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Philip K. Dick
Gollancz paperback £6.99
review by Mike Philbin
"It is about madness, pain, deception, death, obsessive delusory states of mind, cruelty, solitude, imprisonment, and it is a joy to read." quotes The Washington Post on the cover of VALIS. One can only wonder which of Philip K. Dick's books this review blurb was borrowed from. Horselover Fat (a kinky replicant of Philip K. Dick's name) is having woman trouble. He is having money trouble. He is having severe mental health trouble; not a surprise with all the drugs he's swallowing. Sounds like the life of a self-disrespecting writer on planet Earth. But there's a difference. Fat has 'seen the light'. Fat has found God. Or rather God has found Horselover Fat - in the form of a blinding bright pink laser beam of cosmic information. Sounds like a good premise for a good book, right?
VALIS hails from the critically-acclaimed golden era of Philip K Dick's 30-year writing output, alongside his books The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch and A Scanner Darkly. I'd been trying to get hold of a copy of VALIS for a few years already. I finally got a copy and the book is shit. Well, the first 48 pages are truly stagnant, let's say. A brave editor would have insisted VALIS started on the second paragraph of page 48, "Fat had never been locked up before." as that's where the actual story (if you can call it that) seems to begin. It's the same thing with the way Dick confesses early on that Horselover Fat is as an externalised aspect of himself. It breaks the agreement with the reader that he is here to read something truly mind-blowing. Already you've crushed all confidence that Dick can deliver. The book has already failed. Disbelief has been cruelly suspended. Dick is admitting that this isn't an entertainment as are most of his other books. Dick is confessing that he's burnt out. He has nothing more to say. He is over as a human being and as a writer. Spent. A cranky dry husk.
But read on and you'll be further disappointed that the 'story' actually goes nowhere. There's nothing to say other than Philip K. Dick went a bit mad eventually and thought writing it all down would be a good idea for fans of his fiction. Throughout this turgid purgatory of a book, detailed reference is made to Horselover Fat's scientific/ religious 'Exegesis' - this is actually a notebook Philip K. Dick had been adding to for the last ten years as well as writing about 20 books. From the examples delivered here, one can only estimate how utterly tedious that 8,000 page tome is gonna be.
Both are a criminal case of the writer getting in the way of his writing - it's about too much thought going into what is usually (or so it seems for Dick) a truly spontaneous, creative process. Let's just say Dick is lucky VALIS is not this reviewer's first experience of his writing style or many great books would have been needlessly neglected. Looking at the (familiar) cover art again, I remember now that I'd tried to read this unforgivably boring book about 15 years ago and didn't get very far into it back then. I got further this time but the work hasn't mellowed with age, it's just got more painful. As a side project I'd recently thumbed through Emmanuel Carrere's I Am Alive And You Are Dead : A Journey Into The Mind Of Philip K. Dick, and was far more entertained by that external rendering of Dick's fateful life than VALIS' internal outpouring from the horse's mouth (so to speak). But there are (with classic PKD irony) a couple of laughs here and there along the way in this dire tale of a human life gone wrong hence this charitable score.
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