I prefer Radio Free Albemuth over VALIS, which I’m only making that comparison because they cover a similar story… I prefer a lot of Dick’s books over VALIS.
He wrote this one first in 1976, and when his publisher wanted to make some changes Dick instead rewrote it as an entirely new book which was published as VALIS in 1981. Radio Free Albemuth itself wasn’t published until 1985 several years after he died. The story from Radio Free Albemuth shows up in VALIS briefly, altered and in a much more tripped-out fashion, as a movie that Dick and his friends go see.
The book starts out narrated by Dick himself before switching to the point of view of his friend Nicholas Brady and then switching back to Dick’s POV at the end. It implies Dick and Nicholas are one and the same, just like Dick and Horselover Fat in VALIS, although that’s never revealed to be the case here. Rather Brady serves as a what if? version of Dick if he had left Berkeley sooner and had a different career. Some autobiographical details, like the burglary of Dick’s house (which he was convinced was orchestrated by the police or FBI) make their way into the story, but Brady inherits many of the other events from Dick’s life, such as being alerted to his son’s undiagnosed hernia by VALIS’s pink light.
The overall plot involves the effort of Brady, guided by VALIS, to stand up to the tyrannical rule of the U.S. president Ferris F. Fremont. Brady plans to sneak subliminal messages about Fremont’s ties to the Communist party into an album released by his record company, although I’m not sure how that would topple a totalitarian government that kills and imprisons with impunity. The middle section of the book told from Brady’s POV is the least interesting as it deals with the long-winded theology about VALIS which is a satellite that is also God… I think. One day I will read Dick’s 1000-page Exegesis and his VALIS theories may all make sense.
In the end Brady and Sadassa Silvia (who had also been contacted by VALIS) are both killed by Ferris F. Fremont’s stooges. After the U.S. destroys the VALIS satellite the opposition doesn’t stand much of a chance. The government lets Dick live imprisoned in a labor camp, and in a clever turn of events, at least from a meta point of view, they release agitprop books they’ve written under his name.
The low-budget 2010 movie, with some really low-budget special effects, most likely would only appeal to fans of the book. It’s very faithful, including all the elements that were probably silly even by the standards of the 1970s, although I do like Shea Whigham’s low-key portrayal of PKD.
Cast of characters
Nicholas Brady – an aimless resident of Berkeley turned record executive in Southern California
Rachel – Nicholas’s wife
Phil Dick – the part-time narrator as himself
Ferris F. Fremont – the president. A Nixon stand-in, although in this case Fremont is a sleeper for the Communist party
Vivian Kaplan – a young FAPer (Friends of the American People) Dick gets involved with
Sadassa Silvia – a young woman also contacted by VALIS who works with Nicholas to put subliminal messages in the albums put out by Progressive Records. Played by Alanis Morissette in the movie.
The Divine Invasion has a funny set up. We find out Herb Asher was killed in an accident but is in cryonic suspension awaiting an organ transplant that will revive him. The Cry-Labs warehouse is close to an FM radio tower, and so as Asher dreams and relives the events leading up to the accident he also hears a faint muzak version of Fiddler on the Roof that no one else can hear. This gag comes up again late in the book during a farcical encounter with a cop when Asher isn’t sure what reality he is in.
Other than these brief moments The Divine Invasion is a mostly humorless story about a woman on a faraway colony planet who is impregnated by Yahweh who was driven there from Earth in 73 A.D. She travels back to Earth along with the Joseph stand-in Herb Asher and a reincarnated Elijah so that her soon-to-be-born son Emmanuel can overthrow Earth’s ruling powers and save mankind… or something along those lines.
It gets better in the second half when Zina transports them all to an alternate reality and there is some mystery about who/what Zina really is (Wisdom? A fairy queen? VALIS? Satan? Christ himself… which would make Emmanuel what?), but it still remains my least favorite book of the VALIS Trilogy.
Cast of characters
Emmanuel – the reborn savior
Elias Tate – Elijah reincarnated. Emmanuel’s guardian after Herb and Rybys die
Herb Asher – Emmanuel’s ‘father’
Rybys Rommey – Emmanuel’s mother
Zina – the young girl who is Emmanuel’s friend
Cardinal Fulton Statler Harms – Chief Prelate of the Christian-Islamic Church. Trying to use Big Noodle to verify St. Anselm’s Ontological Proof for the existence of God
Nicholas Bulkowsky – Procurator Maximus of the Scientific Legate
Linda Fox – intergalactic pop superstar, at least in the book’s beginning reality
Other things to know
Christian-Islamic Church – formerly the Catholic Church
Scientific Legate – formerly the Communist Party. One of the two ruling parties of Earth along with the C.I.C.
Big Noodle – Earth’s great Artificial Intelligence
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 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??