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Cover of first edition (paperback)
Author Philip K. Dick
Country United States
Language English
Series VALIS trilogy
Genre Postmodern novel, philosophical novel
Published 1981 (Bantam Books)
Media type Print (Hardcover & Paperback)
Pages 271
OCLC 7066446
LC Class CPB Box no. 2502 vol. 18
Followed by The Divine Invasion

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.

It is the first book in the incomplete VALIS trilogy of novels, followed by The Divine Invasion (1981). The planned third novel, The Owl in Daylight had not yet taken definite shape at the time of the author's death. [1] Radio Free Albemuth, a posthumously published earlier version of VALIS, is not included as a component of the VALIS trilogy. Dick completed one more novel after The Divine Invasion, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1982), based on Dick's association with Bishop James A. Pike and not connected to the VALIS theme.


  • Synopsis 1
  • Characters 2
  • Reception 3
  • Dick's Exegesis 4
  • Philosophical and cultural references 5
    • Black Iron Prison 5.1
  • In popular culture 6
  • References 7
  • Bibliography 8
  • External links 9


Horselover Fat believes his visions expose hidden facts about the reality of life on Earth, and a group of others join him in researching these matters. One of their theories is that there is some kind of alien space probe in orbit around Earth, and that it is aiding them in their quest. It also aided the United States in disclosing the Watergate scandal and the resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974. There is a filmed account of an alternative universe Nixon, "Ferris Fremont" and his fall, engineered by a fictionalised Valis, which leads them to an estate owned by the Lamptons, popular musicians. Valis (the fictional film) contains obvious references to identical revelations to those that Horselover Fat has experienced. They decide the goal that they have been led toward is Sophia, who is two years old and the Messiah or incarnation of Holy Wisdom anticipated by some variants of Gnostic Christianity. She tells them that their conclusions are correct, but dies after a laser accident. Undeterred, Fat goes on a global search for the next incarnation of Sophia. Dick also offers a rationalist explanation of his apparent "theophany", acknowledging that it might have been visual and auditory hallucinations from either schizophrenia or drug addiction sequelae.[2]


  • Phil: narrator, science fiction writer
  • Horselover Fat: narrator; Philip in Greek means "fond of horses"; "dick" is German for "fat". Later, it is disclosed that Fat is a schizophrenic modality of Phil himself.
  • Gloria Knudson: suicidal friend of Fat's
  • Kevin: friend of Fat's, skeptic, based on K.W. Jeter
  • Sherri Solvig: Fat's friend, eventually dies from lymphatic cancer
  • David: Catholic friend of Fat's, based on Tim Powers
  • Eric Lampton: rock star, screenwriter, actor, aka "Mother Goose" - apparently a fictionalised version of David Bowie
  • Linda Lampton: actress
  • Brent Mini: electronic composer, a fictionalised version of Brian Eno.
  • Sophia: Two-year-old child. Personalised incarnation of Holy Wisdom within some variants of Gnosticism


Thomas M. Disch reported that "the fascination of the book, what's most artful and confounding about it, is the way the line between Dick and Fat shifts and wavers." Disch concludes that "as a novel, as a whole novel . . . it went off the rails sometimes. But the first half holds together wonderfully, considering how much there is to be held together."[3]

Dick's 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 Koine Greek 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.

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, the Romanian historian of religion Mircea Eliade, 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 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

  • Valis book cover gallery
  • Tractates Cryptica Scriptura The appendix of VALIS, an extract of the Exegesis
  • Terence McKenna article about Philip K. Dick & VALIS
  • ValisPhilip K. Dick's by Ted Gioia (Conceptual Fiction)

External links

  • Galbreath, Robert, (1982). "Salvation-Knowledge: Ironic Gnosticism in VALIS and The Flight to Lucifer," in Science-Fiction Dialogues, Gary K. Wolfe, ed. 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
  • Dick, Philip K., Lee, Gwen, Sauter, Doris E., What If Our World is Their Heaven (2001) ISBN 978-1585670093 pp.49-157


  1. ^
  2. ^ "VALIS Plot Summary", Philip K. Dick Trust
  3. ^ "Talking with Jesus", F&SF, July 1981, pp.36-38
  4. ^
  5. ^
  7. ^ Pitchfork Review - Bloc Party's "Four"
  8. ^ Exegesis by Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster


Progressive metal band Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster have songs named Exegesis, Valis and Black Iron Prison, all inspired by Dick's work, on their 2012 album Exegesis.[8]

British indie rock band, Bloc Party, has a song titled "V.A.L.I.S." on their 2012 album, Four.[7]

John Alan Simon, director of the film adaptation of Radio Free Albemuth, remarked that VALIS will form the basis of a sequel to that 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."[6]

VALIS appeared in the TV show Lost. In the episode "Eggtown", aired February 21, 2008, the character John Locke gives Ben Linus the book to read from Ben's own book shelf, while Ben is being held captive. In "The Other Woman", aired March 6, 2008, Ben is again shown reading the novel before being interrupted by Locke.

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.[5]


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