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The Divine Invasion by Philip K. Dick

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philip_k_dick_divine_1stusAfter struggling with VALIS, I found The Divine Invasion a complete breath of fresh air. This is considered another VALIS novel, in the sense of a novel about Dick's 1974 theophany, but VALIS is only mentioned in passing in this one, as are a few other attributes of Dick's visionary experience. This one feels more like Galactic Pot-Healer or A Maze of Death, with an overtly science fictional setting that serves as a platform for religious revelations. In The Divine Invasion we start out on a colony planet where Herb Asher gradually learns that the Earth god Yah (Yahweh, Jehovah) has been exiled for thousands of years by a malignant deity named Belial, which controls Earth under a theocracy ruled by the Catholic-Islamic Church. But Yah is ready to invade Earth to re-establish His rule, and Herb is to be the Joseph of this scenario, serving as the step-father to the reborn deity.

The book has a strange flashback structure in which we learn that Herb has actually been in a coma for ten years after an accident that occurred when he and Rybys (the mother of the reborn Yah) returned to Earth. The god-child Emmanuel has forgotten who He is, and his slow process of remembering, with the help of another divine child named Zina, seems to trigger the flashback narrative of how Herb and Rybys met on the colony planet and were talked into returning to Earth by an avatar of the prophet Elijah. It was unclear to me at times whether Herb ever actually comes out of the coma he's in, or if reality itself is shifted by Emmanuel and Zina so that he never was in a coma. Or something.

The theology seems more straight-forwardly Judeo-Christian than the theology of VALIS or Radio Free Albemuth, although with a similar Gnostic bent. In particular, there's a lot more Jewish mysticism in the mix, with the Torah being the scripture most discussed and the secret identities of a couple of characters apparently derived from Judaic doctrine. (This is not something I know much about, although I did recognize the female God-principle, Shekhinah.) The concept of Original Sin is specifically rejected, and judgment and salvation is depicted as something that each individual faces on their own, not as part of a fallen race.

Even though the science fictional elements are largely incidental to the story, I think the framework made it more accessible to me. The idea that Yahweh has been exiled to an alien planet and has to invade Earth is the kind of lunatic notion I find very appealing, even though the theology that's endlessly discussed by the characters is only moderately interesting to me. There's a prime Dickian scene late in the novel where Herb is accosted by a cop, who charges him with importing a terrorist alien to Earth, and Herb tries to convince the cop that none of this is really happening and the he (Herb) is actually in a coma. The scene is played for deadpan humor as the cop and his superior, who is listening in on the radio, wrestle with the weirdness of what Herb is saying, while the reader knows that Herb is speaking the truth. There's also a sense that Emmanuel really *is* a terrorist, who is planning to scourge the Earth with fire as only a fierce desert God knows how in His effort to cleanse the planet of the evil of Belial. On that level that theology is actually fascinating, as Dick holds up Yahweh to intense scrutiny, just as he did any idea he pursued. Yahweh may be the ultimate judge of good and evil, but Dick has some questions to ask Him first.

As ever, Dick finds reasons for hope in the end. For that matter, The Divine Invasion is never as bleak as, say, A Maze of Death or A Scanner Darkly. It's more of a comedy, with serious theology thrown in.

[How odd is it, by the way, that Rowena was chosen to do the original cover for this book?]

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
supergee
Jun. 2nd, 2014 09:36 pm (UTC)
I like the book a lot. I think it's underrated.
randy_byers
Jun. 2nd, 2014 10:38 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I feel as though I hadn't heard much about it. Same with Radio Free Albemuth.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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