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A rich, serious and satirical politico-theological sci-fi 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 place.

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 obtained from:

There's a fascinating look at the VALIS books, including a psychological and political analysis (and a comparison with Whitley Strieber!) at:

Radio Free Albemuth was also the title of the first solo album by (electric) bassist Stuart Hamm, released in 1988 or 89. Hamm's technique is very interesting, alternating between the standard, finger-plucked style and a two-handed, "hammering" technique, similar to that of Michael Hedges. On the bass, the sound of the hammering is strongly reminiscent of the piano, which comes across very clearly in his renditions of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and Claude Debussy's Doctor Gradus Ad Parnassum, the latter of which is truly stunning. The album also features excellent guitar work by guests Allan Holdsworth and Joe Satriani, particularly on the title track, and again on the lovely (and Dick-inspired) Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said.

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