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Intriguing, but needs some judicious editing
on 18 March 2002
It's hard to decide what to make of "Valis". Certainly it's more of a personal book than the blurb suggests. Faced with a crisis of belief in reality itself, Dick chronicled his breakdown in this occasionally ponderous but often blackly funny work of semi-fiction.
Dick at first seems to be writing in the third person using a fictional character (Horselover Fat) to represent himself. He quickly admits that Fat is really him. But later on he also joins the story as the real Philip K Dick - one of Fat's friends. He comments on Fat's illness and his opinions of his radical beliefs. This dual identity aspect becomes fascinating and helps the book blur between autobiography and fantasy very well.
My problem is when Dick drifts into religious hypothesis. Fat jumps from theory to theory, trying to explain his apparent religious experience. Just when you manage to get your head around one fascinating concept it gets junked in favour of another. Was Fat's condition the result of the Second Coming, his future self, or even aliens? I'm not sure if by the end I really cared, or even if I should.
Sometimes in "Valis", Dick goes over the same ground again and again. His writing is always a pleasure to read, but pages of theory with no narrative begin to grind after awhile. The concept is intriguing, the characters funny (though the three main women come across as selfish through Dick's eyes, which is unfortunate). I think this time he may have required a good editor.
This is still a good read - but try other Dick novels first.