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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. Together with Dick's last book, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1982) (thematically related to the unfinished trilogy and included in several omnibus editions of the trilogy as a stand-in for the unwritten final volume), VALIS represents Dick's last major work before he died. Radio Free Albemuth, a posthumously published earlier version of VALIS, is not included as a component of the VALIS trilogy.


The main character in VALIS is Horselover Fat, an author surrogate. "Horselover" echoes the Greek etymology of the name Philip, while in German, Dick's surname means "fat".

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.

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, literally meaning "wisdom" in Greek [ Σοφία]), temporarily cures him, and the narrator describes his surprise that Horselover Fat has suddenly disappeared from his side.


Horselover Fat believes his visions expose hidden facts about the reality of life on Earth, and a group of others joins him in researching these matters. One of their theories is that there is some kind of intelligent machine in orbit around the planet, and that it is aiding them in their quest. They eventually go to an estate owned by a popular musician. They decide the goal that they have been led toward is Sophia, who is two years old and the Messiah anticipated by well-know religious teachings. She tells them that their conclusions are correct.

Dick's book Exegesis

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 supposed 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 claimed xenoglossia: A decade earlier, Dick insisted 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.

Main characters

  • Phil: narrator, science fiction writer
  • Horselover Fat: narrator
  • Gloria Knudson: suicidal friend of Fat's
  • Kevin: friend of Fat's, skeptic
  • 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.
  • Eric Lampton: rock star, screenwriter, actor, aka "Mother Goose",
  • Linda Lampton: actress
  • Sophia: the child-messiah, incarnation of VALIS
  • Brent Mini: electronic composer

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 psychologists Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, and the author and psychologist Robert Anton Wilson. In Wilson's autobiographical Cosmic Trigger (released shortly before Dick commenced work on 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.

In popular culture

VALIS was adapted in 1987 as an electronic opera by composer Tod Machover, and performed at Centre Georges Pompidoumarker, with live singers and video installations created by artist Catherine Ikam. It is currently programed as the main work to be performed at the Grimeborn festival in August 2009.

In 2004, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Philip K. Dick's alleged epiphany, 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 three of Philip K. Dick's works: Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said; VALIS; and Radio Free Albemuth.

John Alan Simon, director of the film adaptation of Dick's Radio Free Albemuth, remarked that VALIS will form the basis of a sequel to the Radio Free Albemuth film if it is successful: "Since [Radio Free Albemuth] is essentially the first draft of VALIS, we ended up with rights to both from the estate of [Philip K. Dick]. If [Radio Free Albemuth] is successful, VALIS the book would form the basis for the sequel to VALIS the movie. In other words, the story of VALIS would form the basis for VALIS 2."

In the TV series Lost, the beginning scene in the season 4 episode entitled "Eggtown" depicts John Locke delivering this book to Benjamin Linus while he is being held prisoner by the survivors in the barracks. Benjamin tells Locke that he has already read the book, to which Locke replies, "... read it again, you might catch something you missed the first time around." Two episodes later the prisoner is seen reading the book and there is a brief close-up where the cover of the book fills the screen.


  • Galbreath, Robert, (1982). "Salvation-Knowledge: Ironic Gnosticism in VALIS and The Flight to Lucifer", Science-Fiction Dialogues, Ed. Gary K. Wolfe, Chicago: Academy Chicago, pp. 115-32.
  • _______________ (1983). "Redemption and doubt in Philip K. Dick's VALIS Trilogy", Extrapolation 24:2, pp. 105-15.
  • Palmer, Christopher, (1991). "Postmodernism and the Birth of the Author in Philip K. Dick's VALIS", Science-Fiction Studies # 55, 18:3, pp. 330-42.
  • Stilling, Roger J., (1991). "Mystical Healing: Reading Philip K. Dick's VALIS and The Divine Invasion as Metapsychoanalytic Novels", South Atlantic Review 56: 2, pp. 91-106

See also


External links

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