Review by Jason Koornick: The Divine Invasion (1981)


The Divine Invasion is an epic story about the battle between the forces of good and evil ripe with religious symbolism. Written in 1980, near the end of his life, this novel was originally conceived as a sequel to Valis. It deals with many of the same issues Dick addressed in Valis but places them in a very different context.

The Divine Invasion follows the journey of Rybys Romney and Herb Asher, two colonists inhabiting a distant planet. They live in separate domes and Herb, is called upon by Yah (God or the indigenous spirit of the planet), to go help the ailing Rybys. He would be content to stay in his dome and listen to the music of Linda Fox, his favorite singer until God strikes from above and breaks his equipment. A strange way for God to communicate with humans, but this is just beginning.

When Rybys gets pregnant (not by Herb’s efforts, he really doesn’t like the
woman) they must smuggle the unborn child back to Earth where it will
confront the evil Belial who has corrupted the purity of the planet and
it’s inhabitants. The government represents these evil qualities and is the
executor of Belial’s will, whether it knows it or not. To help them along
the way is Elias Tate, a mystical old man who is the earthly expression of
Elijah, the friend of humanity.

Through either an accident or the will of Belial, Rybys dies and the child
Emmanuel is born with brain damage. He can’t remember his cosmic destiny
and much of The Divine Invasion is spent detailing how he regains his
memory. A few key figures in his reality know of the importance of this
blessed child and they present to him piece by piece the nature of the
eternal conflict.

The story is filled with abstract characters and situations. It clearly
covers some of the same material as Valis, presenting another view of the
expression of God in our reality. Dick makes some very profound comments
about human nature that for this reader, were the most interesting parts of
this novel. He explores the balance between good and evil and the
expression of divinity in each person that combines to form the collective
God that might just be very difficult from that which we worship.

Drawing on diverse religious traditions such as Judaism, Christianity,
Islam and Gnosticism, The Divine Invasion is truly an exploration of
the human notion of God. As a science fiction story, this novel lacks many
of the classic Dick devices such as bizarre characters and futuristic
settings in favor of deep symbolism that is open for much interpretation by
the reader.

It is very much indicative of Dick’s style in his later years. The
fascination with religion and the meaning of his own religious experience
of March, 1974 are influences which play heavily into the tone and
substance of The Divine Invasion. If you are a new reader to Dick’s
unique and eye-opening exploration of religion and pseudo-philosophy then
this reviewer would recommend Valis as an introduction. However if
you are looking to further your understanding of the workings of Dick’s
complex mind and his concerns in the later years of his life, The Divine
may answer some of your questions. Or simply raise more of them.



Warning: Reading the review below may give away the story if you haven’t read it.

The Divine Invasion may not be Dick’s most refined novel but it does
capture much of the essence of what makes his science fiction unique. If
there ever was a writer who could address such profound issues as religion
and philosophy, it is Philip K. Dick.

Throughout much of this novel, I was wondering how it all fit together.
While the story is a simple one, it often wanders off into abstract
territory that is difficult to follow and connect with the main themes. As the novel progresses, all these confusing dreams/hallucinations become clear and fit into the larger scope of the story.

The abstract nature of this novel does work in its favor. The tone is one
in which anything can happen. The reader must shed their earthly
associations to fully appreciate The Divine Invasion. This is not a
novel that is grounded in the reality in which we inhabit. It is a PKD world that exists somewhere in the collective human consciousness and also uses Dick’s “alternate reality” theme to full effect.

One of the common themes that one sees in PKD novels from his later
years is an attempt to demystify the concept of God and divinity. He puts a
very human face on his expressions of divinity and subjects them to the
same rules of existence that he himself created. The world in which we live
is flawed so Dick makes his God characters live in that world. They must
deal with death, sadness, greed and imperfection. After all, if God was so
perfect why did he create THIS world? In the case of The Divine
God must recover from brain damage inflicted by an accident.
This places a very human, imperfect face on a concept that people regard as
holy and removed from earthly concerns regardless of which religion one
belongs. This is the trademark of science fiction, placing normal people in
extraordinary events and no one does it like PKD.

This reader was most impressed by the portrayal of Earth as being separated
from the benevolence of God. Many religious symbols are at work in The
Divine Invasion.
Drawing from the mythology and sacred texts of
Christianity and Judaism, The Divine Invasion also expresses Dick’s
obsession with Gnosticism in a profound and elegant way. One of the tenets
of Gnosticism is the belief that the substance of God is in each person and
that a lower level God blinds us to the true nature of enlightenment and
shields us from gnosis. One sees this struggle very clearly in The
Divine Invasion
when Zina is trying to hide the truth from Herb Asher.
She is creating an illusory world where his dreams are actualized but it is
based on his own wishes not the necessity of reality. Emmanuel (also God)
sees the flaw in this approach and tells Zina:

“Lies. It is wish fulfillment. You cannot build a world on
wishes. The basis of reality is bleak because you cannot serve up mock
vistas; you must adhere to what is possible; the law of necessity.
That is the underpinning of reality: necessity. Whatever is, is because it
must be; because it can be no other way. It is not what it is because
someone wishes it but because it has to be – that and specifically that,
down to the most meager detail.”

While the world may not be perfect, it strikes a balance that only can be
seen by those who are able to transcend the illusion that Zina represents.
This is one of the gnostic beliefs that is so clearly outlined in The
Divine Invasion.

Balance is a theme that is prevalent in this novel as well. At the end of The Divine Invasion, Emmanuel learns, through Zina’s teachings that they both exist for a reason and they compliment each other. While Zina represents a fantasy world where humans can create and influence their own destinies, Emmanuel represents a darker side where fate is out of human hands. Both of these perspectives play a major role in human existence in terms of creating and influencing our realities. When Emmanuel learns that his role is part of a larger scheme in which he plays a major part, the novel conveys a strong sense of gnosis. Even if the reader has a long way to go, the characters in the novel discover their identities and role in the cosmos. It is a powerful moment up to which the whole novel was building.

Using the character Emmanuel as the vehicle for outlining the role of the divine in humanity is a very clever and literary technique used by Dick in this novel. As Emmanuel learns more about himself and his role in the universe, so to the reader sees the story unveil itself in a very curious way. We enter in a world where God is as human as any one of us. The amnesia from which Emmanuel must overcome is seen as the blinder which keeps most humans in the dark. Plato’s analogy of “the cave” from which only the enlightened few are able to emerge is very appropriate here. Again, his gnostic sensibilities become very clear in this novel.

The Divine Invasion has a very other-worldy, transcendent style that may make it difficult for someone unfamiliar with PKD to appreciate. It is filled with mystical symbolism and pseudo theology/philosophy which has become Dick’s trademark in his later years. All in all, The Divine Invasion is a very complex novel that uses science fiction only as a springboard for the expression of very intricate ideas of religion, fate and ultimately human destiny. There’s a lot that an open-minded (and educated) reader can get out of The Divine Invasion. This novel is full of possibilities but also limited by its own lack of focus. As one reads deeper into this novel, they will discover philosophical truths that are obscured from view and could only have come from the mind of Philip K. Dick. That is if they don’t go crazy first.

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