Thursday, February 10, 2011


Philip K. Dick
Doubleday, 1981 (my copy is from Vintage Books, 1991)
Size: Short (my copy has 241 pages)
Theme: Psychological drama
Narrative: mostly first-person
Main character: Horselover Fat
Recommended minimum age: Young adult
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: NO

This book is about a schizophrenic named Horselover Fat and his descent into madness. The plot starts with his attempt to deal with the death of a girl, who had been keen on committing suicide for a while. Death and suicide have permeated his life, due to his two defects, which he has been told several times he needs to change: a proclivity to try to save other people, and his history of drug use.

VALIS stands for Vast Active Living Intelligence System, and is supposedly an intelligence that interfaces with people for a specific purpose. The book is confusing enough that you cannot really be sure in the end if the characters have understood what is going on and what VALIS is, or if they simply made up an answer. In fact, confusing is one of the two adjectives I would use regarding this book. From start to about two thirds of the story, you are told of how crazy Horselover Fat is, his inability to cope with suicide and abandonment, and his psychological and religious ramblings. The plot hardly evolves and a lot of the text just seems to have been drafted during a sleepless night. I did not enjoy at all those first two thirds of the book. The story picks up after that, and starts actually developing some action and trying to explain some of the multiple existing loose threads, but it is too little and too late. The other adjective I would use is boring. The plot circles back on itself several times and there is really nothing new or extremely original. The characters are not deep or interesting, and the ending is less than thrilling.

I do not recommend this book at all (which is very rare for me), and would label is as marginally readable only because near the end you start feeling like there’s a purpose to it. Unfortunately, there isn’t.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

Philip K. Dick
Doubleday, 1964 (my copy is from Vintage Books, 1992)
Size: Short (my copy has 230 pages)
Theme: Futuristic drug-induced experiences
Narrative: switches between first-person and third-person
Main character: Leo Bulero and Barney Mayersons
Recommended minimum age: Young adult
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

In a futuristic society, climate changes and insufficient space on Earth has led to the exploration and colonization of other planets. However, this is done through a draft process, due to the harsh life of colonists. To make life easier, it has become commonplace to use a drug called Can-D, which enables people to enter a sort of trance and immerse in a virtual world. Leo Bulero is the owner of a major reputable miniaturization company and, unknown to society in general, also the owner of the Can-D business. However, the unexpected return of Palmer Eldritch from his travel outside our solar system to meet an alien race, and the fact that he has brought with him a new type of drug, Chew-Z, which seems likely will be considered legal, creates considerable turmoil. As Leo and one of his main advisors, Barney Mayerson, experience Chew-Z, reality and the virtual Chew-Z world become harder and harder to tell apart. Has Palmer Eldritch become a God, or are they immersed in a fiction they cannot tell from reality?

This is a great reality-bending psychological thriller, where the warping of senses becomes pervasive and where deep complex issues are explored, such as the concepts of God, human soul, and consciousness. Also, although the story is quite short, it is very self-contained and has a perfectly reasonable thread from start to end. Also, despite being short, it superficially tackles many sci-fi themes, which have become pervasive in this genre over the last decades, such as time travel, precognition, induced reality, and mind-bending drugs, managing to mix them together in a very satisfactory way. The ending is puzzling enough to let you ponder what in reality happened, and you are left eager to read more of this story. As with most Philip K Dick’s stories, I feel there was much more depth the plot could have gone to, if the book was several times longer. Still, it’s an excellent book and definitely worth reading.