Radio Free Albemuth (1976) by Philip K. Dick

 

‘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.’

 

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Cover art by Tony Roberts

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Back cover

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.

French edition

 

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.

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9 thoughts on “Radio Free Albemuth (1976) by Philip K. Dick

  1. Larry Sutin,in his biography of Dick,”Divine Invasions”,states that Dick’s editor at Bantam,Mark Hurst,asked for a minor rewrite of RFA,but he left this one at home,and wrote “Valis” instead.It was rather bland and under visualised,and certainly needed a rewrite,but the reinvented novel was a much more intense and difficult work I think,that reflected the changes that his strange experiences had exerted on him since writing RFA.His output,considering it was fairly prolifiic,was of a suprisingly good standard,highly varible and unusual,but even he had never written a novel like “Valis”.

    RFA was the first novel he wrote since “A Scanner Darkly”,that marked the end of an era in his writing career.He was on a different track.”Valis” was more visually brilliant,but RFA still has the clear-headed insight and concise prose of his earlier stuff.Both have their faults.RFA could have been quite a fine novel if it hadn’t been so strangely transformed though.

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  2. Arrgh, this reminds me that I’m falling behind… I’ll be lucky if I manage to start this one before March. I’m wondering how Exegesis-heavy it will be, based on the plot outline he included in the actual Exegesis. And since RFA was published posthumously, I always have to wonder how much it differs from what PKD would have published had he still been alive… how complete it was, how much the publisher revised it, etc. Anyways, nice review Gray, I’m a bit less apprehensive about starting to read it 🙂

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    • It’s a fairly quick read which I enjoyed. It didn’t feel like a first-draft when I was reading it. It’s nowhere near as complex as Ubik, and reads more like a paranoid thriller with mystical overtones. Richard makes a good point about the “concise prose”. I found the autobiographical style fascinating, as Dick includes real events mixed in with the fiction. He takes a deserved swipe at Harlan Ellison in the book, and uses the PKD character to question himself and his visionary experiences. Perhaps reading this after Ubik affected my impressions of it. As a standalone PKD story, it works; it’s just different.

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      • I found fault with “Ubik”,which showed his inventive powers and metaphysical juggling skills to be well primed,so I’m unable to praise this as one of his best.Although it has it’s blessings,it needed redefining,and even “Valis” could have been better if he’d have stuck to the original tone and structure.”Valis” was too dense and mainstream I think.I don’t think he ever intended for RFA to be published.

        Harlan Ellison unintentionally gave Dick a bad name in his introduction to his novellette “Faith of Our Fathers” in “Dangerous Visions”,but he was the only one who would publish this exceptional and risque piece at the time.Regarding his feelings about Ellison in RFA,I think they were mixed,as I think he both grateful to the exposure and notoriety it brough him.Ellison was a tough opponent among SF authors,even for Dick,but he later admitted he was probably the only one whose talent and energy exceeded his own.

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  3. Pingback: Radio Free Albemuth (1976, pub. 1985) by Philip K. Dick | From couch to moon

  4. The fact is that PKD considered Radio Free Albemuth – at that point called Valis-system A as ready for publication and submitted it as finished to Bantam books. After VALIS was published he gave the manuscript to his friend s-f writer Tim Powers who thought it was simply an early draft of VALIS – until he noted – after Dick’s death – that Dick had scratched out the title Valis-system A and written in by hand “Radio Free Albemuth” which strikes me (and Tim Powers) as pretty strong proof he considered it a separate novel. Everyone I’ve talked to from his publisher the late David Hartwell to his last wife Tessa Dick believes he would have been delighted for it to be published – and it certainly seems a coherent separate novel. I adapted and directed the novel as an indie movie that those who enjoyed the novel may want to check out. I chose to make the movie BECAUSE I love this novel – for me, it’s one of my five or six favorite – along with “Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldrich”, “The Man in the High Castle,” and “Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said.” The movie (like the novel) certainly has its detractors – but also some pretty strong advocates.

    By the way, anyone wanting to discuss the movie or book, can always reach me through the Radio Free Albemuth movie page on Facebook

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    • I’ve no doubt he considered it a separate novel and would have wanted it to be published.If he had lived he would have revised it though and would have been a much better novel.He wouldn’t have wanted it published in it’s raw state,and think it would have been a better novel than the troubled,self conscious and overtly mainstream “Valis”.

      It’s interesting that you mentioned “The Man in the High Castle”,as RFA was originally intended as a sequal to it.

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  5. Pingback: exegesis with a side of fiction: the 2016 pkd read along schedule - We are book punks.We are book punks.

  6. Pingback: VALIS (1981) by Philip K. Dick | Who's Dreaming Who

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