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Friday, May 10, 2013

What I’m Reading: Valis

It is one part science-fiction, one part theodicy and two parts Gnostic cosmogony.  Ancient Gnostic Christians are breaking through the illusion of time in order to dethrone the Anti-Christ that is Richard Milhous Nixon.  An orbiting satellite named VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligence System) is beaming salvific information directly into people’s brains via a pink laser.  King Felix is on the rise.

Reading Valis – the 1981 novel from science fiction author Philip K. Dick – is like reading the secret thoughts of a schizophrenic.  Hallucinations are real.  Reality is itself deranged.  Personalities are split and separated.  Philip Dick himself is a character in the story, as is his schizophrenic other – Horselover Fat (Philip in Greek = “lover of horses,” Dick in German = “Fat”).  And all of it really did happen to him or to them.

In 1974 Philip Dick began to have intense hallucinations, visions, and mystical experiences that he attempted to describe in his writings.  He was living two (or more) lives, seeing visions of Ancient Rome and of an artificial satellite network (VALIS) that is God – or one aspect of God.  He received information from the pink light that helped him save his son from an undiagnosed birth defect.  He had experiences of xenoglossia – speaking a language he’d never learned – specifically Koine Greek, the language of the New Testament.

Although the ancient grey-robed Christians had been slaughtered by the Romans, the cosmic plasmate – the eternal spirit of VALIS had gone into hiding, trapped within the Nag Hamadi texts buried and forgotten in the sands of Egypt.  But, once rediscovered it was loosed again and seeking to share its information.  Real time was suspended in 70 CE with the Roman destruction of Jerusalem.  It resumed again in 1974 CE, but the Empire Never Ended. 

Dick weaves elements of Christianity, Gnosticism, Buddhism, Judaism, Greek Mythology and and and into a franticly complex narrative that makes sense as long as you don’t try to make sense of it.  If you do that it turns into paranoid madness.

The two year old girl, Saint Sophia, has the answers – but she may not be real and she dies.  


  1. Heh. Yeah, I reread it a couple of years ago... don't do that. I was paranoid for weeks.

  2. I have been a huge fan of PKD for years. You can also read the slightly less paranoid Radio Free Albumuth, which (IIRC) is more or less the same plot without inserting himself in the story. If you have NetFlix, watch The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick, a documentary on PKD, dealing with his break from reality.

  3. I haven't read Radio Free Albumuth yet - but it's coming up soon. I have seen the Gospel According to PKD.

    good stuff.


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