‘As his eyes adjusted to the gloom he saw the floating patches of colour, but they were receding from him faster and faster as his thoughts – manic, the psychiatrist had said – matched their velocity. They’re escaping, he thought, and so is my head; my mind is going along with them.’
Radio Free Albemuth was written in 1976 and published posthumously in 1985. It has been suggested that this was only a first draft which Dick abandoned before going on to write VALIS (published in 1981). He wrote it between A Scanner Darkly and VALIS during what is referred to as his ‘mature period’. It’s a short novel, one which I found easy to read. I enjoyed its simple, autobiographical style and fairly simple plot, especially after the bizarre reading experience of Ubik, which I loved.
The story focuses on the friendship of two men, Nicholas Brady, a record store clerk, and Philip K. Dick, a science fiction writer. It is set in an alternate America in which the newly elected president, Ferris F. Fremont, seems intent on creating a totalitarian regime. Against a background of paranoia and conspiracies, a resistance movement is born with the aid of a supernatural entity which Nicholas calls Valis. This entity appears to offer guidance to Brady, but is Valis real or just a creation of Nicholas’s mind?
‘Someone approached me. Far off, beyond the dry mesas. Invisible presence, shining with love. It was Valis. I recognized his being; he was familiar: the concern, the understanding, the desire to help.’
I’m not sure why but I’ve struggled to write this review. I enjoyed reading this book but it didn’t leave as much of an impression on me as Ubik did. It was interesting how Dick used the character of Nicholas Brady to address some of the mystical experiences which he believed actually happened to him between March and May of 1974. The author goes into great detail about these experiences in The Exegesis of PKD, and there are interviews available on the internet about them too.
I would only recommend this book to fans of PKD. As I’ve already said, I enjoyed it. The science fiction writer Michael Bishop called it “good enough to stand in the top ten or twelve PKD SF novels”. I think that quote gives you a good idea of the quality of this book when compared with Dick’s more famous works. It isn’t for everyone.