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Group Reads > VALIS Group Read (Spoilers)

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Michael | 88 comments I've only got as far as Chapter 2 and I'm well and truly hooked. PKD's prose is effortlessly readable - it's more like he's reading it to you. I can't understand why any PKD fan would not like this book, but then I'm not far in. I guess it could get bad, but I'm feeling optimistic.

Paul (poldy16061904) | 20 comments I'm re-reading VALIS for about the 4th time. It's in my top 3 of all PKD's novels. In a way, I think it's like the way the characters describe the movie called VALIS in the book: there is something new to discover every time you read it again. This time around I really enjoyed the humour in the first third. It's perhaps PKD's funniest work. I'm looking forward to discussing this great book with others.

message 3: by Michael (last edited Nov 07, 2011 05:54PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Michael | 88 comments OK, now I'm getting it - Chapter Three was largely theological ramblings (if I can put it that way) and you're either going to love or hate that (Marmite).

But whose ramblings are they? Horselover Fat's? The narrator's (who is Horselover Fat trying to be objective and talking about himself in the third person)? PKD's writing persona - that is, the character of "author" that he's assumed - the "real" narrator of VALIS? Or is it PKD's real-world belief that he's giving to us in novel form?

The narrator is clearly unreliable: he says that Fat put the pink colour of the divine laser beam beyond B and approaching A on the Fraunhofer spectral absorption line index, and that Fat's research into the Fraunhofer lines is a clear indication of his mental illness. Then he tells us about his own research into Fraunhofer (so inadvertently diagnosing himself) and that, as there is no A line, Fat is clearly delusional. I've checked and there is an A line, so Fat the narrator is, in this case, less reliable than Fat the character. (Yes, I have considered that my checking on Fraunhofer could, by Fat's standard, diagnose me with mental illness, but I was prompted by curiosity, not a compulsion to explain a delusional belief-system, so I think I'm probably OK.)

So then on to Chapter 4, which is again more character-based. Is this the way it's going to go - plot/theology/plot? Don't tell me, I'm going to find out.

Matthew (victor_von) | 24 comments Paul, I think you may have hit on something regarding the divide amongst PKD fans on VALIS. There's the problem, of course, that the book is really strange but generally that's not a barrier for Dick's fans.

I'm wondering if the problem is with the humor. VALIS is a really funny book, but not in a way that really tells jokes or otherwise slaps you in the face with its humor. I found Joyce a really difficult read until I realized that a lot of his work is actually meant to make me chuckle. If VALIS wasn't funny, then I think it would be a really difficult read.

Paul (poldy16061904) | 20 comments Matt wrote: "Paul, I think you may have hit on something regarding the divide amongst PKD fans on VALIS. There's the problem, of course, that the book is really strange but generally that's not a barrier for Di..."

After multiple readings of this book, I still find it amazing how Dick managed to work all of these bizarre incidents in his life into such an enjoyable read. If you try reading the tractate section at the end of the book in one go, you realise how well the framework of the novel serves to give an outlet to some very dense material. It's refreshing to read how self-deprecating Dick writes in places about his 'religious experiences'.If it had been a completely serious work, I don't think it would have been so successful. Robert Anton Wilson's Cosmic Trigger is well worth reading for an insight into another author who had a similar experience - the author and book is mentioned in passing in VALIS.

Byron  'Giggsy' Paul (giggsy) | 110 comments Mod
I read VALIS back in March, and fall into the category of Dick fans that wasn't so impressed. Its interesting how polarizing this one is.

I haven't decided if I will completely re-read it or just skim over it again to remind myself. I'll proabably re-read it, as I'm sure a second read will bring a different perspective

message 7: by Gerald (last edited Nov 07, 2011 11:09AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gerald Camp (gerryc) | 9 comments I've been read Stephenson's "Reamde" and missed the beginning of this discussion. Sorry. I'll start VALIS today (my first time--I'm pretty much a PKD newbie) and join the discussion as soon as I can.

message 8: by Simon (last edited Nov 09, 2011 03:53AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Simon (friedegg) | 18 comments Here were my thoughts when I read this book a year ago (I rated it 3 stars):

The book that profiles the author's descent into madness. He both narrates the story as himself and is also another character, "Horselover Fat", who whilst we are told he is the same person, interacts with the narrator as seperate person. Presumably indicative of PKD's own split personality disorder?

I don't know how much of this we are to take as real, or at least PKD's genuine belief as to what's real, but we can either take it as the whole world being insane with messages and signs of rationality that only a few are aware of, that are indicative of our impending release from our self imposed prison. Or this could be about what it's like when you suffer from mental illness, how you feel sane; it's just everyone else around you that seems crazy and how you will always be able see things around you in a way that re-inforces your paranoid fantasies.

I think PKD intended this ambiguity but I think he genuinely believed that it was in fact real, that he had had a genuine insight into the true nature of reality and, in laying down his tractus, was sharing his insights with the world. He just went into it in too much depth and was the intense focus of too much of the book to have been something that he didn't genuinely believe in.

The book started and ended well but too large a part in the middle just didn't make good story telling and was just him trying to get across his crack pot ideas. This was a real disappointment for me as I had really high hopes for this book. A Scanner Darkly is one of my all time favourite SF stories and I thought this one might be along similar lines. But I think PKD was just a bit too far gone over into madness when he came to writing this and unfortunately wasn't, for me at least, nearly as effective.

Gerald Camp (gerryc) | 9 comments I'm up to chapter 4 and so far I'm very disappointed. Of course I'm a Dick newbie--read 4 or 5 of his sf novels--and finding that this is the ramblings of an insane theologian (!) makes it not what I expected. My favorite Dick so far is "The Man In the High Castle" and I also have very pleasant memories of "Do Androids Dream . . ." and "Clans of the Alphane Moon." I plan to keep reading, but I hope some sort of plot begins to kick in soon.

Michael | 88 comments I've almost finished, and you do have more "ramblings" to get through, interspersed with character interaction, but then it all starts coming together at the end.

I'd encourage you to stick with it - it seems to be worth the effort, and I'm looking forward to the conclusion - I just hope the payoff's worth it!

Gerald Camp (gerryc) | 9 comments Michael wrote: "I've almost finished, and you do have more "ramblings" to get through, interspersed with character interaction, but then it all starts coming together at the end.

I'd encourage you to stick with i..."

You didn't say anything about plot. What is this book about, anyhow?

Michael | 88 comments There is a plot of sorts, which I won't spoil for you, but it's really there to serve the ideas that PKD is interested in.

I think I detected some resonance with the film "The Man Who Fell to Earth" starring David Bowie (which is an excellent film). Not a complete match, so maybe I'm seeing something that's not there.

Also, the way PKD makes himself increasingly important as a character in the novel is fairly mind-bending.

What's the book about? It's about the nature of reality and how we relate to it, or not. At least, that's what I'm getting from it, but there are layers ;-) I'm enjoying it and do want to get to the end to see how it concludes.

Gerald Camp (gerryc) | 9 comments Are you saying PDK is Horselover Fat? That's certainly mind-bending. I'm having enough trouble with Fat being the narrator and also a character who interacts with Horselover Fat. And don't worry about spoiling "it" for me. For me literature is about the journey, not about being surprised at the ending. As I told my granddaughter when she didn't want to give away the ending of Harry Potter 7 before I'd read it, if you didn't know how the Potter series was going to end by the middle of the second book, you weren't paying attention.

message 14: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul (poldy16061904) | 20 comments I read this book for the first time after reading fifteen or so other novels by Dick, plus the collected short stories and Sutin's biography. I think this definately helped me to enjoy the book more, especially having the biographical info to help put a lot of the material into context. My advice to readers who didn't really enjoy this novel first time around is to give it another go in a few years, preferably having read a lot more PKD in the meantime.

Gerald Camp (gerryc) | 9 comments The notion that the book is about the nature of reality sounds right. One definition of reality is this, from chapter 5: "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, it doesn't go away." This definition seems to raise questions. How does one stop believing in reality? Is that insanity? If it doesn't go away, does the insane person still experience it, or does he experience something else which appears to be reality to him?

Michael | 88 comments This is a brilliant definition of reality, which Dick totally subverts by the end of the book.


Yes, Fat is Dick, or a least a part of his personality which splits off due to Dick's "failure" to stop Gloria from killing herself. Dick stops believing in Fat and he goes away - so he wasn't real then? But if he comes back, does that mean he is real, or that Dick is insane?

Robert Lewis | 1 comments I have to agree that VALIS is largely about the nature of reality -- and even more about the perception of reality. The relationships between the narrator, the author and Horselover Fat keep changing. I'm sure Dick does this intentionally as a way of drawing us into the questions about sanity that lie at the heart of the story. It could have been a dreadfully arty-farty intellectual book, but Dick keeps it moving with his characters and their everyday lives. It's harder to read than most of his books, for sure. But he's tackling some difficult stuff here -- and I get the feeling it's more difficult for him than it is for us.

Michael | 88 comments I think that you're right to say "perception" rather than "nature".

Gerald Camp (gerryc) | 9 comments Michael wrote: "This is a brilliant definition of reality, which Dick totally subverts by the end of the book.


Yes, Fat is Dick, or a least a part of his

personality which splits off due to Dick's "fa..."

Wait a minute. It wasn't Dick that failed to prevent Gloria's suicide, it was Fat. Dick is the author.

Michael | 88 comments Read on!

Byron  'Giggsy' Paul (giggsy) | 110 comments Mod
I have to agree with Paul some about when it is best to read VALIS. Some PKD fans will list VALIS as their favorite or even argue it's Dick's best book, but I definitely don't think it is a good starting poing for reading Dick. If you are new to Dick, I think you will enjoy this one later on, after you've sampled a few of his major novels and also some of his minor novels which are still great in their own way.

i should be beginning my re-read of it tomorrow, so hopefully I can add more insight and see if I like it more the second time around

Gerald Camp (gerryc) | 9 comments Finished VALIS about an hour ago. This is a book that is impossible (it seems to me) to try to discuss until one has finished it at least once. So much of the "reality" of the book shifts in the last few chapters that everything I've said previously is nonsense. I ended up liking the book very much, and I'd like to reread it now that I know what the "reality" is. Probably need to read a Dick biography as well.

Michael | 88 comments I read a bio a couple of years ago, so lots of the situations were familiar, but just how much of VALIS is PKD fictionalising and how much he truly believed happened and believed in, I don't know.

Of all the PKD books I've read, this one I've found the most bewildering and thought-provoking. I really like VALIS and will re-read it at some point, as it will certainly take a few goings over to fully appreciate.

Byron  'Giggsy' Paul (giggsy) | 110 comments Mod
I'm with Michael - its hard to tell what parts are true, versus what parts are complete fiction for enjoyments sake, versus what parts are Dick just being insane.

I'm about 75% done with my re-read... I'm liking it more now that I know what to expect and can analyze it for what it is rather than reading it and hoping it was something else - which is the case with my first read early this year.

Byron  'Giggsy' Paul (giggsy) | 110 comments Mod
I also wanted to mention now that Dick's The Exegesis has now been released [and I've got my copy already] and also mention some of the other books related to VALIS and Dick's pink beam of light experience. I know many of you are familiar with these, but some of the newer fans of Dick may not know of all of them.

in VALIS, we have PKD narrating as 'I', although he is essentially both the 'I' character and Horselover Fat. Towards the end of Chapter 3 in VALIS: "in reading this, you cannot see that Fat is writing about himself, then you understand nothing." and then a little afterwards "all my reading I have--I mean, Horselover Fat has--never found anything more significant as an insight into the nature of reality."

And much of the book reference's Dick's Exegesis journal. Previously there was this book, In Pursuit of VALIS: Selections from the Exegesis, a 300-pager with some excerpts. Now we have a larger version released. My version is 900 pages not counting some more for introduction, editors note, afterword, glossary, endnotes, and index... and the pages aren't small, 9 inches by 6 inches, so its definitely a large work. I've heard estimates that there are 9000 handwritten and typed pages in all, although some estimates have been closer to the 4 or 5 thousand range. The VALIS we are reading is only the beginning, the search for answers lead to this new work published 30 years after his death.

Also, VALIS is considered the first in a trilogy, with The Divine Invasion being second, and then the true third novel was not completed, however, his final novel The Transmigration of Timothy Archer was still similar enough in theme that it is often published as the third in the trilogy.

And then there is Radio Free Albemuth, which I love. PKD wrote this before VALIS, and it was his first attempt to deal with the pink beam experience in March 1974. Publishers rejected it and he rewrote it as VALIS, and RFA was published after his death. RFA is similar, but reads more like fiction and more like a novel. It features the alternate Nixon Ferris F Fremont, the christian fish sign, the pink beam, Nicolas Brady, Friends of the American People, the satellite, the Russians, and of course God and gnostics, although I'd say it doesn't get as detailed on the varitey of religious ideas and concepts. Dick uses the same device of essentially having himself be two characters. One character is Phil, a science fiction writer, and the other is Nicholas Brady, a record store owner. The pink beam experience happens to Brady (like Fat), but of course its really Phil. A Radio Free Albemuth movie has been made and been touring in festivals for 1.5 years now. I think there is some pending distribution coming, but don't know much details.. probably will get limited theatre release but hopefully we can all get our hands on it in DVD form someday soon.

A Scanner Darkly, is different, but it's mentioned in VALIS. In the middle of chapter 7 he mentions that he "ripped off Fat's account of his eight hours of lurid phosphene activity." and follows with a two paragraph excerpt of the novel here. The main character in A Scanner Darkly has a split-personality experience, and I found that a little interesting, as in Dick's two autobiographical novels VALIS and RFA he presents himself as main character and main narrator as separate persons.... is A Scanner Darkly also a glimpse into how PKD's mind worked after the pink beam experience?

Byron  'Giggsy' Paul (giggsy) | 110 comments Mod
I enjoyed my second read much more, and while I can finally say I like this one, it still rates towards at the bottom of PKD books I've read if I have to rank them in order.

My original complaint was that this work was too much in-between the normal areas we define works. Too much in between fiction and non-fiction. Too much in between an autobiography and a fantasy. Too much journal entries without actually presenting his journal. So much religion but not enought to be a good religion study, etc... That assesment still stands, but knowing what I was getting into let me focus on the beauty of each individual portion or chapter.

I also remember on my first read having a very difficult time separating Kevin and David with such common names. They are very different, so I'm not sure if it my was lack of focus, or perhaps a flaw in PKD's presentation of them. Did anyone else have trouble separating the two? Also, Kevin is based on real life friend and writer KW Jeter and David is based on real life friend Tim Powers. I've yet to ready any of their work, but really want to, as they are considered heirs to PKD and seem to have their own strong individuality as well

Byron  'Giggsy' Paul (giggsy) | 110 comments Mod
so where did all the discussion go? I had another question to pose for discussion:

How important is religious background to reading VALIS? Should the reader has some background into Gnosticism before reading?

I guess that has two levels to it, the importance of background knowledge in 'liking' the novel and then the importance in 'understanding' the novel.

I have come across some of these gnostic concepts before, but ultimately don't have much detailed knowledge. I think I still understand it fine, but wondered as I read it how I might view certain ideas if this was an area of religion/philosophy I was more familiar with.

Matthew (victor_von) | 24 comments I didn't really know much about Gnosticism before I read VALIS, but I admit that the novel sparked my study.

The novel's pretty accurate in its depiction of some forms of Gnosticism. However, it skews towards the more positive/arcane aspects of the belief system. For example, the fact that Gnostics hate the world and the body is kind of implicit in the novel, but I didn't get that until after I did some research.

I guess I regard the novel as a not-at-all-bad introduction to Gnosticism, but it's all seen through a wonderfully strange lens. If you want to know more then there's a lot of reading material available.

Byron 'Giggsy' wrote: "so where did all the discussion go? I had another question to pose for discussion:

How important is religious background to reading VALIS? Should the reader has some background into Gnosticism b..."

Hertzan Chimera (hertzanchimera) | 225 comments I think it's been LONG ENOUGH now that I can get VALIS out again and contribute to this Group Read.

When I first read VALIS, I really hated the book, I was in my twenties. Now, I'm older, wiser? perhaps not, but I'm already a couple chapters into this book and enjoying the split-dynamic of Dick's brain a bit more than I did first time.

This has happened to me before, hating then loving PKD's books; it changes over time, too - i.e. it's not just linear (or maturity) based.

Hertzan Chimera (hertzanchimera) | 225 comments here's my update: I'm close to finishing it, and I didn't seem to HATE the book this much, this reading.

I'm not even sure if I finished the book the once or twice before that I've tried to read it.

I do (however) remember the ending where Phil/Fat meets the Jesus-child.

I may have to reassess it as 'a better book than I remember'.

Byron  'Giggsy' Paul (giggsy) | 110 comments Mod
My second reading went much better too. While the novel is still very Dickian, it's also quite different from his others. It certainly was nothing like what I was expecting, so I think that factored into not liking it much the first time, but on the second time I could enjoy it for what it is.

Hertzan Chimera (hertzanchimera) | 225 comments Yeah, I mean, it's like he's already done all the 'research' via his voluminous EXEGESIS, so it was just a case of 'weaving the Horselover Fat story into it' really. Dramatising his own 'fiction', if you will.


Hertzan Chimera (hertzanchimera) | 225 comments I was sorta annoyed that the book just sorta STOPPED, like he'd had enough of it, didn't resolve, didn't have a satisfactory conclusion (from my viewpoint) odd.


message 34: by Byron 'Giggsy' (last edited Aug 29, 2012 12:52PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Byron  'Giggsy' Paul (giggsy) | 110 comments Mod
the publisher was probably harassing him to send in the manuscript and he said "fuck it" and sent it in as is

RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) | 0 comments I'm going to be reading the VALIS trilogy over the summer months if anyone wants to join in. We can post our thoughts on the first book in this thread.

ᴹᵗᴮᵈ멘붕 (mtbd215) i plan on starting the VALIS trilogy in the next couple days after i finish "A Maze of Death"

message 37: by ᴹᵗᴮᵈ멘붕 (last edited Jun 21, 2018 03:49PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

ᴹᵗᴮᵈ멘붕 (mtbd215) Ok, i finished VALIS a couple days ago. this book is such a mystifying journey, a powerful undertaking, so much that i felt an enormously proud sense of accomplishment after finishing. and now onto the Divine Invasion

RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) | 0 comments I started this one but I'm not getting through it very quickly. There are a lot of ideas and I find myself slowing down to make sure I catch everything.

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