on September 25, 1998
To me, this was the accessible, sentimental VALIS. While it is not so rich in detail, one does not have to read the exegesis of Gnostic terminology found in VALIS. I believe the story benifits from this as it allowed Dick to focus more tightly on his main characters and their emotions.
Parts of this books made me feel like I was reading a later day addition to C. S. Lewis' Perlandria series. The feeling of divine contact and its sudden withdrawal was just devastating. I have rarely read such a clear portrayal of the emotions surrounding direct religious experiences.
The other aspect of this book I liked was its obviously autobiographical narrative, and its dark hints at Nixon's raw grasping for power and possible responsibilities for the loss of some of our most popular leaders of the '60s.
Radio Free Albemuth provides a fascinating alternative to VALIS, and can be enjoyed at several levels. It also combines in an accessible manner the important themes Dick wrote about in "A Scanner Darkly" and "Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said". While it is derrivative of these books, the insight and ideas have been honed to their essence.
on October 8, 2005
Set in California in the early 1970's, record producer and hipster Nicholas Brady is receiving communications from outer space that put him in the thick of a political plot to depose the despised U.S. President from Orange County, while Phil Dick is his science-fiction writer friend in this outrageous novel. Do these outcasts have what it takes to overthrow an authoritarian government and right the social wrongs of America? Not if the administration's goons have anything to say about it. A marvelous romp through faith, insanity, free will, and paranoia.
While not technically part of the "Valis" trilogy, this book deals with many of the same themes and occasionally even the same events, some of which supposedly really happened. It seems likely that the reason Dick never published this novel during his lifetime is because so much of this material had already been covered in his other books. But this work is far more novelistic, telling a chronological story about how two individuals decided to stick it to the Man, and less a scholarly treatise on the nature of God, reality, the universe, etc... For those who found "Valis" a little too methodological in its analysis of comparative cosmologies and so forth, "Albemuth" is a much more readable, straightforward science fiction novel. If you haven't read the "Valis" trilogy yet, read this book first.
The characters are pretty much standard for Dick: the everyman who overdid the drug culture during the 1960's, and the science fiction writer who tries to turn everything into a story. Since both of these are Dick's alter-egos, they serve to bring the writer into the action and let him toy with both autobiography and meta-fiction. As a general rule, Dick's style is easy enough to read, but his plots are often difficult to follow, since things are rarely what they appear to be and some dichotomies are never really resolved. Unlike some of his better known works, this book at least has a fairly clear-cut conclusion. The bottom line is: if you're a fan of imaginative fiction who is still unfamiliar with the work of this astonishing writer, then you need to tune in pronto. And while this may not be the master's tightest work, those new to Dick might just as well start here as anywhere.
on July 13, 2001
I don't know why, but ever since I read RFA it has been my favorite book by PKD. Dick's strength has always been his loose entanglement ("grip" is too strong a word) with reality--something that has always shown in his work. His plots are never straight-forward and, when he is at his best, it is quite possible to finish one of his books and then ask yourself "what the heck really happened here?" Dick's ability to call even reality into question has always been his strength, and RFA is no exception. What makes this particular book so good is that his writing technique lives up to the task. All too often some of Dick's works come across with a jerky, "pulp" feel. This is not bad, and it fits his style and his earlier plots, but is usually not a recipe for creating a classic. In his later works, though, he really developed his writing into something that could stand on its own, and when coupled to his extraordinary plots amd ideas would make for an unmatched read in sci-fi. His VALIS trilogy is, according to many, the greatest of his many masterpieces. RFA is not really a part of that trilogy, as it was written separately and not published until well after Dick's death, as a sort of addendum. In one sense, though, I feel like it takes all of the ideas Dick was struggling with and developing in his later years--ideas about the nature of God, the history of humanity, the question of why there are so many religions and is it really possible for us to come together on that issue--and writes them out more clearly and succinctly than any other of his novels. Don't get me wrong, they're all great. But RFA is sort of the "meat and potatoes" of his ideas--clear, organized, and what's best: it's got a great plot. It's about love, death, the threat of communism, political revolutions, subliminal messages, record stores, messages from the stars, and votive candles. What more could you want?
on October 26, 2001
This is a very well-written novel from an author who is generally hit or miss. It also has an unusual narative structure (which I will not give away) that provides a clue into Dick's own state of mind. Based on actual events of Dick's life, (as he sees them) this novel, published after his death, is the first version of what became (the very confused) VALIS. Read this first and you will understand VALIS much, much more. Dick's final four novels (RFA, VALIS, The Divine Invasion, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer) should all be read in that order to really unlock the mind of Dick in the last years of his fascinating life.
on September 8, 2009
I wonder what Philip K. Dick thought of Radio Free Europe, the American show broadcast to anti-American nations during and after the Cold War. He had little patience with any totalitarian system, so he may have thought it was a good idea to invade evil empires with ideas. He certainly thought enough of the notion to base this novel on it. In this case, though, it's not just evil nations being invaded by ideas, it's all of Earth.
Within the story, there's no Radio Free Albemuth as such - that's a joke between some of the characters trying to figure out what's happened to their friend Nicholas Brady - but there is a broadcast from space that locates certain people and attempts to free them from the evil illusion that Earth is. Nicholas, like a few thousand others, comes to see by this extraterrestrial effort that Earth is under the thrall of a vast wickedness, and that the information beamed into his brain is in the nature of an invasion by a Vast Active Living Intelligence System. (Yeah, it's VALIS, from the later PKD novel of the same name, which makes this novel a sort of first pass at the later story. Hold your horses, we'll get to that.)
In some ways, this sort of moral invasion sounds like a pretty a good idea. It's an even better idea in the world of "Radio Free Albemuth", an alternative America in which one Ferris F. Freemont has won the American presidency and turned the county into a Stalinist police state, under the guise of fighting Communist infiltration at home. This is pretty scary for ordinary citizens like Nicholas's close friend Philip K. Dick, the science fiction writer. Such citizens find themselves under constant observation by the Friends of the American People, a sort of volunteer secret police who bully others into informing on their friends and neighbors. For someone like Nicholas himself, this state of affairs is even more tense. Not only is he under surveillance like everyone else, he's also in touch with an extraterrestrial (and maybe divine) enemy of the state. And there's always the possibility that he may just be nuts.
Complicating matters further is the fact that all of this is loosely based on events that occurred in PKD's own real life in 1974. "Radio Free Albemuth" may have been one way for him to sort through his experience, but it doesn't always make a good novel. For instance, as you may have noticed, he more or less divided himself in half here - Nicholas has the experiences and "Phil" watches. By naming a character after himself, PKD evidently sought to consider his materials coolly and figure out just what the truth was. This is fine for an essay or philosophical treatise, but a novel usually requires a little more heat.
What's more, Phil and Nicholas trade off narrating "Radio Free Albemuth," so this division doesn't really even work as a distancing device. What's the point of ascribing all your pain to a fictional character if you're then going to inhabit that character in the first person?
Phil and Nicholas, and Nicholas's wife Rachel, also spend a lot of time discussing the ethics and cosmology that Nicholas receives by divine broadcast. It makes for some fascinating reading here and there - PKD's prose had been improving for several years by this time, and "Radio Free Albemuth" is no exception to that process. Nevertheless, the exposition slows the novel way down, which is a shame. After all, with this setup, the novel had a perfect opportunity to join the ranks of paranoid thrillers like "The Parallax View" and "The Manchurian Candidate", but it doesn't really work to interrupt a thriller periodically for philosophical/theological discourse.
Okay, so it's not a paranoid thriller. I have a sneaking hunch that PKD wrote "Radio Free Albemuth" to comfort himself after some years of genuine agony - to assure himself that the world had some meaning, that he would be okay one day, and that eventually the good guys would win. If I'm at all on the right track about this, it was a wise choice. As you might guess, by writing a story for himself, PKD came up with a story for the rest of us.
Now, he was too much of a realist to tack on a happy ending - even in his earliest days he almost never did that. With this story, as the narration itself points out, we're considering a worldwide global empire of evil established nearly two thousand years ago, opposed by a small cadre of men and women largely unknown to each other, all of whom hear voices in their heads. This is not "Star Wars". The Empire strikes back with a vengeance and the good guys' victories are much smaller. They are there, however, and that's what gives "Radio Free Albemuth" its teeth. I said earlier that novels require more heat than expository works, and as a matter of fact the finale of "Albemuth" has enough emotional punch to satisfy anyone, whether PKD put it there deliberately or not.
A good many commentators have suggested that this novel was a sort of first draft for "VALIS", which found a publisher during PKD's lifetime where "Albemuth" did not. At some point I'll discuss whether "VALIS" was more deserving of that distinction than "Albemuth". For now, suffice to say this: The fact that "Radio Free Albemuth", with its message of small but potent victory over death and destruction, found a publisher at all and can be read by you and me, is in itself one of those small victories. Like so much of PKD's work, especially his later stuff, it makes you feel good at the end. Read and enjoy.
Benshlomo says, The little things aren't as little as they seem.
Phillip K. Dick is at his best when he is working with BIG IDEAS, and it doesn't get any bigger than this. This book is connected in interesting ways with his insanely metaphysical Valis trilogy -- but what I think is most exciting about this one is the way he inserts himself into the universe depicted in the previous trilogy, as if to suggest that the genesis of the ideas from those books had its basis in his own experience. This tie to the "real" world makes this the ultimate Phillip K. Dick novel (though probably not the first one to read, since the conceit works best if you are already familiar with some of his ideas and works) -- since it "intensifies" or brings to completion the level of metaphysical speculation, as if to say: "you know all those books I wrote about fantasy worlds in which it was impossible to tell the difference between fantasy and reality?... that wasn't just fiction, some of it really happened to me." If you've only encountered Dick through the various movie adaptations (some successful some not), you should read Scanner, Ubik, and at least the Valis trilogy first, but then you won't be disappointed by this, his final work (even though it wasn't completed to his satisfaction when he died there's more good stuff in there than in several stacks of standard pulp sci fi.)
on January 20, 1999
Browsing through the library I stumbled across this book; I hadn't read any Phillip K. Dick since The Man in the High Castle some years ago. Though the Russia/US conflict is dated now, the book doesn't suffer, as the main plot is the relationship between VALIS (aka God) and the characters. What really surprised me was the Christian theme running throughout, and the comparisons drawn between early christian believers and the believers in VALIS. While it is probably not theologically correct to say that VALIS and God are one and the same, I found his use of VALIS as a metaphor for God to be admirable. It's interesting too that in a time when worshipping God and Jesus is not cool, and something a lot of hipsters would snicker at, worshipping something like VALIS seeems a lot more palatable as it is placed in a context of being an extraterrestrial life form.
on June 8, 2015
Radio Free Albemuth is the first draft of Philip K. Dick's novel, VALIS. Dick uses two narrators, both thinly-veiled versions of himself, to tell a story involving his "pink light" experience in the 1970s. The first narrator is named Philip K. Dick, telling the story of NIcholas Brady, a record executive who comes into contact with the VALISsystemA satellite. (VALISsystemA was a potential title for this book, which was released posthumously). The second narrator is Brady, and the switch to Brady serves to bring the reader closer to the VALISsystemA story. The final two chapters are narrated by Dick again, leading to the end of the novel and signifying the death of VALISsystemA.
The novel takes place in an alternate reality, where the assassinations of the 1960s were more pronounced, leading to the election of a fascist and perhaps even communist government. Dick and Brady live in a police state where dissenters are given decades-long sentences of hard labor, and those connected with VALISsystemA are shot on sight. There are many allusions to Dick's other works and recurrent themes, such as subliminal messages in pop records and the novels that "Philip K. Dick" writes in the novel, including The World Jones Made and Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said.
Reading Dick's post-"Pink Light" novels is like watching a great professional wrestling match. You know, the type where you wince, but your friend asks, "but it's fake, isn't it," and you answer, "yeah, but he fell on the concrete!" Yes, I do know that this is a work of fiction produced in the 1970s, and that Philip K. Dick died 30 years ago, but I can't help but compare the F.A.P. to the Tea Party and the police state that exists in Philip K. Dick's world to the post-9/11, Patriot-Act America. Ignore the fact that this book was made into a movie that completely flopped at the box office. Read it and find out. *****
on December 4, 2000
Radio Free Albemuth captures the true meaning of paranoia. The book swiftly tells the story of a wicked and manipulative government attacking its own citizens. With elements of George Orwell's 1984, Radio Free Albemuth focuses on the federal government spying on its own citizens to find out who is being unpatriotic.
Author Philip Dick uses himself as one of the main characters of this eerie story, making it seem quick feasible. Dick plays himself - a science fiction writer. His long-time friend in the story is Nicholas Brady, who works at Progressive Records. Nick's job is to audition and sign new artists (mostly folk) to the label.
Nick begins to experience dreams, which seem to predict the near future. Then he starts hearing voices while he is awake. Confused at first what this means, Nick turns to Phil for advice about his experiences. Soon Nick gets a visit from government officials called FAPS (Friends of American Patriotism). They question his patriotism. In order to prove his loyalty, the FAPs want him to agree to sign only artists with government approved messages. When Nick is reluctant to agree to this proposal, they become more suspicious of him and his possible affiliation with a communist party called Aramchek.
The story revolves around this concept. Throughout the story the FAPs get more aggressive and Nick more paranoid. He increasingly hears and experiences sub-human things. Is the government making those voices or is it another life form?
If you like Cyberpunk novels that are realistic enough to get you thinking and evaluating your own government, this book is a must read. This book never has a dull moment.
on December 28, 2014
A must read before you see the movie. There is odd coincidence that the written version builds slowly and climaxes late and swift. (The movie is the opposite.) It is essentially the same story as VALIS, but is a much more accessible read The cast of characters is re-shuffled in an alternate Dick universe; with variant backgrounds and differing goals.