Horselover Fat is not having a great time. A friend of his checked into therapy only to throw herself off a building. This, combined with his wife's nervous breakdown and the Soviet three-eyed space aliens beaming messages into his head with a pink laser beam, is enough to drive him to complete insanity.
Thus, the book begins. Throughout, Horselover Fat is confronted by the Soviet Union, Satan (in the form of Ferris F Fremont), Jesus, alien space lasers, and his own possible madness.
Philip K. Dick's second-to-last completed novel, VALIS is about his own experiences with something in 1974. Drugs? Schizophrenia? Alien intervention? And what does the name Horselover Fat mean?note It's difficult to say, but it's certainly some kind of novel.
An early draft of the novel, Radio Free Albemuth was published in 1985 and later adapted into the 2010 film of the same name.
This book contains examples of:
- Adaptation Name Change: The film changes Fremont's first name and middle initial to Richard J.
- Ancient Astronauts: Fat makes Ancient Aliens worthy claims (like "the ornament on this Greek vase is obviously DNA strand") years before it came in fashion.
- Author Avatar: Admitted within three pages. Then Philip K Dick shows up as a character.
- Bilingual Bonus: Yes and no. It doesn't take too long for someone with a background in languages to figure out that "Horselover" is "Philip" (from Greek Phillipos=phil-, love(r) and hippos, horse(s)) and that "Fat" is "Dick" (German), but anyone who's read the book will tell you it's not nearly that simple.
- Brainy Baby: Sophia, who's also the messiah.
- Bullied into Depression: Maybe it's not all her fault, but let's face it, Beth is downright abusive to Fat and everyone (but him) can see the fact. She's angry at him for not getting his suicide attempt right, for crying out loud.
- Bungled Suicide: Fat, twice. Both his attempts are cries for help, although the one when he took 49 tablets of digitalis came within hair's breath of actually killing him.
- Catchphrase: Maurice keeps rhetorically claiming "I'm being serious!". Fat and Phil laugh about that (behind his back).
- Chronic Hero Syndrome: A big problem for Fat.Helping people was one of the two basic things Fat had been told to give up; helping people and taking dope. He had stopped taking dope, but all his energy and enthusiasm were now totally channeled into saving people. Better he had kept on with the dope.
- Cold Sniper: Maurice, Fat's therapist, used to blow up terrorists in Syria.
- Deus Est Machina: Possibly? When the characters meet the ostensible incarnation of the deity, they wonder afterwards whether she was a machine. Also, VALIS is a satellite in the Radio Free Albemuth version.
- Drugs Are Bad: Several characters, Fat included, are quite a bit brain-fried because of them.
- Exposition Beam: The laser beam that fired information into Fat's brain.
- Fictional Color: After seeing the laser beam, Fat researched and found that it was a shade of pink that could not exist.
- Fridge Brilliance: In-universe. The "symbolism" in the film Valis only makes "sense" after multiple watchings.
- Gnosticism: It's practically a novelization.
- The Horseshoe Effect: In the film, when Nicholas tells Phil that Fremont is a secret Communist, the latter objects that he's a fascist, while Nick says there's no real difference in practice. Fremont in any case is also pretending to be a right-wing anti-communist, so it's not surprising he'd be called a fascist. Both also used very similar tactics.
- Kill Sat: Well, sorta. VALIS can be dangerous to pets and people due to the radiation it emits.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: It's never outright stated if the events of the novel are real or Horselover's hallucinations.
- Mind Screw
- Mind Screw
- Mind Screw:
- For example, Phil drops his friend Fat off at the airport. Fat is going overseas for a year or so to do some soul-searching. He sends Fat postcards of where he's been, and tells him about a woman he's been seeing. Eventually, he comes home and Phil along with his friends welcome him back from his journey, of which he has many photos. During this entire time, Phil was staying at home and spent most of his time watching TV all day, and meeting periodically with his friends. Okay, have you got all that? Good. All right. Phil and Fat are split personalities. Have a nice day now.
- Makes a great deal more sense if you consider that Fat probably isn't supposed to be another personality, but a hallucination. Another personality would take over Philip's body periodically, and leave Philip with holes in his memory. It's pretty clear in the novel that Philip believes in Fat's existence, but everyone else thinks he's a hallucination. If Fat were another personality, Philip would be in the dark. It's possible his friends went to the airport because they were tired of arguing with him. He's schizophrenic, not dissociative. But... still a Mind Screw.
- Debatable. The novel is written in the 3rd person, where both Fat and Philip are treated as separate entities, however the novel is written by Horselover Fatnote . Hence Philip's consciousness is tied into the persona of Fat, he adopts the personality in an attempt to diverge and distance himself from the identity of Philip. This is the only way he can cope with the weight of existence within reality - the Black Iron Prison. That's why when Sophia finally is introduced, he sees a solution and his cognitive processes coalesce back into the central identity of Philip, but when she dies, he reverts. If Fat was a hallucination there would be no point-of-view to work from and he would act as an external intrusion, but instead the point of view is introspective where Philip is extruded from the central subjective view of reality. Schizophrenic yes, but you can't really argue for him being not dissociative when the entire point of Fat's existence is as a refuge so Philip can dissociate himself from reality. It doesn't need to manifest as classical disocciative identity disorder with a psychotic fugue or black-outs - you could easily stamp him with the label "atypical" and the DSM-IV wouldn't argue with you.note However, considering the amount of YMMV, Mind Screw and symbolic interpretations (paranoia to follow), there are undoubtedly other ways to view this scenario.
- Number of the Beast: Ferris F. Fremont's initials are FFF, and F is the sixth letter of the alphabet.
- Public Secret Message: A subliminal message is sent to the public in the form of song lyrics so that the government won't intercept it but those who know the truth will be able to spread the message.
- Sanity Slippage: One possible interpretation of the plot.
- The Shrink: Leon Stone is The Awesome Shrink, who (at least, for a while) restores Fat's faith in himself by treating him as a person, not a thing to be fixed. Of course, all his hard work gets ruined by the subsequent events, but doctor Stone did help as much as he could.
- Shown Their Work: PKD did just as much mad research as there is in the novel, and more. After the events of 1974, he started keeping journals of his research into mysticism and philosophy, which laid the groundwork for this novel. They totaled 8,000 pages by the time of his death. A handful of them were later published as The Exegesis of Philip K Dick.
- Show Within a Show: A major plot point. Fat and his friends see a movie (named Valis) and realize that the events of the film closely parallel Fat's own visions. They realize that whoever or whatever contacted Fat must have also made contact with the filmmakers. (For extra postmodernism points, the events of the film Valis are taken directly from PKD's wildly different, early draft of this very novel. Said draft was later published as Radio Free Albemuth.)
- Split Personality: Phil and Fat, probably. Add Thomas to the bunch, even if he doesn't get a proper speaking role, and all the reincarnatad-in-Phil-people-from-the-past...
- Taking You with Me: This is a strange variation on this trope, but Gloria, and later Sherri, enact a psychological version of this as they spirals towards their deaths, pulling everyone around along (particularly Fat—according to him, anyway).
- Third Eye: Your interpretation may vary but, generally, the third eye is either something all humans possess which, if opened, would allow them to free themselves of the Iron Fortress and the vestiges of time; or it can be used to brainwash and condemn humans to an earthbound existence of depression. There is the co-joined idea that those with a third eye are aliens, and have possibly reached out through a satellite to interact with the human mind. Possibly Fat's. The "possible"s are probably necessary.
- Through the Eyes of Madness: It's really difficult to tell whether Fat is insane or his reality is literally manifesting itself in strange and unusual ways due to the result of either a caretaker deity, a Neglectful Precursor to the human race, aliens, or an Eldritch Abomination... and probably about another twenty different possible causative factors if his reality is being warped. However, if he is insane (even if his insanity is due to something supra-natural), then this trope may be in effect. It becomes very difficult by the end to find distinct boundaries between Fat's neurosis/(possible)psychosis and reality, and even then the question raised is "is there any definition?" However, since he has a split personality that manifests itself and which he talks to repeatedly on a daily basis, the answer may simply be "Yes. He's a paranoid schizophrenic. Next patient please?"
- Unreliable Narrator: Fat is not dishonest, but his perception of reality might be impaired. Fittingly, he is aware of this and forthright about the possibility that he is insane.
- Wild Mass Guessing: The hypotheses that Fat, his alternate personality, and their group of friends start churning out to try to explain the possible grinding humdrum of psychosis, insanity, the tedious events of everyday life, and the coming of a new messiah to earth to release man from the sins of a destructive creator god who imprisoned all human form within a fortress that may or may not exist overlaid in multiple dimensions on top of our own reality. Generally. Depending on what part of his exegesis Fat is detailing, you may get an addition of ancient Greek languages, the dichotomy of early Christian symbols, the possibility of 3-eyed aliens from outside of "time" (or the future) whom humans either originally came from, have the potential to become, or are who the aliens wish to help (by coming to free humanity from the Iron Fortress), and philosophical debates on the nature of life and death. You may need a neck brace to deal with the Ideological Whiplash.