The first of three novels in what is described in many publishers' blurbs as a "trilogy" of "Valis" novels. In addition to the two novels published sequentially following VALIS, The Divine Invasion and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, at least one other novel in this vein survived and was published, Radio Free Albemuth.

It's been quite some time since I last read all four novels, so please consider much of this tentative until I've refreshed my memory, and have made revisions.

In all of these novels, Dick intertwines themes that were prominent in the main body of his work, in particular, dealing with the distortion and intentional manipulation of reality (and of human memory, sometimes individually, sometimes on a wholesale basis) by hidden forces, and other elements often identified with clinically-defined paranoia with much more explicit elements of autobiographical detail.

One might in fact argue that the four novels are closer to versions of the same novel than they are to what one expects typically of a trilogy. In the "Valis" novels, taken as a group, a much more Christian note is sounded. Be warned, however, that it is often a reconstruction of a particular and often quite peculiar ideolect of gnostic Christianity, not any form of Christianity as known to most who embrace that label and apply it to themselves today.

On the one hand, Dick is dealing here with a very personal, and quirky set of icons and symbols that arise from wholly personal events that he tells us have happened to him (or to various thinly veiled versions of himself) through his life. And if you then go back to read Dick's novels before Valis you will find much of the same typology developing through nearly all of that work as well.

On the other hand, he is telling, in incredibly compressed form, much of the intellectual and religious history of the Western world since at least the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Autobiography, dead girlfriends he can't seem to let go of, and the history of Christian-influenced culture, all rolled into one seamless fabric. That's Philip K. Dick for you.

From the first page of VALIS by Philip K. Dick:

"VALIS (acronym of Vast Active Living Intell-
igence 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 arrange-
ments of information
. Characterized by quasi-
consciousness, purpose, intelligence, growth
and an armillary coherence.

--Great Soviet Dictionary
Sixth Edition, 1992"



Please note: The above is a quote from a science-fiction novel published in 1981. You may have noticed that the quote is attributed to "Great Soviet Dictionary...1992." This is a fictitious entry by Philip K. Dick.

Valis was also the name of a series of action video games
which appeared on the sega genesis, super nintendo, and turbografx cd-rom platforms.
It centered around a sword weilding heroine named Yuko, who fought the
forces of evil in a world of dreams called Valis, except for Valis IV,
which centered around a different main character whose name I do not recall.

Philip K. Dick's Valis (Vast Active Living Intelligent System) was made into an opera by Tod Machover in 1987. Machover's first opera, Valis was commissioned by the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris as part of its 10th anniversary celebration. The premier was December 2, 1987. Released on Compact Disc by Bridge Records in 1988, Valis was generally given positive reviews for its futuristic and avant garde sonorities. As time passes, however, the Los Angeles Times unique negative review in 1988 may be the most accurate when it stated that Valis "falls short of the intended, bold Post-modern statement and wilts into blandness and pretension." Valis as opera is likely more interesting as a live performance with computer images appearing on monitors scattered throughout the stage set. A live performance also requires that the conductor eventually become one of the characters.

The work requires seven singers, a narrator, a pianist, a percussionist, recorded tapes, and numerous live computers. It is divided into 22 parts:

  1. Explosion and Overture
  2. First Narrative
  3. Fat's Sacrament
  4. Beach Scene
  5. Fat's Dream
  6. Loneliness Transition
  7. Dr. Stone Scene
  8. Dr. Stone's Aria
  9. Exegesis I
  10. Exegesis II
  11. Gesegnet Song
  12. Parsifal Narrative
  13. Finale I
  14. Valis Song
  15. Lampton Scene
  16. Suffering Song
  17. Mini's Solo
  18. Sophia's Scene
  19. Sophia's Aria
  20. Finale II
  21. Slippers Song
  22. Final Narrative

The stage set for Machover's Valis remained as an exhibit on the main floor of the Pompidou Center for several months after the inaugural performances. At one end of the floor was a wall of monitors, sometimes displaying imagery in sequence, sometimes fragmented. Glass covered wells contained other monitors that could only be seen by walking on top of them. It was a striking use of what were new technologies at the time.


Sources:

Wager, Gregg. "Alla Breve." Los Angeles Times, 27 November 1988, Calendar Section, p. 76.

Church, John J. "Vast Active Living Intelligence System." Opera World web site at http://www.operaworld.com/special/valis.shtml / 21 March 2002.

Machover, Tod. Valis : an opera in two parts. New York : Bridge Records. p1988 (BCD 9007 Bridge Records).

Personal experience (visit to Centre Georges Pompidou in 1988).

"He lived a long time ago, but he is still alive."

VALIS is a book that I keep wanting to throw at people, as in projectile-flying-object. Or, I want to take hold of the book by the middle, each flap to each arm and jump off the Synanon building, relying on Philip K. Dick to transmigrate into the book and help me fly into the sky, towards the satellites above--or, if I were feeling adventurous (beyond the first layer of bravery in jumping from the building by book) I'd let it go, falling from satellite to bone, right through the Earth's atmosphere. Maybe I would land by an ocean, and I could build a raft out of the skeletons in the dust-bone world of kipple and decay.

While reading, I am gasping and having to put the book down, giddy at the wisdom or turn of events. Giddy in a cosmic, synchronistic way--like what reading Robert Anton Wilson's Cosmic Trigger (which is even mentioned on page 185) did to me the first time.

Some of my favorite passages:

"About this time two new propositions entered Fat's mind, due to this particular conversation.
  1. Some of those in power are insane.
  2. And they are right." (pg. 62)
"Fat returned home by cab, afraid of his own car and wondering if he was nuts. He was, but so was everyone else." (12)
"'Sometimes I dream--'
'I'll put that on your gravestone.'" (220)
"What he did not know then is that it is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane... Fat had lost his own wife, the year before, to mental illness. It was like a plague. No one could discern how much was due to drugs. This time in America--1960 to 1970--and this place, the Bay Area of Northern California, was totally fucked. I'm sorry to tell you this, but that's the truth." (10-11)
"I am the injured and the slain.. But I am not the slayer. I am the healer and the healed." (192)
"Fat told us of a dream he had had recently, in which he had been a large fish. Instead of an arm he had walked around with sail-like or fan-like fins; with one of these fins he had tried to hold onto an M-16 rifle but the weapon slid to the ground, whereupon a voice had intoned: 'Fish cannot carry guns.'" (171)

This is the book that will officially turn me into one who must read all the biographies. I knew I was on this path already, but there's so much I now need to know about Philip K. Dick's real life, and his impressions on it, unblurred by the fictive nature of VALIS. I want to separate the two, exploring the many perspectives he, himself has said and others have theorized. I want to come to a synthesis on not only understanding the events in the book that also occurred in real life, but in understanding the fictional choices Dick has made in creating the novel.

"You see, my son, here time changes into space."

This is a book that for some of us comes at a special time in life, at a point where it couldn't have been read until x things had been digested, read, thought about, or lived through. I don't think I would have been fully ready for VALIS two years ago, two months ago, or two weeks ago. It is a book that for me is happening in this space-time, this perspective from my life. The ethneogenic research I've done personally via experimentation, my own writing & its experimentation, my reading of Robert Anton Wilson, Terence McKenna, William S. Burroughs, Richard Brautigan, Philip K. Dick and his life & work over the past years, and even my somewhat recent acquaintance with everything2 have prepared me in some way to read and understand this book.

When recommending this novel to others, I will stress that if at first you cannot get into it, you may just not be ready for it. It'll come to you when you are ready mentally, spiritually, physically, and intuitively.

"The empire never ended."

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