I skipped church today to read Valis, by Philip K. Dick.
I've seen several movies based on the Dick's novels (Blade Runner, A Scanner Darkly), but I had never known whether the author could actually write or not. Turns out he can.
Valis is fascinating. Highly autobiographical, full of theology, references to Gnostic Christianity, and questions about the nature of reality, it manages to hit a lot of my personal obsessions. The narrator (Horselover Fat) is portrayed as mostly insane, but because Fat is aware of his mental condition and constantly challenging and questioning his own experiences, it actually adds to the depth and intrigue of the story.
If anything, Valis reminds me not so much of Heinlein or Clarke or other 1960s and 1970s science fiction writers, but of Dostoevsky in the 19th century.
This book took me through ten states and over 10,000 miles of highway, to rural Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta, prosperous New South suburbs and New Orleans after the flood. I talked to pretty much anyone who would talk to me—black and white, rich and poor, liberal and conservative, Baptist, Pentecostal, and Catholic.
I witnessed protest rallies and Pentecostal tent revivals. I visited megachurches and a pacifist Christian commune. I met a few scary people and many more kind, hospitable ones.
I heard some stories you might or might not believe...