Radio Free Albemuth

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Radio Free Albemuth is a novel by Philip K. Dick, written in 1976 and published posthumously in 1985. Originally titled VALISystem A, it was his first attempt to deal in fiction with his experiences of early 1974. When his publishers at Bantam requested extensive rewrites he canned the project and reworked it into the VALIS trilogy. Arbor House acquired the rights to Radio Free Albemuth in 1985, they published an edition under the current title (the original was too close to VALIS, already published by then) prepared from the corrected typescript given by Dick to his friend Tim Powers.


Plot summary

In this alternate history the corrupt US President Ferris F Fremont (FFF for 666, Number of the Beast) becomes chief executive in the sixties. The character is best described as an amalgam of Joseph McCarthy and Richard Nixon, who abrogates civil liberties and human rights through positing a conspiracy theory centred around a fictitious subversive organisation known as "Aramchek". In addition to this, he is associated with a right-wing populist movement called "Friends of the American People" (Fappers).

Ironically enough, the President's paranoia and opportunism lead to the establishment of a real resistance movement to him, which is organised through eponymous radio broadcasts from a mysterious alien satellite, by a superintelligent, extraterrestrial, omnipotent being (or network) named VALIS.

As with its successor, VALIS, this novel is autobiographical. Dick himself is a major character, though fictitious protagonist Nicholas Brady serves as a vehicle for Dick's alleged gnostic theophany on February 11, 1974. In addition, Sadassa Silvia is a character who claims that Ferris Fremont is actually a communist covert agent, and that her mother recruited him for the Soviet Union after she joins the resistance.

As with VALIS, Radio Free Albemuth deals with his highly personal style of Christianity (or Gnosticism), as well as with the moral repercussions of being an informer for the authorities, and his dislike of the Republican Party, satirizing Nixon's America as a Stalinist or neo-fascist police state. Eventually, Fremont captures and imprisons Dick and Brady after the latter produces and distributes a record that urges subliminal messages of revolt against the Fremont dictatorship. Brady and Silvia are executed, and Dick narrates the concluding passage about his life in a concentration camp, where "his" latest work is penned by a ghost writer and regime-approved hack. Suddenly, he hears other music, with the same subliminal message. He and his friends were just a decoy set up by VALIS to detour the government from stopping an A-List band from releasing a similar record. As Dick realises this, and hears children starting to sing the tune, he realises that all may not be lost after all.

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