Title: "Radio Free Albemuth"
Author: Dick, Philip K
Published: New York:Vintage Books, April 1998
ISBN: 9780679781370
Length: 214 pages
Keywords: alien, althist, dystopia, gnostic, music, paranormal,
          radio, scare, stasi, subliminal
Review by: Don Kuenz

Philip K Dick

Intro

Backed by the US intelligence community, Ferris F Fremont is elected President. In this alternate history story, "the man who could not compete did not have to." But, Fremont's past holds a secret. If it ever gets out it will lead to his downfall. So, the State resorts to ever more oppressive measures to ensure Fremont's secret stays safely suppressed.

After he comes to power, the American government launches Mission Checkup to detect "sleepers" who may become aware of Fremont's secret. While an associated agency known as Friends of the American People (FAP) intimidates the population to help ferret out sleepers.

Nicholas Brady has worked in the music business all of his life. A satellite in Earth's upper atmosphere, put into place by aliens on Albemuth, guides Nick and others in the revelation of Fremont's secret.

Title, teasers, cover, characters, & blurb

Radio Free Albemuth

"A brilliant, idiosyncratic, formidably intelligent writer.... Dick illuminates. He casts light. He gives off a radiance. –Washington Post

"Dick is entertaining us about...reality and madness, time and death, sin and salvation....[He is] our own homegrown Borges." –Ursula K. LeGuin, New Republic



Character list:
Nicholas Brady–Protagonist, part of the subersive Aramchek organization.
Phil K Dick–Struggling science fiction author and sometime story narrator.
Rachel Brady–Nicholas' wife.
Herb and Pat Jackman–Proprietors of University Music on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley California.
Carl Dondero–West Coast representative of Progressive Records in Burbank.
Johnny Brady–Nicholas' son.
Pinky–The Brady's cat.
Dr. Evenston–performs surgery on Johnny to correct a right inguinal hernia.
Ferris F. Fremont–the corrupt President of the USA.
Vivian Kaplan–a Friends of the American People (FAP) agent.
Bill–a fellow FAPer and Vivian's fiance.
Dr. Kosh–best oral surgeon in central Orange County who removes Nicholas' abscessed and impacted wisdom tooth.
Agent Townsend and Agent Snow–Two FAPers who contact Nicholas.
James-James–an enormously powerful scientist apparition in one of Nicholas' dreams.
Sadassa Silvia–songwriter and fellow member of Aramchek.
Serge and Galina Aramchek–Sadassa's parents.
Allen Sheib, Fleming, and Tycher–a trio of Progressive Records managers.
Dr Wintaub–Surgeon who treats Nicholas after an automobile accident.
Leon–A political prisoner in "work therapy."

IN THE LATE 1960s
a paranoid incompetent has schemed his way into the White House and convulsed America in a vicious war against imaginary internal enemies. A struggling science fiction writer named Philip K. Dick is trying to keep from becoming one of that war's casualties. And Dick's best friend, a record executive named Nicholas Brady, is receiving transmissions from an extraterrestrial entity that may also happen to be God–an entity that apparently wants him to overthrow the President.

In this, his last novel, Philip K. Dick morphed and recombined themes that had informed his fiction from A Scanner Darkly to VALIS and produced a wild, impassioned work that reads like a visionary alternate history of the United States. Agonizingly suspenseful, darkly hilarious, and filled with enough conspiracy theories to thrill the most hardened paranoid, Radio Free Albemuth is proof of Dick's stature as our century's greatest prankster-prophet.

Synopsis

Nicholas Brady's been involved in the music industry ever since he first worked as a retail clerk at University Music on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley California during the 1950s. In 1969 Ferris F Fremont, a corrupt, anti-social man, backed by the US intelligence community, becomes President. As he consolidates his power, Fremont introduces widespread repressive measures to keep his enemies at bay. Because he possesses a secret, which must be kept.

Meanwhile, Nicholas Brady receives paranormal guidance from an alien, benevolent satellite above earth. The spirit moves Nick to relocate to Placenta California with his pregnant wife Rachael. Progressive Records in nearby Burbank hires Nick, where he eventually becomes a producer.

After Rachael gives birth to his son Johnny, the entity named Valis, behind the benevolent satellite, informs Nick of a potentially lethal, congenital abnormality present in his young son. When Dr. Evenston restores Johnny to health, it helps convince both best friend Phil Dick and Rachael of Valis' validity.

Before long, Nick, Rachel, and Phil pay a visit to Fremont's first home in Orange County, now open to the public as a museum. There they discover a slab of concrete in Fremont's former backyard with the word "Aramchek" embedded on it, orginally engraved into wet cement. Aramchek is also Fremont's favorite villainous group of shadowy figures who threaten law abiding citizens.

When co-conspirator and songwriter Sadassa Silvia encounters Nick at Progress Records, they eventually hatch a subersive scheme to take down Fremont.

Review

Published posthumously nearly a decade after PKD's death, some suggest this is a first draft. Regardless, at this stage of his authorial career, even PKD's reportedly rough drafts with rough edges remain as relevant and poignant as ever.

The titular Radio Free alludes to Radio Free Europe, which primarily exists to broadcast Western propaganda into Russia and surrounding areas.

By including himself as a character PKD creates a mechanism whereby he can periodically drop intriguing "Easter eggs" into his story. Such tidbits are catnip to his fans. Take this passage, for instance:

My real trouble concerning drugs came when Harlan Ellison in his anthology Dangerous Visions said in an introduction to a story of mine that is was "written under the influence of LSD," which of course was not correct. After that I had a really dreadful reputation as a doper, thanks to Harlan's desire for publicity.

One prevalent story theme is the persistence of malvalent State overreach throughout millenia, and subsequent loose-knit remediation. PKD's story implants theoleptic sybils into people's minds to guide them through the rough times as they restore freedom. Sybils with anamnesis in their toolkit.

As with much of PKD's oeuvre, the politics in his dystopia ultimately seem all too real. At times, Dick plays the part of a prose prankster. This story showcases some of his dark humor. The following abridged excerpt gives you a taste of it:

And then there was the weekly "Conversation with the Man We Trust," Ferris F. Fremont speaking from a firelit alcove in the White house. ...

These synthetic chats were carried by all networks in prime time, and it was a good idea to listen. You were supposed to do so with your front door open, so that roving bands of [Friends of the American People] could make spot checks. They passed out little cards on which various simpleminded questions about the current speech were asked; you were to check the right answers and then drop the card in a mailbox. ... It was mandatory to put your social security number on the card; ...

Sometimes the questions did seem devious, with the high possibility of making an accidental incriminating answer. One went: Russia is becoming (1) weaker; (2) stronger; (3) about the same in relationship with the Free World. ...

[The next question was] Russian technology is (1) very good; (2) adequate; (3) typically inept.

Well, if you marked (1) you seemed to be paying the Communists a compliment. (2) was probably the best bet, since it was probably true, but the way (3) was worded seemed to suggest that the right-thinking citizen would reflexively mark it. After all, what could one expect from captive Slavic minds? Certainly, typical ineptness. We were very good, not them.

But if their technology was typically inept, then how could (2) be the correct answer to the previous question?

Glossary

anamnesis GABAS Minnesota Multiphasic sibyl theolepsy transliminate

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