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RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH
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170

53  

1976

Dec 1985

DEUS IRAE

THE BEST OF PHILIP K. DICK (Col.)

 
FIRST EDITIONS
HISTORY

    RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH had its start in 1974. In April of that year PKD received a call from fellow sf writer Philip Jose Farmer asking him to contribute a story to an anthology of stories written supposedly by fictional authors. Paul Williams explains:

    Dick liked the idea, and agreed to come up with a story by Hawthorne Abendsen, author of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, a character in Dick's novel, THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE.

    The story had a working title, "A Man For No Countries," and Dick noted that it would be about "'our' world (not quite) and what happened to me 11/17/71" (the date of the mysterious break-in at Dick's house in San Rafael, California), but it was never written, or rather, it evolved into a novel, RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH (written in 1976, published in 1985). RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH, originally called VALISYSTEM A, was the first Philip K. Dick novel in which Philip K. Dick was a fictional character, under his own name. The second was VALIS (written in '78, published in '81). The third was THE SECRET ASCENSION (PHILIP K. DICK IS DEAD, ALAS), written after Dick's death by Michael Bishop (published in 1987).

    Williams continues the story:

    VALISYSTEM A was written in the Summer of 1976, Mark Hurst, then an editor at Bantam Books, purchased the book on the understanding that it would be revised. Apparently Hurst and Dick discussed these revisions, on the phone or in person, and Dick agreed in principle to rather extensive changes. There followed several years in which Dick wrote Hurst long letters suggesting totally new plots that he would layer over the existing novel. He never actually drafted any of this material. Dick did refer often to the research he was doing for his Bantam novel; this research, the thousands of pages of notes, formed part of what he later called his EXEGESIS.

    My guess is that Phil gave up fairly quickly on the idea of revising VALISYSTEM A to satisfy what he and Mark had discussed, and turned instead to planning a new novel based on the earlier material. This in turn left him feeling blocked on the project, and so he did no novel writing until October/November of 1978, when he broke through and in a rush of creativity wrote VALIS.

    The point is that VALISYSTEM A was the rough draft of VALIS only in a technical sense. The two novels are very different in plot, theme and style...

    The name RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH was chosen because it was felt that the titles VALIS and VALISYSTEM A are too similar and would cause confusion. {...}

    David Hartwell is the editor at Arbor House responsible for acquiring RFA...

    VALISYSTEM A was completed by Aug 19, 1976. The manuscript that was published by Arbor House in 1985 as RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH was likely the one that Tim Powers provided to PKD’s estate. Dick had given Powers a manuscript for VALISYSTEM A with pencilled corrections by Dick for Powers’ collection.

    Philip K. Dick talks of VALISYSTEM A to Daniel DePrez. In this interview conducted in Aug 1976 Dick has already mentioned that he has sold VALISYSTEM A to Bantam Books who, although they didn’t publish RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH, did publish VALIS in 1978:

SFR: How can you describe the novel?

DICK: Well, that's the most difficult question of all to answer, I've found. I would actually prefer not to describe the novel. For one thing, they purchased it from the rough draft, and there'll be many changes in the final draft, and I wouldn't want to have it freeze in the rough draft form. I know it seems strange not to be able to answer a question like that, "What is the novel about?", I always say, well, if somebody asked Shakespeare, "I understand you're writing a play called ROMEO AND JULIET, what's it about?" If he were to give an oral description of it, it'd probably sound like a terrible bomb. And after he got halfway through describing it, he'd begin to realize it sounded like a terrible bomb, and he would probably not write it. So, short oral synopses do not give adequate account of books. Let's say it's the story of an alternate universe, and of a tyrant named Ferris F. Fremont, who's President of the United States, and in 1968, after having shot the Kennedys, Dr. King, Jim Pike, Malcolm X, everybody - George Wallace - so that he is elected by a very large vote, there not being any real contenders, and sets out to destroy the two-party system. And it's the story of a group of people who manage to overthrow him.

SFR: Is this going to be marketed as a science fiction novel?

DICK: Oh yes, it's definitely science fiction, because the people who overthrow him are picked at random by an extraterrestrial satellite communications system which informs them what to do, and what information will bring down the tyrant, Ferris Fremont. And coordinates their efforts through direct radio communications with the satellite, which has been in orbit around the Earth for several thousand years, and periodically intervenes when tyrannical governments become too tyrannical. There seems to be no other way to depose them.

{…}

SFR: So whenever the next novel comes up depends on when you get the next handle?

DICK: Exactly. I could go for a year, I could go two years, I could go two weeks. This one, I was beginning to think I'd never get the handle. I had done almost 300,000 words of notes, and I was really beginning to think I would never get a novel out of it. And one day I was just thinking -- just sitting there thinking -- and all of a sudden the handle came to me. And the next morning I sat down and began to write. And within twelve days I had a complete rough draft, which I sold to Bantam. After 25 years of writing, I've learned one way of doing it, and I just don't know of any other way of doing it.

    The initials of Ferris F. Fremont – FFF – are equivalent to 666 and the name itself, of course, is a substitute for Richard M. Nixon the US president who was deposed in 1974 after the Watergate scandal.

    In April 1985 it was announced in the PKD Society Newsletter that Arbor House publishers had purchased North American rights to VALISYSTEM A and would be publishing the novel as RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH in Dec 1985.

    By June at the American Booksellers Association (ABA) meeting in San Francisco, Arbor House

    had a large blowup of the cover for RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH, and included it in a flyer containing their top books for promotion for the next six months (they claim a $25,000 advertising and promotion budget, which would certainly be a first for a PKD book)...

    By the Spring of 1986 the book had sold well with 8,000 copies sent to booksellers. As Williams notes, this would be PKD’s most successful hardcover. The reviews were also coming in, positive ones including those in The New York Times and Saturday Review.

    The first edition of RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH from Arbor House was published in Dec 1985. The SFBC edition followed in Jun 1986 and the first UK edition was the paperback from Grafton in May 1987. The first paperback in the USA was from Avon in Jun 1987. A hardback from Severn House in England also came out in Oct 1987.

    Of these editions I suspect the Severn House one would be the most scarce. The first edition from Arbor House currently fetches $25 or so while the SFBC edition goes for less than $20. Ken Lopez, again, has the best RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH manuscript package for sale:

    VALISYSTEM A. (Published in 1985 as RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH). Written in 1976, prior to VALIS, but not published until after Dick's death. This is a ribbon copy typescript, 292 pages, with many ink changes and additions in Dick's hand, many of which do not appear in the published book. Inscribed and signed by the author. Together with a six page fake manuscript excerpt, numbered "85" through "90" and beginning and ending in mid-sentence, which Dick wrote solely to photocopy and send to his publisher to prove that this book, not yet begun, was well underway. Although the scene does involve the book's characters, it does not appear in the final book.

    {…} For the novel and fake excerpt manuscripts: $12,500.

    RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH transforms PKD’s pink-beam experiences into a Nixonian world of repression wherein the character Philip K. Dick and his friend Nicholas Brady are contacted by what may be an alien satellite from the star Albemuth. PKD’s mystical experiences are now ascribed to Brady and the two, spurred on by Valis, become part of a conspiracy to overthrow the regime of President Ferris F. Fremont.

    But the satellite Valis is shot down and Phil and Nick are arrested. Nick is executed and Phil thrown in a concentration camp. As a last ray of hope, though, he hears the words of a popular song with lyrics which he knows are subversive.

    As a precursor to VALIS this novel is very dissimilar and stands up well on its own. RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH is worth all of .


OTHER ENGLISH EDITIONS:                              For Cover Pix Click Here: aaaPKDickBooks.jpg (3234 bytes)


FOREIGN EDITIONS:


NOTES

PKDS-6 3:

    Arbor House... has purchased North American rights to PKD's unpublished Science Fiction novel VALSYSTEM A, and will be publishing it in hardcover in December of 1985 under the new title RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH.
    VALISYSTEM A was written in the Summer of 1976, Mark Hurst, then an editor at Bantam Books, purchased the book on the understanding that it would be revised. Apparantly Hurst and Dick discussed these revisions, on the phone or in person, and Dick agreed in principle to rather extensive changes. There followed several years in which Dick wrote Hurst long letters suggesting totally new plots that he would layer over the existing novel. He never actually drafted any of this material. Dick did refer often to the research he was doing for his Bantam novel; this research, the thousands of pages of notes, formed part of what he later called his EXEGESIS.
    My guess is that Phil gave up fairly quickly on the idea of revising VALISYSTEM A to satisfy what he and Mark had discussed, and turned instead to planning a new novel based on the earlier material. This in turn left him feeling blocked on the project, and so he did no novel writing until October/November of 1978, when he broke through and in a rush of creativity wrote VALIS.
    The point is that VALISYSTEM A was the rough draft of VALIS only in a technical sense. The two novels are very different in plot, theme and style...
    The name RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH was chosen because it was felt that the titles VALIS and VALISYSTEM A are too similar and would cause confusion. {...}
    David Hartwell is the editor at Arbor House responsible for acquiring RFA...

    A significant contribution to the publication of this major work by Philip K. Dick was made by Tim Powers, who provided the Estate with a copy of VALISYSEM A with extensive corrections written in by PKD; Dick had presented this to Powers for his private collection. {...}

PKDS-8 10:

PKD was very much in evidence at the annual American Booksellers Association convention, held in San Francisco this past June. Arbor House had a large blowup of the cover for RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH, and included it in a flyer containing their top books for promotion for the next six months (they claim a $25,000 advertising and promotion budget, which would certainly be a first for a PKD book)...

PKDS-11 5:

RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH has done well so far; with 8,000 copies shipped it's PKD's most successfull hardcover ever, assuming most of those coopies sell and aren't returned.

PKDS-11 6:

Meanwhile his press is terrific. The New York Times called him "one of the most important science fiction writers of the last 25 years," in Gerald Jonas' 1-12-86 revie of RFA, and goes on to say, "he claimed for himself a freedom from the pulp fiction formulas that had long hobbled the ambitions of the genre." Saturday Review (Feb '86) ran a prominant review of RFA and PUTTERING with a long biographical introduction. "Many of his finest novels," says SR, "have a subtle tinge of madfness, with nothing as it really seems, and reality often a vague, shifting construct that is apt to slide out from underfoot and send his characters scrambling..."

PKDS-12 8:

A mass-market paperback of RFA will be published by Avon Books in the US. ... probably late winter or Spring 1987. RFA was a Science Fiction Book Club selection earlier this year {1986}. Translations are forthcoming in Japan (Shoben Sha), France (Denoel) and Germany (Moewig)

PKDS-13 6:

(Chat between Tessa Dick, Christopher Dick and J.B.Reynolds}

(TD:) The thing about Sadass Ulna came from a different source. For a while there, we used to sleep with the radio on. One night the radio was playing, Helen Reddy singing "You're So Vain."...

(JB:) You mean Carly Simon.

(TD:) Carly Simon, yeah. Only Phil kept getting it mixed up in his mind with Linda Ronstadt: "You're No Good." But it was "You're So Vain" that was playing. I was a little more awake than Phil was; he was kind of half awake, and all of a sudden he jumped up and -- well, he yelled at me to turn the radio off, and I didn't do it fast enough so he turned it off himself. And he unplugged it and took it out to the kitchen. See, he thought he'd heard the radio saying his name, and telling him that he was no good, no good, and he should crawl into a corner and die.

(JB:) Huh. In RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH, the character Nicholas is sitting in the living room, and hears the radio saying, "Nick is a prick!", obscenities. Was that based on that incident?

(TD:) Well, yeah. It was saying "Phil is a pill", and stuff like that.

(CD:) Laughs.

(JB:) That was one of the items on my list, the "oscenities over the radio."

(TD:) Oh yeah, it was saying all kinds of horrible things to him. Well, the thing is, the radio stayed in the kitchen unplugged, for about a week, and we kept hearing the radio at night anyway. We did have one wall in common with the apartment next door. So we checked with the girls there to see if they were playing the radio at night, but the wall in our bedroom connected with their kitchen, and they didn't even have a radio in the kitchen. The thing about that was that we both heard the music, and it was always between 2 and 6 ayem, and the radio wasn't even pluged in.

(JB:) Was it the same kind of music that you'd had before?

(TD:) Yeah, sounded like the same station, so Phil even went out and un-tuned the unplugged radio to something else. But we still got easy-listening music, only Phil kept hering it tell him that he was no good, that he should die. And I didn't hear that. We gave up and plugged the radio back in again, because it was easier to sleep with music on.

PKDS-17 12:

RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH received at least 19 nominations for the Science Fiction Writers of America Nebula Award this year, and almost made it onto the ballot.

PKDS-29 10

Patrick Clark to PKDS, Oct 1991. Clark dates a letter from PKD to Farmer dated Apr 15, 1974 that mentions PKD as about to send "A Man For No Countries" to Farmer.

See: Paul Williams in the Introduction to Welcome To Reality: The Nightmares of Philip K. Dick, Broken Mirrors Press, tp, ISBN 0-9623824-5-0, Feb 1991, 208pp, $12.95 (D. Wilson) Edited by Uwe Anton.}{Welcome To Reality is a collection of short stories by various authors in which Philip K. Dick is a character or figures largely in some way}. See also OAR 75-84 and OAR 147

See: DI 241


Collector's Notes

Phildickian: RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH, Arbor House, hb, 1985. 1st. F/VG+ $30

Phildickian: RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH, Arbor House, hb, SFBC, 1985. F/NF $17.50

Phildickian: RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH, Avon, pb, 1987. VG $10

{The following item is from Ken Lopez, Bookseller online catalog, May 1997. As far as I know this is still for sale}:

6. Valisystem A. (Published in 1985 as Radio Free Albemuth). Written in 1976, prior to Valis, but not published until after Dick's death. This is a ribbon copy typescript, 292 pages, with many ink changes and additions in Dick's hand, many of which do not appear in the published book. Inscribed and signed by the author. Together with a six page fake manuscript excerpt, numbered "85" through "90" and beginning and ending in mid-sentence, which Dick wrote solely to photocopy and send to his publisher to prove that this book, not yet begun, was well underway. Although the scene does involve the book's characters, it does not appear in the final book.

This was the first of Dick's novels to struggle with the concept of "Valis" and to include "Phil Dick" as an explicit character. The existence of Valis was revealed to Dick in February and March, 1974, when Dick had an ongoing series of religious or mystical experiences or a series of seizures possibly attributable to temporal lobe epilepsy. These experiences convinced him that a vast interlocking intelligence lay behind all the visible phenomena of the universe, and he spent the next several years, the rest of his life, in fact, trying to make sense of the insights he received at that time. Although posthumously published, and by definition not edited in the final version by Dick himself, Valisystem A is a profoundly important work in his opus, as the first attempt to construct the metaphysical framework that held together the most profound experiences and insights of his life. For the novel and fake excerpt manuscripts: $12,500


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