On Re-Reading VALIS

A discussion on TrekBBS a few days ago prompted me to pull out some of my Philip K. Dick books and take a look at them.

Dick was one of the authors I discovered in college and went on a “binge” in reading everything by Dick that I could possibly get my hands on. In the span of about a year I’d read most of his short stories, two-thirds of his science-fiction novels, and a couple of his mainstream contemporary novels.

Then, I never went back, with one or two exceptions. I reread The Three Stigmata of Palmer Edritch about five years ago. That was probably the most recent Dick novel I’d read, though I’ve enjoyed reading PKD Otaku, an online Dickian fanzine, in the years since. And I really liked Emmanuel Carrere’s biography of PKD, I Am Alive and You Are Dead, which I read not long after it came out.

This TrekBBS thread, though. The original poster wanted to know what the good PKD novels were, and some good choices were thrown out. VALIS was one, and that was one of the earliest Dick novels that I read, having come out at the time in a nice edition from Vintage Books along with The Divine Invasion and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. Since I wrote a post about VALIS, and then another post about The Man in the High Castle (Dick’s novel set in a world where Germany won the Second World War and occupied the United States), I realized that I should probably refresh my memory with Dick’s canon.

I decided I would start with VALIS.

I’d forgotten what a normal novel this was. Difficult to get into — the first chapter is a bit off-putting — but fairly conventional in literary terms.

I remember, vaguely, that the novel goes into some really weird territory later. But, where I’m sitting in the novel, it’s a rather conventional first-person account of a burned-out drug addict with psychological delusions about Gnostic philosophy and the nature of the universe.

I haven’t progressed very far with it — six or seven chapters, I think. Many of the revelations of the story, at least as I remember them, and it’s been a good fourteen years since I read VALIS, are still ahead of me. It’s been my commute reading, though this afternoon I read an issue of Titan’s Star Trek magazine instead, and I expect I’ll have burned through it in the next day or two.

I’m trying hard not to peek ahead. I remember vaguely where the book is going, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise.

I don’t know, once I’m done with VALIS, if I’ll read much more Dick beyond The Man in the High Castle. Yet, as I think about it, the more and more I think about books like Martian Time-Slip or A Maze of Death or Galactic Pot Healer (which is about a guy who repairs clay pots, not a guy who brings universal happiness by dealing dope on multiple worlds, in case the title confused you), and I wonder if maybe I’ll go ahead and read those, too.

Maybe I will.

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