Theme: Theology

VALIS published 1981

Whether or not you like VALIS depends on how much you can tolerate Dick’s ramblings about the events of February/March 1974. See R. Crumb’s take on what supposedly happened to him if you aren’t familiar. Others might find it endlessly fascinating, but it’s never done much for me.

VALIS
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VALIS is narrated by Philip K. Dick himself as he tells the story of the apparent descent into madness of Horselover Fat. Since it’s given away early on, it’s not a spoiler to say Fat and Dick have a Tyler Durden thing going on. ‘Philip’ means ‘Horselover’ in Greek and ‘Fat’ is the German translation of ‘Dick.’

I like the style of his later books, but outside of a few amusing scenes (particularly when Fat tries to avoid talking about religion with his therapist so that he doesn’t get sent back to the psych ward but ends up ranting about the deranged god Yaldaboath when the therapist asks him if he believes in God) this book would make a fine cure for insomnia.

In short: Horselover Fat starts to lose his mind after the suicide of a friend, believes he is being contacted by some kind of alien satellite and eventually goes on a quest to find the reborn savior. The story in the VALIS film that Fat and his friends go see is repurposed from Radio Free Albemuth which was unpublished when Dick wrote this book.

Cast of characters

  • Horselover Fat – our protagonist
  • Philip K. Dick – as himself
  • Gloria – commits suicide at the beginning of the book
  • Stephanie – young dope dealer who gives Horselover Fat a clay pot
  • Kevin and David – Horselover Fat’s friends
  • Sherri – Horselover Fat’s friend who dies of cancer
  • Beth – Horselover Fat’s wife
  • Christopher – Horselover Fat’s son
  • Dr. Stone – in charge of the North Ward mental hospital
  • Maurice – Horselover Fat’s therapist
  • Eric Lampton aka Goose – writer/director of the VALIS film
  • Brent Mini – created the music for the VALIS film
  • Sophia – Eric and Linda Lampton’s daughter. The reborn savior??

Deus Irae published 1976

Dick began Deus Irae in 1964 and collaborated on it with Roger Zelazny on and off for the next twelve years before it finally was published in 1976.

Deus Irae
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A religion called the Servants of Wrath springs up after a nuclear war wipes out most of the planet’s population. The followers worship the destroyer who has come to Earth in the form of Carl Lufteufel, the man responsible for the bombs.

Tibor McMasters, an armless and legless man very similar to the phocomelus Hoppy Harrington from Dr. Bloodmoney (except that Tibor’s cart is pulled by a cow), is hired to paint a church mural featuring Lufteufel for the Servants of Wrath. He sets off on a pilgrimage, followed by Pete Sands, across the post-apocalyptic wasteland in order to find Lufteufel and take a photo of him to reference for the mural.

Cast of characters

  • Father Handy – father in the Servants of Wrath church
  • Tibor McMasters – limbless artist who paints the SOW church mural
  • Pete Sands – Christian church member
  • Dr. Jim Abernathy – Christian priest in Charlottesville
  • Lurnie Rae – SOWer who decides to join the Christian church
  • Carl Lufteufel – Deus Irae. The God of Wrath. Former Chairman of the Energy Research and Development Administration who was responsible for the nuclear war
  • Jackson and Earl Potter – lizard-like mutants Tibor meets on his journey
  • Jack Schuld – a hunter who says he is tracking Lufteufel but turns out to be Lufteufel himself
  • The Great C – a computer out in the post-apocalyptic wasteland that captures passerby and dissolves them in underground vats of acid

The Transmigration of Timothy Archer published 1982

The Transmigration of Timothy Archer is the last book Dick wrote, published just after he died in 1982. I thought it was terrific, although I’m someone who enjoys the exploration of theology that makes up most of the plot.

 The Transmigration of Timothy Archer
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Our narrator, a woman named Angel Archer, tells about her father-in-law Bishop Tim Archer who has a crisis of faith after the discovery of an ancient document casts a doubt on Jesus’s divinity. It opens on the day of John Lennon’s murder in 1980, but the majority of the story is flashbacks. 

This one is considered one of Dick’s “mainstream” novels, and I wish he had been given a chance to write more books like this. It’s funny and smart and grounded in the real world of Berkeley, California.

Cast of characters

  • Timothy Archer – Episcopalian Bishop of California
  • Jeff Archer – Timothy’s son
  • Angel Archer – our narrator. Jeff’s wife and Timothy’s daughter-in-law
  • Kristen Lundborg – Angel’s best friend and Timothy’s mistress
  • Bill Lundborg – Kristen’s schizophrenic son
  • Edgar Barefoot – hosts a radio show about mysticism on KPFA in Berkeley
  • Fred Hill – owner of the Bad Luck restaurant. Possible KGB agent
  • Dr. Rachel Garret – the elderly medium they use in an attempt to talk to Jeff from beyond the grave

Other things to know

  • The Zadokites – an obscure Jewish sect
  • The Zadokite documents – fictional documents that predate Jesus by 200 years.
    Supposedly they contain “Q” which is the basis for the synoptic gospels in the Bible. The Zadokite fragments, part of the Dead Sea Scrolls, are a real thing, but the rest was invented by Dick

I picked up this copy at the library. The author photo on the back, credited to Nicole Panter, shows Dick wearing a Rozz Tox t-shirt, a reference to Gary Panter’s Rozz Tox Manifesto that argues artists should embrace capitalism. Nicole Panter was the manager for The Germs, and Gary won three Emmys for his set designs for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.

Some Rozz Tox quotes:

  • Capitalism for good or ill is the river in which we sink or swim.
  • Waiting for art talent scouts? There are no art talent scouts. Face it, no one will seek you out. No one gives a shit.
  • Law: If you want better media, go make it.
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