moment, Philip K. Dick was hit by a light reflection on the pendant that generated a pink beam that caused him an experience of anamnesis, literally the loss of forgetfulness. For a moment, he remembered what for a while he had suspected, namely that the Empire never ended, that it really was the year 50 A.D. and the reality in which he lived was just an illusion.
Those experiences led him to write a novel called “VALISystem A”, in which the mystical / religious element was very strong. However, his publisher asked him to heavily modify the story and Dick ended up restructuring it obtaining “VALIS”. “VALISystem A” was published posthumously under the title “Radio Free Albemuth”.
The result is particular even by Philip K. Dick’s standards. “VALIS” is sometimes considered science fiction because its author is considered a science fiction writer. The novel actually contains elements of science fiction but it’s basically a philosophical / religious story with an important autobiographical component.
One of the the main character’s friends, Phil, is Philip K. Dick himself. However, the protagonist Horselover Fat is an alter-ego of the author and his mystical experiences strongly reflect Dick’s ones. Their other friends are Kevin, based on the writer K.W. Jeter, and David, based on the writer Tim Powers.
Horselover Fat’s mystical / religious path is based on Gnostic Christianity but is mixed with various philosophical ideas, with Philip K. Dick’s experience of anamnesis and other ideas, such as that of the VALIS system. The result is the formation of a very personal concept of God.
“VALIS” is also the story of Horselover Fat / Philip K. Dick’s inner journey through tragedies such as his friend Gloria’s suicide and his friend Sherri’s cancer. Even the splitting of the author in two different characters is an element that has its importance in the story.
Horselover Fat and his friends meet various characters, including two inspired to David Bowie and Brian Eno, in the course of their search for God. As with many Philip K. Dick’s stories, reality isn’t necessarily the apparent one. Some events may have different interpretations, which also depend on the state of mind of those who have lived through them.
Some see in “VALIS” the symptoms of Philip K. Dick’s madness. If so it’s a lucid madness because the author created a complex cosmogony putting together elements that are really heterogeneous. In those years, Dick also wrote his exegesis, a kind of journal that included notes about his mystical / religious experiences and ideas. In “VALIS” he includes some of those notes but only a very small part because the exegesis at the end was about 8,000 pages long.
All these elements form a really complex novel since it’s very focused on Horselover Fat / Philip K. Dick’s mystical / religious / existential search. There’s a prevalence of dialogues and the events are functional to the search so the pace is slow. The characters are used primarily to support the protagonist and offer talking points.
In my opinion “VALIS” is in some ways an extraordinary novel because Philip K. Dick manages to create a consistent cosmogony from heterogeneous elements. I think that it’s a must-read if you want to really get to know this author but at the same time I believe it’s necessary to already know a little about him to avoid being traumatized.
Once you’re familiar with the typical themes of his stories and his style, you can tackle “VALIS” and the other novels full of mystical / religious themes Philip K. Dick wrote during the last years of his life. Not surprisingly, they form what is called the VALIS trilogy.