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VALIS by Philip K. Dick

I understand what you are thunking
Not another Philip K Dick review…

▪ VALIS (acronym of Vast Active Living Intelligence System from an American film): A perturbation in the reality field in which a spontaneous self-monitoring negentropic vortex is formed, tending progressively to subsume and incorporate its environment into arrangements of information. Characterized by quasi-consciousness, purpose, intelligence, growth and an armillary coherence.

—Great Soviet Dictionary, Sixth Edition, 19

I know what you are thinking, “Not another Philip K. Dick review…” Somehow, I end up writing about his stuff more often than any other of my favorite writers. From all of his books that I have covered so far, this is the first reread. At least technically. I listened to this book as an audiobook a few years ago, probably 4 or 5 years ago.

While I didn’t really remember most of the plot, I remember having fond memories of listening to it, and when I would think back and reflect upon the listening experience, I would feel happy. Reading it this time, I wasn’t as much enthused. I still like the book immensely, but its not a 10/10 no brainer. One of the biggest reasons I remember the book fondly is the humor, which still holds up. The memory most associated to reading it the first time was a scene when a character gets a long-awaited answer as to how his pet passed away. That scene made me laugh and still does, every time I remember it (writing this sentence with a snickering smile on my face). Rereading this book made me realize just how important personal headspace is when you expose yourself to a work of art.

When I listened to it the first time, I was accompanying my late mother on one of her many hospital checkups. And I guess, just having something that could make me smile during those trying moments, when you feel like one of the pillars of your life could crumble at any moment, is enough to form such a strong, positive and long-lasting impression in one’s brain. Its no wonder then, that a dumb joke involving a dead pet became the reference point, simply because it was the most pleasant moment in a very trying period of my life.

After such a long intro, you might wonder if I will ever tell you what this book is really about? No is the answer.

In this book, we follow the tragic and sad life circumstance of one Horselover Fat. Philip means Horse Lover in Greek and Dick means Fat in German. Both the protagonist and one of his friends are alternate or severed versions of the author himself. A lot of the characters in the book are inspired by the circle of friends Philip K Dick had in that period of his life, or are pop culture figures.

Horselover Fat is exposed to a lot of people who need help, and he can’t help himself but has to try and help them. He fails to accomplish what he sent of to do. Even when his psychiatrist tells him that the only way for him to personally heal and be whole again, he still can’t help it. Various of his friends struggle with serious conditions, but he insists that he has to be there for them. Once they pass away, he can’t help but spiral downwards himself, inching towards suicide. But than something outwardly happens. Fat is hit with a particular form and shade of pink light. The light changes him, even gives him powers to see things ordinary people can’t.  From then on, he will be obsessed with this light, thinking it a form of God’s revelation. He will search for it, to the mild or in some cases severe annoyance of his friends. There is paranoia, potential parallel existences and a lot of talk about God and how the universe came to be. Throughout the book, Fat will formulate his own exegesis and theogony. The exegesis is interesting and I might turn it into a blog post on it own.

So, what was the biggest difference upon this second reading? The first part of the book feels like a clog. If you aren’t’ totally into Gnosticism and similar ritualistic cults/religions, or if you find ancient creation myths/stories boring, this is definitely not the book for you. In the first part of the book, all you get is the gnostic stuff, with some attempts at unifying different traditions and presenting them as this one long evolution. To Fat everything has the same origin, the same God, who manifests himself in different manners. I personally love all that stuff, but its definitely not for everyone, and with minimal plot and maximal emphasis on Androgenic Creator God Twins, the book can certainly make you roll your eyes and drop it. At times, in the first few chapters, you feel like the author was really obsessed with a subject, but he didn’t have anyone to share his passion with. So, to remedy that and take care of this need to discuss Valentinian gnostic themes with others, he wrote this book. And he really, really tells you everything that’s on his mind on this given topic.

The second part is a lot more enjoyable. There is a balanced mix of plot, pace, humor and all the apocryphal musings of one Philip K Fat.

While my first impression was a 10/10, this second is closer to a 8/10, mainly due to the first part of the book.

Phrases and Quotes

the harp of nihilism, the twang of the void

zitfaced kids scream in ecstatic approval of total banality

One of God’s greatest mercies is that he keeps us perpetually occluded

When you are going to die you do not care about small things.

The first thing that came along to save him took the form of an eighteen-year-old high school girl living down the street from him and the second was God. Of the two of them the girl did better.

▪ Reality is that which when you stop believing in it, it doesn’t go away.”

▪ THE MACHINERY OF divorce chewed Fat up into a single man, freeing him to go forth and abolish himself. He could hardly wait.

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