VALIS is a favourite novel of mine, and why I like The Da Vinci Code despite its awfulness. The first book of this type that I ever came across was a novel by Robert Silverberg called Dying Inside, which I read 40 years ago when it was first printed in the July-August and September-October 1972 issues of Galaxy magazine. These were among the first grown-up science fiction magazines I ever read -- I was about 14¾ at the time.
Dying Inside is a vaguely Fortean novel, about a telepath who earns a living ghost-writing essays for students who have more money than brains. It isn’t the most thrilling adventure ever written—in fact it’s positively dull—but it’s got a lot of sexual references in it, which are quite interesting when you’re 14¾. It’s also packed full of factual allusions... almost none of which I understood at the time, although I was fascinated by them nonetheless.
There are references to classical music—Schoenberg, Beethoven, Mahler, Berg, Bartok, Bach and Schoenberg, and to high literature from Aeschylus and Sophocles to Balzac, Dostoyevsky and Proust. When I was a student in the late seventies I used to listen to Radio Three a lot, and developed a taste for all the composers mentioned. Great literature, on the other hand, is something I’ve never had much interest in.... although I did go through a phase circa 1975 of trying very hard to read Finnegans Wake, which Silverberg also alludes to (“Earwicker’s borborygmi”). I’ve got more time for poets than I have for heavyweight novelists, and he namedrops some of the best: Tennyson, Browning and T.S. Eliot (whose ashes are buried at East Coker, a few miles from where I live).
For some reason, there aren’t that many painters mentioned in Dying Inside, but the ones who are are among my favourites: Hieronymus Bosch, Peter Bruegel and El Greco. Another artist, M.C. Escher, is referred to as M.G. Escher!
There are very few scientists, too—the only one I found when I just looked through was J.W. Gibbs, whose name will mean a lot to anyone who did physics at university and very little to anyone else. On the whole, though, Silverberg is less interested in the materialistic side of things than the mystical: he mentions Thomas Aquinas and St Augustine, the Tao Te Ching and the Bhagavad-Gita, and a number of quasi-forteans such as J. B Rhine, Arthur Koestler, Wilhelm Reich and Edgar Cayce. He also mentions the I Ching, which features in Philip K. Dick’s novel The Man in the High Castle (which I didn’t read until 1976) and General Semantics, which features in A.E. van Vogt’s masterpiece The World of Null-A (which I didn’t read until 1994!).
Silverberg even namedrops a couple of fellow science fiction authors: Theodore Sturgeon and Isaac Asimov. Seeing Asimov on his visit to Birmingham in 1974 was the high point of the seventies for me... even though I saw Silverberg himself at the Eastercon in Manchester the following year!