on April 3, 2010
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 June 5, 2004
This was an early version of Dick's masterpiece VALIS. It is a very different novel and a very good one in its own right, full of the same metaphysical issues but not as directly autobiographical as VALIS. It is set in an alternate universe in which a certain Ferris F. Fremont (a thinly disguised Richard Nixon) is president. Nixon's paranoia about domestic "enemies" becomes Fremont's all-out campaign against a supposed conspiracy called Aramchek. To crack down on this enemy, an insidious secret police organization called FAP (Friends of the American People) is set up. Nicholas Brady, an alter ego for Dick himself, is the target for FAP harassment, and learns that the conspiracy is real. Aramchek is the satellite that is beaming information to several thousand highly aware individuals around the world, forming a "collective brain." Radio Free Albemuth is cast in a more straightforward science-fictional mode than the unconventional VALIS. But on its own merits, it is an absorbing novel that is the best possible introduction to the material and preoccupations of Dick's later years.
on December 13, 2002
Having read a fair amount of PKDï¿½s work, Iï¿½m hardly an expert but I do know that some of his stories are incoherent and directionless, while others are excellent and deeply insightful (especially my personal favorite, ï¿½A Scanner Darklyï¿½). In either case, I will always be amazed by his uniquely subversive ideas. This book was found in unpublished form after PKDï¿½s death, and I think I can see why he did not submit it for publication. First, it runs parallel to the Valis Trilogy in ways that may cause confusion. Meanwhile, the ideas used here and the methods of narration are kind of a messy hodgepodge, although the book does succeed in the end. The most awkward aspect is PKDï¿½s insertion of himself as one of the two main characters in the story. This method sometimes devolves into merely an outlet for PKD to complain about being labeled as a drug-induced writer, and to play out his extremely paranoid delusions about the Feds monitoring and whitewashing his work. Meanwhile, as opposed to some PKD books that canï¿½t quite carry a single undeveloped idea, this book has just too many of them fighting for space. Here we have rampant McCarthyism, disenfranchisement, near-death experiences, subliminal messages, cosmology, and even ancient religious philosophy. All these ideas and awkward techniques make this book rather clumsy and careening, and PKDï¿½s sheer paranoia shines through at every turn. But you can still be moved by his nightmarish scenarios of conformity and state control gone mad - and these are valuable insights, regardless of their plausibility.
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 August 12, 2001
Tired of SF novels that read like increasingly banal versions of "Starship Troopers"? Well, Philip K. Dick is the cure for you. Each of his novels sets off on its own, wonderful meandering journey that takes you places you've never imagined, and Radio Free Albemuth is no exception.
The plot basically follows American History until the late 1960s, when a character named Fremont but actually a shell for Richard Nixon takes over the country by assassinating his rivals and proceeds to make a mockery of the Bill of Rights.
That's just the backdrop for a fascinating foray into the "real" meaning of the Bible, the Jesus story, and eternal life.
BTW, this book, at just over 200 pages, takes a while to read. There are no banal page-long descriptions of the weather, clothing, etc. a la a pulp fiction novel. It's rich with ideas from page to page, so it's not necessarily a page-turner. You have to stop and think about it -- best if read not all at once but a few chapters at a time.
on July 29, 2001
This is, in many ways, the quiessential Philip K. Dick novel. It's not his best, and it's not the one you should read first (after all, it's part of the Valis series), but it is a culmination of the the themes that have always dominated his writing. In particular, paranoia and the nature of reality have always been his two major themes, and this book is no exception. At his best, Dick could truly make you ask the question "What is real?" and be unsure of the answer. His writing can also have that "looking over your shoulder" effect. He rarely portrayed either of these two themes better than in this novel. Also, the ruminations on God and religion that dominated his later writings (in particular the Valis series) is a major part of this book as well, though here it is looked at from a more remote perspective than in the previous novels. The plot is also very coherent and easy to follow, unlike in some of his books, while still retaining that unmistakable Dick touch. Essential PKD primer.
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 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 June 19, 2000
In RFA, PKD realizes that the Earth is a single planet subject to the technologies of other planets. Using their advanced technologies, other civilizations could create our civilization in their image. That is God. God is the altruistic element of a society (or perhaps the society is entirely altruistic) light years away, beaming their thoughts through satellite hovering above Earth and into a few lucky people's bodies. This was his hope, that non-corporeal entities (angels) could help us "good" people fight the establishment of stupid, paranoid, mean-spirited assholes that now rule most of the world. As with most Dick, only California can save us (has he forgotten his MW roots?), and only those who act as if they have taken too many drugs are the instruments of God's will. PKD was a very smart man who could get his ideas down on paper reasonably well. Especially chilling are Nicholas's encounters with the agents of the facist regime that has taken over America. All in all, a very good book containing many of the same elements of his other good books.
on November 18, 1999
As usual with Dick, there are some interesting things to besaid, but the flaws outweigh the good here. First, several aspects ofthe plot are ridiculous. Of course with sci-fi, you have to forgive the ridiculous, but at heart this book is a political thriller with sci-fi aspects thrown in. As a result I have a problem with the fact that the entire plot to bring down Fremont rests on some harebrained scheme to send out subliminal messages through popular music.
The second flaw stems from the fact that Dick makes himself a character in the book. I have no problem with that in theory, but in practice it is a disaster. Dick plays it completely straight, all the while touting his importance as a writer. A lot of it was very tough to swallow.
The third flaw was the inclusion of several long diatribes on the meaning of Valis during the parts narrated by Nick Brady. They just seemed goofy and brought the narrative to a screeching halt. Throw in the fact that the core political conspiracy (Left Wing Forces Using a Right Wing Puppet as their Agent) was lifted directly from The Manchurian Candidate and you have a book that must be considered a failure.