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Valis Mass Market Paperback – January 1, 1981

4.4 out of 5 stars 533 ratings

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Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Bantam Books (January 1, 1981)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0553141562
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0553141566
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1 pounds
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.4 out of 5 stars 533 ratings

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Over a writing career that spanned three decades, Philip K. Dick (1928-1982) published 36 science fiction novels and 121 short stories in which he explored the essence of what makes man human and the dangers of centralized power. Toward the end of his life, his work turned toward deeply personal, metaphysical questions concerning the nature of God. Eleven novels and short stories have been adapted to film; notably: Blade Runner (based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), Total Recall, Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly. The recipient of critical acclaim and numerous awards throughout his career, Dick was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2005, and in 2007 the Library of America published a selection of his novels in three volumes. His work has been translated into more than twenty-five languages.

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4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5
533 global ratings

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Reviewed in the United States on July 1, 2018
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5.0 out of 5 stars Speculation of the Fourth Kind
By Whizbang!! on June 24, 2019
Why would anyone read Valis? Needless to say, it appeals to our inner most beliefs, "instinctive beliefs" about how we live in the place we call the Universe, or world. Unfortunately, these instinctive beliefs developed in our ancient histories where complete ignorance abounded and we desperately searched for reliable clues as to what was "going to happen next" since the Universe was thinking about us and providing obscure clues as to what it "had in mind, for our futures". Of course, sometimes the clues did seem to lead us reliably and we remembered them, but most often these clues meant nothing and were quickly forgotten. This form of faulty experience is known by doubters as the "the enumeration of favorable experiences", where we remember very selectively the "good stuff" and promptly forgot all the "bad stuff".

We all fall victim to these "superstitions" , and must continually remind ourselves to abandon such false clues in spite of their comforting effects. Further, unpleasant circumstances in life and mild (or severe) psychological imbalances can make us ever so much more susceptible to them. And, what is called an "imagination" is a kind of overly developed tendency to use such unreliable clues and weave them into scenarios that light up the brain with pleasant feelings. Complex systems of "belief" both religious and philosophical (and even scientific in some cases) have been propagated by such scenarios. History of thought is a struggle to weed out the best from the worst. Specifically, Einstein apologized to Newton when he demonstrated that Newton based his Laws of Motion on a ridiculous ideas such as "gravity". Also, consider the situation in the world today where groups of people guided by systems of absurd ideas vie for dominance.

An ancillary point on this matter which needs clarification is - "How powerful is an explanation?" The literature suggests: 1. An explanation can be "persuasive," or 2. "coercive". The meaning of coercive is, "There is no alternative..." (not absolutely certain, however); and the meaning of "persuasive" is that someone accepts an idea simply because is finds it, "Appealing enough to add it to his mind....."

How can an idea be coercive? First is must allow the formulation of reliable predictions (98% to 99% success rate) meaning the event was not caused by chance. Chance means an event produced by innumerable factors none of which can identified as the principal cause.... Second, the idea must account for known facts. By facts we mean observations which can be made reliably under stated conditions by anyone with experience in the procedures needed. "Natural Laws" are human fabrications which allow predictions and accounting for facts rather than the fabric of the Universe. This last statement means the observation must be "replicated," and not limited to the insights of a single 'seer".

Now, Dick's explanation (Valis) is interesting, but according to the above it is merely, "persuasive". However, on a positive note his idea might fall into the category know as "Consilience," which means it links various observations into a consistent whole. Most philosophies and religions are attempts to make observations made in the world part of a seamless whole. There is no reason to believe that the Universe is "logical" according to the constraints of Philosophy, nor devoted to the concerns of humanity as according to Religions. From the scientific perspective, Quantum and M-Theory cannot (as yet) be made consilient beyond the limits of an infinitesimal fraction of a centimeter. Further, observations may be suspect for the reasons stated above, and there may be simpler "causes" for the observations than are identified in the "consilience". (And, "cause and effect" might simply be another human fabrication.) Of course, Consilience is based on the dreaded, "Inductive Reasoning". For example, the Ancient Greeks thought Vulcan maintained a fire underground which produced volcanic eruptions. They forgot to consider the much simpler idea, "Radioactivity". Of course, they knew only rudiments of what are now called Chemistry and Physics (proper experiences). An explanation to be effective must not only be "internally consistent," but also "representative" of empirical particulars.

So, although Dick's ideas "interesting"and "clever," these ideas fail below the requirements of careful experiential thought that is used in create the most reliable explanations of all. Even Einstein (a kind of mathematical philosopher) did not receive the Nobel Prize for Relativity since his ideas had not been experimentally supported. Einstein thought that the best ideas formed wholly within the human mind without reference to observable objects. Darwin is rated as a superior "story telling scientist" because he supported his Natural Selection with observations of many phenomena, rather than just mathematics. So, we can accept Valis when it is experimentally verified and becomes a "coercive" rather persuasive system. Of course, coercive ideas need not be "true" since the Universe could be stranger than humans "can imagine".

In Valis, Phillip Dick uses (seemingly) every faulty way of reasoning to create a 257 page novel with just about every misleading form of reasoning woven together to explain the events in a small group of characters (nearly all based on actual people he knew) in California in the 1960's - '70's. The original impetus for this novel taken from a "visionary experience" he had on recovering from surgery to remove impacted wisdom teeth. In the vision he dreamed that a flash of light from a fish symbol cast visions into his brain which transported him to the First Century A.D. Roman Empire. The experience so affected him that he devoted much of the remainder of his life to explaining the meaning of this and other mystical experiences using the most esoteric of philosophic and religious systems and using the most common place of object such as "spray cans" by which the Universe attempted to communicate. Further, he wrote an Exegesis of over two million words in an ultimate attempt to explain these visions. Essentially he failed: but what occurred was he began to believe that the Universe had actually communicated with him through these visions to explain the most basic of all Metaphysical Questions. Here, Dick approaches the "Messiah Complex." As one prominent scientist has observed, "Metaphysics is a hole from which no one ever returned."

Or just maybe, is Horselover Fat a variation on the theme of the Underground Man of Dostoevsky or Orwell?
Is Fat conflicted by poverty and the "kipple" generated by the meaninglessness of middle class society, the fusion of mind and machine, where he seeks the assurance of some certainty by which he can sustain himself? Such certainty found only in philosophy and religion - his confidence bolstered by "visions" he desperately wants to believe are sent to him by a somehow sentient Universe? As in Orwell, a contrived society exists in speech and thought control where the only escape is to be found by writing in a diary regarding the certainty of simple mathematical calculations and enjoying orgasms with a young girl - a behavior deemed unpatriotic? Or as in Dostoevsky, where the Underground Man disdains the ordinary man to whom he feels superior, and yet unsatisfactory to himself simultaneously; where the Underground Man is disabled from action due to "too much consciousness" and must enjoy this inescapable state since he was constructed so by the unalterable Laws of Nature, a "meaning" he cannot deny? This Underground Man disdains virtually all ordinary sense or senselessness simply out of "spite" for which he feels guilty. Specifically, he thinks, "What is the sense of a tooth ache?" Modern thinking is that the brain creates pain to suggest something is wrong in the body (a tooth). Of what value is a pain for which nothing can be done? ENJOY THE PAIN, of course. Emit the most delicious moans, or beat the walls with the fists so that the neighbors can enjoy the pain as well!!! What else, but to go on like this for two or three days!!? Or, what is the value of a VISION? A kind of "pain" the brain creates to suggest something is wrong in its own functioning? Well, enjoy the vision!! Write endless letters to friends trying to make sense of the experience!! Scour tomes day and night in search of a meaning for the "pain". Then cause a group of enthusiasts to discover these writings abandoned in a garage and meticulously edit them into an "Exegesis?" Then write a set of novels displayed in wire racks in foul smelling Bus Stations, and with these results trap innocent bystanders to ponder endlessly or write Reviews on Amazon!!!??? Now, that's the ultimate!!! How about searching cartons of cigarettes at a local convenience store for a "secret message" which will reveal all? "That should straighten out a few things around here!!!" A slightly different take on the Underground Man in Wikipedia taken from Wilson's. "The Outsider" - "The book is structured in order to mirror the Outsider's experience: a sense of dislocation, or of being at odds with society. These are figures like Dostoevsky's "Underground-Man" who seem to be lost to despair and non-transcendence with no way out. Characters are then brought to the fore (including the title character from Hermann Hesse’s novel Steppenwolf). These are presented as examples of those who have insightful moments of lucidity in which they feel as though things are worthwhile/meaningful amidst their shared, usual, experience of nihilism and gloom. Sartre's Nausea is herein the key text – and the moment when the hero listens to a song in a cafe which momentarily lifts his spirits is the outlook on life to be normalized." Could Dick have written "Valis" in a similar. "Insightful moment of lucidity....." ?

Ultimately, these Underground Men use words or numbers in their thinking. Unfortunately, words express "feelings" quite separate from material reality and falling short of being a source of solace. Mathematics conversely is impersonal and based on some kinds of logic and intuition and fails in its import....falling short of omnipotence as demonstrated by Godel in his "Incompleteness Theorem". The problem for thoughtful men depicted by Orwell, Dostoevsky and Dick is there is no final solution to be found in science, religion, philosophy or mathematics......a dire but inescapable situation all humans who reflect find themselves mired in.

Now, one must must admit Dick is a very skillful (seductive?) writer who can intertwine fact with fiction in the most convincing of ways - to the point of causing even the most fervent doubters to consider the possible sense in what he writes. Considered as "entertainment," Valis is enjoyable in spite of the amusing manner in which Dick expounds what he considers the most profound thoughts with the almost comically common objects. Dick obviously did much research in the Encyclopedia Britannica and the Encyclopedia of Philosophy (his main references) but his knowledge of scientific subjects seems much more superficial. For example, he did mention the elegant idea that the Universe is "information"; yet did not define the nuances of "Information Theory". Dick took his point of view and developed it to his personal satisfaction.....Mercifully, he did not do what the likes of L. Ron Hubbard did in weaving a mass of fiction into a new Religion.

All said, Valis in some sense resembles a recent interpretation of the origin of the Universe.....which is that it is a kind of Computer Simulation by an Advanced Programmer in another universe (or "somewhere") with unlimited computing power. One scientist (at least) is now at work attempting to construct a similar simulation. If our Universe is such a simulation a test of the hypothesis would be that there should exist anomalies in the Cosmological Constant. So far, none have been detected. Nonetheless, a "tip of the hat" to Phillip K. Dick (Horselover Fat) for his prescient, creative thinking. Or should that be he came upon the idea strictly by chance?

Specifically, if a number of chimpanzees were to type random keys on typewriters, would they if given enough time create quite by chance a new "Shakespearean Tragedy" without any conscious awareness? Who would search and create an "Exegesis" from the remaining mountain of drivel?

Or consider Jorge Borges', "Library of Babel":

"Borges' narrator describes how his universe consists of an enormous expanse of adjacent hexagonal rooms, each of which contains the bare necessities for human survival—and four walls of bookshelves. Though the order and content of the books are random and apparently completely meaningless, the inhabitants believe that the books contain every possible ordering of just 25 basic characters (22 letters, the period, the comma, and space). Though the vast majority of the books in this universe are pure gibberish, the library also must contain, somewhere, every coherent book ever written, or that might ever be written, and every possible permutation or slightly erroneous version of every one of those books. The narrator notes that the library must contain all useful information, including predictions of the future, biographies of any person, and translations of every book in all languages. Conversely, for many of the texts, some language could be devised that would make it readable with any of a vast number of different contents." (And, it should be added, in each of the rooms a "Librarian" would be charged with distinguishing the drivel from the drama, once again.)

Dick, typing something like 60 pages a day (with the aid of amphetamines) could have made a significant addition to the "Babble" of the Library of Babel.........and, like the Chimps quite accidentally have written something significant?

Sound familiar?

Your Old Buddy, Whizbang!!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Each one is so different from the other and make for great debates- David is deeply religious
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 3, 2017
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John M
3.0 out of 5 stars A strange and unsettling read. Semi-autobiographical, so really for PKD fans rather than mainstream SF
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 10, 2018
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Natalie B
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, rich read but needed more...Where are the Sumerians?!
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 9, 2018
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A. C. Phipps
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing novel
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5.0 out of 5 stars The author is the quality.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 27, 2019
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