Monday, September 3, 2018

A Look at Philip K. Dick’s Radio Free Albemuth: A Book for Our Times

Long regarded as simply a first draft to the author’s later VALIS (1978), Radio Free Albemuth is perhaps one of Philip K. Dick’s more under appreciated works.  And it’s too bad,  given the current world we live in, it’s also one of his most eerily prophetic.

Dick wrote the book in 1976 and then set it aside and it used as a subplot in his later and more extensive VALIS. Radio Free Albemuth was rediscovered after Dick died in 1982 and published posthumously under its current title in 1985. At a little over 200 pages in my Avon paperback (1987) edition, it is a comparatively sparse work, but it is still charged with the same sense of urgency, anger, and wonder that Dick carried throughout all of his work and in my opinion, should not be given short shrift.

The book takes place in an alternate 1960s-70s America where an authoritarian president based on Richard M. Nixon (whom Dick detested), Ferris F. Freemont, rose to power and with the help of his secret police, the Friends of the American People (FAP), has all but destroyed civil rights in the name of saving them. In a turn that might be well out of our own history, this authoritarian president is discovered be a sleeper agent of Moscow. He is in single-minded pursuit of Aramchek, an organization he correctly believes is out to expose him.

One senses that the book is a very personal one for Dick, with the author assuming the role of a major character and partial narrator, but not the key antagonist, who is his friend, Nick Brady, an executive with a small record company in southern California. Brady is also the recipient of signals from a god-like orbiting alien satellite, VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligent System), which also reflects the author’s own recent conversion to Gnosticism. Through VALIS, Brady, Dick, and others are drawn into the Aramchek conspiracy.

There’s a lot to unpack with Radio Free Albemuth, far too much in this limited space. I do, however, heartily recommend it was an example of Philip K. Dick at the peak of his powers. Find a copy in your local used bookshop or online. It is a book for our times.

Since I’m talking about all things Philip K. Dick, I could not pass the chance to discuss the trailer for the third season for Amazon Prime’s The Man in the High Castle, which is already upon us. I’m only reflecting on what I’ve seen, but it seems that the Nazis will develop a technology to cross the universes - which looks like it came out straight out of the old Time Tunnel TV series. It also looks like that Juliana Crain and perhaps Tagomi will lead some kind of organized resistance to the Nazis. Perhaps most interesting, what will Obergruppenführer Smith’s role be all of this? As the second season closed, he seemed to to be having second thoughts about the party line despite being thrust into the very centre of things thanks to his work in exposing the plotters in last season's closing episode. I think we're being set up for some very exciting developments. I'm very much anticipating this. 

What’s Next?

Forthcoming, I have a review of the latest book by S.M. Stirling, Black Chamber; a review of the last book in Harry Turtledove’s The Hot War trilogy, Armistice.

In the meantime, as always, Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview) are available for purchase. All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.  Thanks.

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