VALIS is a 1981 science fiction novel by Philip K. Dick. The title is an acronym for Vast Active Living Intelligence System, Dick's gnostic vision of one aspect of God.

VALIS is the first book in the VALIS trilogy of novels including The Divine Invasion (1981), and the unfinished The Owl in Daylight. The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1982) is thematically related to the unfinished trilogy and was included in several omnibus editions of the trilogy as a stand-in for the unwritten final volume. Together with his thematically related final novel, VALIS represents Dick's last major work before he died. Radio Free Albemuth is considered an earlier version of VALIS, and is not included as a component of the VALIS trilogy.

Plot Synopsis

While living in Santa Barbara, Philip Dick is experiencing a philosophical crisis brought about by a combination of amphetamine use, compulsively helping the wrong people and a deep sense that there is something very wrong with the world. After starting with a fairly typical section dealing with his problems with other people, women in particular, strange events begin to happen around him. He begins to see two realities overlaid on one another. One being the world as he knows it, the other a man named Thomas living in the Levant and speaking Koine Greek circa 60AD. Shortly after, he is hit in the head with a beam of pink light (he later said that if he had ever seen a laser, that's what he would have called it) that 'beamed' information to him. The pink light tells him that his son has a herniated intestine and will die within weeks if it is not treated. Even more shocking, after convincing the doctors to look at his son, it turns out that the laser was right.

During this time he begins writing his 'tractate' which is a commonplace book of amalgamated philosophies and concepts Dick had compiled in an attempt to explain this experience.

Plot - Generic Information

Horselover Fat

The main character in VALIS is Horselover Fat, an author surrogate. "Horselover" is English for the Greek word philippos (Φίλιππος), meaning "lover of horses" (from philo "brotherly or comradely love" and hippos "horse"); the German word "dick" is "Fat" in English.

Even though the book is written in the first-person-autobiographical, for most of the book Dick treats himself and Fat as two separate characters; he describes conversations and arguments with Fat, and harshly if sympathetically criticizes his opinions and writings. The major subject of these dialogues is spirituality, as Dick/Fat is/are ostensibly obsessed with several religions and philosophies, including Christianity, Taoism, Gnosticism and even Jungian psychoanalysis, in the search for a cure for what he believes is simultaneously a personal and a cosmic wound. Near the end of the book the messianic figure, incarnated by the child Sophia (a name associated with Wisdom in many Gnostic texts), cures him (temporarily), and the narrator describes his surprise that Horselover Fat has suddenly disappeared from his side.

Philip K. Dick

Dick, as narrator, states early in the book that the creation of the character "Horselover Fat" is to allow him some "much needed objectivity." In this particular work the narrator is also a fictional character provided as a cool, pragmatic counter-point to Horselover's slow disintegration.


VALIS has been described as one node of an artificial satellite network originating from the star Sirius in the Canis Major constellation. According to Dick, the Earth satellite used "pink laser beams" to transfer information and project holograms on Earth and to facilitate communication between an extraterrestrial species and humanity. Dick claimed that VALIS used "disinhibiting stimuli" to communicate, using symbols to trigger recollection of intrinsic knowledge through the loss of amnesia, achieving gnosis. Drawing directly from Platonism and Gnosticism, Dick wrote in his Exegesis: "We appear to be memory coils (DNA carriers capable of experience) in a computer-like thinking system which, although we have correctly recorded and stored thousands of years of experiential information, and each of us possesses somewhat different deposits from all the other life forms, there is a malfunction - a failure - of memory retrieval."

At one point, Dick claimed to be in a state of enthousiasmos with VALIS, where he was informed his infant son was in danger of perishing from an unnamed malady. Routine checkups on the child had shown no trouble or illness; however, Dick insisted that thorough tests be run to ensure his son's health. The doctor eventually complied, despite the fact that there were no apparent symptoms. During the examination doctors discovered an inguinal hernia, which would have killed the child if an operation was not quickly performed. His son survived thanks to the operation, which Dick attributed to the "intervention" of VALIS.

Another event was an episode of xenoglossia. Supposedly, Dick's wife transcribed the sounds she heard him speak, and discovered that he was speaking Koine Greek-the common Greek dialect during the Hellenistic years (3rd century BC-4th century AD) and direct "father" of today's modern Greek language- which he had never studied. As Dick was to later discover, Koine Greek was originally used to write the New Testament and the Septuagint. However, this was not the first time Dick had experienced xenoglossia. A decade earlier, Dick claimed he was able to think, speak, and read fluent Latin under the influence of Sandoz LSD-25.

The UK edition of VALIS also included Cosmology and Cosmogony, a chapbook containing selections from Dick's Exegesis.

Rhipidon Society

Dick's friends (and fellow science fiction writers) K.W. Jeter (Kevin) and Tim Powers (David) appear as thinly disguised characters in the novel, and along with Dick, as members of the "Rhipidon Society", with the motto, "Fish Cannot Carry Guns!" It is also said that James P. Blaylock appears in the book.

Main characters

  • Phil: narrator, science fiction writer
  • Horselover Fat: narrator
  • Gloria Knudson: suicidal friend of Fat's
  • Kevin: friend of Fat's, skeptic (based on real life writer/ friend K.W. Jeter)
  • Sherri Solvig: Fat's friend, dying from lymphatic cancer
  • David: Catholic friend of Fat's
  • Zebra: pure energy, discorporate, the Logos, living information, the "plasmate", "God"; communicates with Fat
  • VALIS: title of an American science fiction film, appears as a satellite, controls reality, synonymous with Zebra (see The Man Who Fell to Earth). Essentially a story within a story. It also forms the plotline of Radio Free Albemuth, Dick's rejected (but posthumously published) original version of Valis.
  • Eric Lampton: rock star, screenwriter, actor, aka "Mother Goose", David Bowie
  • Linda Lampton: actress
  • Sophia: the child-messiah, incarnation of VALIS
  • Brent Mini: electronic composer (based upon electronic/ambient musician Brian Eno)

Philosophical and cultural references

Theology and philosophy, especially metaphysical philosophy, play an important role in VALIS, presenting not just Dick's (and/or Horselover Fat's) own views on these subjects but also his interpretation of numerous religions and philosophies of the past. The most prominent religious references are to Valentinian Gnosticism, the Rose Cross Brotherhood, Zoroastrianism and Buddhism, as well as Biblical writings including the Book of Daniel and the New Testament epistles. Many ancient Greek philosophers are discussed, including several Pre-Socratics (Pythagoras, Xenophanes, Heraclitus, Empedocles and Parmenides) as well as Plato and Aristotle. More recent thinkers that are mentioned include the philosophers Pascal and Schopenhauer, the Christian mystic Jakob Böhme, the alchemist Paracelsus, the psychologist Carl Jung, and the author and psychologist Robert Anton Wilson. In Wilson's autobiographical Cosmic Trigger (released nearly a decade before VALIS), Wilson describes similar musings concerning the 'Sirius Connection', contemplating the idea that alien entities are sending out waves of information that we can tune in on.

The action of VALIS is set firmly in the American popular culture of its time, with references to the Grateful Dead, Frank Zappa and Linda Ronstadt as well as the fictional rock musicians Eric Lampton and Brent Mini. However, the novel also contains a number of high culture references such as the poets Vaughan, Wordsworth and Goethe, and the classical composers Handel and Wagner. In particular, the novel contains several extended discussions about Wagner's metaphysical opera Parsifal.

Black Iron Prison

The Black Iron Prison is a concept of an all-pervasive system of social control postulated in the Tractates Cryptica Scriptura, a summary of an unpublished Gnostic exegesis included in VALIS.

The Black Iron Prison was the founding of a line of thought in Discordian philosophy.

In Popular Culture

The novel VALIS was adapted in 1987 as an electronic opera by composer Tod Machover, and performed at Centre Georges Pompidou, with live singers and video installations created by artist Catherine Ikam

In 2004, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Philip K. Dick's alleged epiphany, described in the Exegesis and dramatized in VALIS, an art exhibition was organized in Vienna by multimedia artist's group XDV, which had several interactive artworks inspired by the descriptions of his experiences.

On February 1, 2004, Variety announced that Utopia Pictures & Television had acquired the rights to produce three of Philip K. Dick's works: Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said; VALIS; and Radio Free Albemuth.

See also


External links

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