A rich, serious and satirical politico-theological
thriller by American writer Philip K. Dick
posthumously published in 1985
, but written in the summer of 1976
Seen alternately through the eyes of protagonist Nick Brady,
and those of his sci-fi author friend Phil, a fictionalised Philip K. Dick, a strange story of interstellar gnostic guerrilla evangelism, fighting totalitarian evil through illegal radio broadcasts and the small actions of record store clerks, unfolds, set in an alternative 1970s where Nixon-esque president Ferris F. Fremont (F.F.F.=666) has instituted weekly compulsory citizens' quizzes on the finer shades of meaning in his own speeches.
These tests are run by the newly created inquisitorial branch of the executive, the FAP-ers (or, "Friends of the American People") who ostensibly exist in order to protect America from her enemies, such as international organisation of über crypto-communists, "Aramchek", but actually serve only to stifle domestic dissent, in order to preserve Fremont's rule. More than simply a corrupt and despotic president, Fremont has allied himself with the forces of unlife, and holds the world in a metaphysical 'black iron prison' where it is cut off from the friendship and help of universal evolutionary forces. When these forces start to manifest in the form of a mysterious satellite that has begun broadcasting a subversive message of peace, harmony and interstellar civilisation, Fremont and his FAP must act to identify and eliminate the satellite's contactees.
Contactee Nick Brady stumbles through a modest career in the
record industry, eluding the subtle investigations of the
FAPers, framing and discarding theory after theory about his own developing contact experience, and eventually
gets to play his small part in the cosmic struggle taking
None of which recounting of the characteristically bizarre plot
helps us to understand how PKD takes this material and makes
it work, through the very human situations and dilemmas that his characters arrive at; but that is the author's special trick.
The book has an interesting history: prompted by a phone call from Philip Jose Farmer
(author of the Riverworld
books), who was compiling an anthology of works by fictional authors, PKD
agreed to contribute a story by Hawthorne Abendsen, a fictional author in his The Man in the High Castle
The story, A Man of No Country, was to be about
"our world (not quite) and what happened to me 11/17/71". (On that date, PKD's house in California was
broken into and his filing cabinets blown
open - the cause of much subsequent speculation on his part.)
That story never appeared, but became the genesis of Radio Free Albemuth, which PKD sold in 1976 to Bantam. There exists a purely fraudulent two page 'manuscript excerpt' - though it looks like part of a larger work, starting halfway through a sentence, no other pages, or any actual manuscript, existed at the time - which PKD wrote simply to convince Bantam that work on the novel was progressing on schedule.
Once finally completed and submitted, Bantam requested a lot of revisions which Dick declined to implement, causing Bantam to decline to publish. Fortunately, Arbour House obtained the rights in 1985, and the book was published posthumously (PKD having died in 1981) in an edition prepared from the corrected typescript originally given by Dick to his friend Tim Powers.
The ideas PKD used in this book continued to preoccupy him, and eventually became the basis of his VALIS trilogy.
Information on the writing and publishing history of Radio Free Albemuth was
There's a fascinating look at the VALIS books, including a psychological and political analysis (and a comparison with Whitley Strieber!) at: