"Radio Free Albemuth" is one of Philip K. Dick's finest novels, having been discovered and published after his death in 1985.
Although Dick wrote the novel back in 1975, ten years before, the book was orignally rejected by his then-publisher Bantam books and sent back to him for re-writes. Rather than handle the re-writes, Dick sent them a different book instead, although he did go back later and write new chapters to correct plot issues.
His original title for the book was "VALISystem A" but when Arbor House acquired the rights in 1985 they published an edition under the current title (the original was too close to VALIS, already published by then). The new, published manuscript was retitled "Radio Free Albemuth" and assembled from the corrected script given by PKD to his friend and fellow science fiction and fantasy author, Tim Powers.
"Radio Free Albemuth" is easily one of Dick's most thought-provoking and provocative books. As a novel that includes many of Dick's personal experiences, and Dick himself as a major character, the story takes on a strange, surreal quality that invades our reality and toys with our perception of the book itself - as fiction or as an allegory of actual events in Dick's life.
At one point in the story, Dick and his friend Nicholas are arrested by the authorities and taken into FAP custody (an SS-like group of secret police who intimidate ordinary citizens). One of the FAP officers tells Dick that they plan to publish books under his name in order to plant subliminal messages in people's minds. At this time in the authors life he is in the process of writing "Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said" and it makes one wonder if Dick had any intention of casting doubt as to the authorship of his own body of work after his death.
The book blurs the edges of reality, as most of Dick's books do, however this one manages to ask "What is fiction?" rather than, "What is human?" in a way that is quite entertaining and provocative.
One thing I loved about the book was how, at the midpoint, the first person narrative changed, in mid-sentence, from the voice of author Philip K. Dick to that of his friend Nicholas Brady. The effect was slightly disorienting and yet, ingeniusly well-timed in the story. Later on the voice switches back again in mid-sentence which makes sense. After all, we're reading a book written by Dick in the first place, so having Dick drift in and out of the narrative is fitting- because he's been the voice all along.
As someone who is aware of a lot of the major spiritual events of Dick's life, the book took on a fascinating quality as specific details spilled over into this book. Nicholas (or "Nick") and PKD (or "Dick") are practically synonymous. Events that Dick experienced such as hearing a voice speak to him about his son needing immediate medical attention and saving the boys life are re-told here as happening to Nicholas. As the two share in Dick's autobiographical experiences it becomes clear that the two are meant to serve as the one, interchangable character- Dick himself.
There is a bit of an alternate history going on where Richard Nixon is personified as "Ferris F. Fremont" and described as an undercover agent of the Soviet Communist Party, and an extra-terrestrial satellite is discovered orbiting our planet and openly reported about in the daily news, however we are always left wondering how much of this is allegory and how much is meant to be taken as fiction.
What makes reality more challenging to unravel stems from Dick's own, and very real, drug use. Of course, in this book he denies being a drug user and attributes the misconception to a misinformed quote from Harlan Ellison. At one point he laments the perception that he uses drugs and says that his readers should no more believe he uses drugs simply because he writes about drug use any more than a crime fiction writer should be assumed to be a murderer because he writes about murder. Of course, it is no secret that Dick did take large doses of amphetamines in his lifetime, largely to stay awake and allow him to write more - which meant he would get paid more. This fact is supported by the astounding number of novels Dick wrote in such a short time (over 36) and the hundreds of short stories he published as well.
In addition to the drug use, Dick also had his own personal bouts with mental illness. His behavior - self-medicating and constantly at the typwriter- suggest someone with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), which also largely contributed to his seemingly endless variety of story ideas.
For the uninitiated, Dick was also someone who dabbled quite a lot in philosophy and beleived that he was receiving messages from either an extra-terrestrial being (Valis) or God himself, much like Nicholas Brady in this very book. Because of this, Dick uses the book to unpack quite a bit of his own personal thoughts about God and his own twisted version of a quasi-Christian religion.
Another surprising element of the book was the humor. It was genuinely funny, which is something I cannot say about the majority of his novels (at least not the one's I've read to date).
Having finished the book I am curious as to whether or not any of Dick's other books can equal the quality of writing or the wall-to-wall lunacy found here.
So far this book ranks in the Top 5 list of Dick's books for me which include "Ubik", "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?", "The Man Who Japed" and "Flow My Tears The Policeman Said".
The first 5 pages of the new comic version of PKD's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" are now online HERE
Not sure how I feel about the constant and unnecessary "he said/Iran said" on every word balloon, but the art looks great and having a comic version of this amazing novel is enough to push me over the edge.
Especially since there's the chance that the success of this comic novel could mean future PKD projects down the road and I'd love to read a comic book version of "Flow My Tears" or "Ubik".
This letter below was sent to me by someone I consider a friend, although he probably doesn't remember meeting me at the Squeeze concert 15 years ago in Los Angeles.
Linford is a songwriter and gifted musician who also happens to write letters that read like poetry.
His band, Over The Rhine, also records some of the most beautiful music around.
Here ya go: **
Hello friends and extended family,
I know of a glass blower who gets up every morning in the dark to do his work. Before the world wakes up, before the phone starts ringing, in the sacred remains of the night when all is still, he gathers and begins to fuse his raw materials: the breath from his lungs, glowing flame, imagination, dogged hope.
I used to work from the other direction. I loved the feeling of still being up after the rest of the city (and world) had grown sleepy, the light of a lamp making my third story bedroom windows glow while I leaned over my desk and sailed towards something I couldn’t name.
Someone sent me this little excerpt awhile back, in a beautiful letter of encouragement I should add, the sort of letter that makes everything slow down, hold still:
Here dies another day During which I have had eyes, ears, hands And the great world round me; And with tomorrow begins another. Why am I allowed two? - GK Chesterton
I’d really be okay with this being my epitaph.
When I was younger I would often write myself short job descriptions. I was thinking out loud about what might be worth hanging a life on, a life I was willing to sign my name to:
-Create spaces where good things can happen.
-Give the world something beautiful, some gift of gratitude, no matter how insignificant or small.
-Write love letters to the whole world.
-Build fires outdoors, and lift a glass and tell stories, and listen, and laugh, laugh, laugh. (Karin says I’m still working on this one. She thinks I still need to laugh more, especially at her jokes, puns and witty asides.)
-Flip a breaker and plunge the farm into darkness so that the stars can be properly seen.
-Do not squander afflictions.
-Own the longing, the non-negotiable need to “praise the mutilated world.”
-Find the music.
I still crave the extravagant gesture, the woman spilling a year’s wages on the feet of Jesus, the rarest perfume, washing his feet and drying them with her hair, a gesture so sensual it left the other men in the room paralyzed with criticism, analysis, theoretical moral concern - for what - the poor? Or was it just misdirected outrage in light of the glaring poverty of their own imaginations?
Some friends of mine were talking about this scene the other night. We got to imagining Mary with a pixie haircut, which made the drying more difficult. We were drinking wine and Rob had made something to eat late at night: take a cracker, put a thin slice of fresh pear on it, then some sautéed goat cheese from the skillet, and top it with walnuts drizzled with honey from the oven. At midnight?!
Someone once described our music as a mash-up of spirituality, whimsy and sensuality.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Music and art and writing: extravagant, essential, the act of spilling something, a cup running over…
The simultaneous cry of, You must change your life, and Welcome home.
I’ve been trying to write songs again, and I’ve been hitting a maze of dead ends. I want the songs to reveal something to me, teach me something. It’s slow going. I’m not sure where I’m going. Uncertainty abounds.
But the writing works on me little by little and begins to change me. That’s why I would recommend not putting off writing if it’s something you feel called to: if you put it off, then the writing can’t do the work that it needs to do to you.
Yes, I think there’s something there. If you don’t do the work, the work can’t change you. (No one expects to change overnight.)
My sister Grace recently sent me this quote from a slim little volume called Art and Fear:
Uncertainty is the essential, inevitable and all-pervasive companion to your desire to make art. And tolerance for uncertainty is the prerequisite to succeeding.
A blessing for the writers among us: May all your dead ends be beautiful.
When I was younger and I found myself sitting down in a new season of writing, I would put my pen down and close up the pica typewriter (the only letterpress printing machine I ever learned to operate all by myself, the bell of encouragement and mild alarm ringing at the end of every line, I can still hear it) and feel compelled to clean my rooms, put my world in order. It used to take 3-4 days.
Now it takes 3-4 months.
Our messes get bigger. And bigger.
So, I’ve been getting “caught up” with taxes and filing, putting things away, making lists, getting more than a few lagging projects out the door that are overdue (the first Over the Rhine songbook?!). And on and on.
Someone in our Santa Fe songwriting workshop once confessed, I’m good at a lot of things that will kill me. For those of us who write, there are always so many options that don’t involve the dilemma, the extravagance of the blank page. When we sit down to write, there’s never a guarantee that we’ll have anything to show for it that we can touch with our hands, or see with our own eyes. In fact, life is a lot cleaner and more manageable when I’m not writing.
Yes, I’ll just admit it. I’m a writer that all too often is more than happy to run from writing. But sooner or later I realize something is dying inside. And then I try to get back to work.
From Linford Detweiler, Over The Rhine April, 2009
Boom! Studios Announces new 24 issue comic book mini-series based on PKD's classic novel.
Written by Phillip K. Dick, art by Steven Dupre, covers by Dennis Calero, Bill Sienkiewicz, Moritat and Scott Keating.
The book that inspired the film Blade Runner comes to BOOM! with backmatter by Warren Ellis!
Visionary sci-fi author Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?" has been called "a masterpiece ahead of its time, even today" and served as the basis for the Ridley Scott film Blade Runner.
The Story: San Francisco lies under a cloud of radioactive dust. The World War killed millions, driving entire species to extinction, and sending mankind off-planet. Those who remained coveted any living creature, and for people who couldn't afford one, companies built incredibly realistic fakes: horses, birds, cats, sheep -- even humans. Rick Deckard is an officially sanctioned bounty hunter tasked to find six rogue androids -- they're machines, but look, sound, and think like humans, clever, and most of all, dangerous humans.
Rick Deckard, Pris, The Voight-Kampff Test, Nexus 6 androids, the Tyrell Corporation: join BOOM! Studios as the complete novel transplanted into the comic book medium, mixing all new panel-to-panel continuity with the actual text from the novel in an innovative, groundbreaking 24-issue maxi-series experiment.
As the serpent is lifted up in the wilderness so is my anger lifted up against you If my desire to end your life were a flame oh how I would burn supernova, under a blue sky with a Bible in my hand and a thorn in my side I am torn, I am torn between lusting for the warmth of your blood on my hands and longing to see you covered in the blood of the Lamb.
And I hope one day to find you sleeping and to raise my sword above your head to cut a lock of your hair and leave it beside you as you dream
You are not the king you hope to be and my songs can never soothe the demon in you or me