Theme: Theology

Radio Free Albemuth published 1985

I prefer Radio Free Albemuth over VALIS, which I’m only making that comparison because they cover a similar story… I prefer a lot of Dick’s books over VALIS.

Radio Free Albemuth
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He wrote this one first in 1976, and when his publisher wanted to make some changes Dick instead rewrote it as an entirely new book which was published as VALIS in 1981. Radio Free Albemuth itself wasn’t published until 1985 several years after he died. The story from Radio Free Albemuth shows up in VALIS briefly, altered and in a much more tripped-out fashion, as a movie that Dick and his friends go see.

The book starts out narrated by Dick himself before switching to the point of view of his friend Nicholas Brady and then switching back to Dick’s POV at the end. It implies Dick and Nicholas are one and the same, just like Dick and Horselover Fat in VALIS, although that’s never revealed to be the case here. Rather Brady serves as a what if? version of Dick if he had left Berkeley sooner and had a different career. Some autobiographical details, like the burglary of Dick’s house (which he was convinced was orchestrated by the police or FBI) make their way into the story, but Brady inherits many of the other events from Dick’s life, such as being alerted to his son’s undiagnosed hernia by VALIS’s pink light.

The overall plot involves the effort of Brady, guided by VALIS, to stand up to the tyrannical rule of the U.S. president Ferris F. Fremont. Brady plans to sneak subliminal messages about Fremont’s ties to the Communist party into an album released by his record company, although I’m not sure how that would topple a totalitarian government that kills and imprisons with impunity. The middle section of the book told from Brady’s POV is the least interesting as it deals with the long-winded theology about VALIS which is a satellite that is also God… I think. One day I will read Dick’s 1000-page Exegesis and his VALIS theories may all make sense.

In the end Brady and Sadassa Silvia (who had also been contacted by VALIS) are both killed by Ferris F. Fremont’s stooges. After the U.S. destroys the VALIS satellite the opposition doesn’t stand much of a chance. The government lets Dick live imprisoned in a labor camp, and in a clever turn of events, at least from a meta point of view, they release agitprop books they’ve written under his name.

The low-budget 2010 movie, with some really low-budget special effects, most likely would only appeal to fans of the book. It’s very faithful, including all the elements that were probably silly even by the standards of the 1970s, although I do like Shea Whigham’s low-key portrayal of PKD.

Cast of characters

  • Nicholas Brady – an aimless resident of Berkeley turned record executive in Southern California
  • Rachel – Nicholas’s wife
  • Phil Dick – the part-time narrator as himself
  • Ferris F. Fremont – the president. A Nixon stand-in, although in this case Fremont is a sleeper for the Communist party
  • Vivian Kaplan – a young FAPer (Friends of the American People) Dick gets involved with
  • Sadassa Silvia – a young woman also contacted by VALIS who works with Nicholas to put subliminal messages in the albums put out by Progressive Records. Played by Alanis Morissette in the movie.

A Maze of Death published 1970

A Maze of Death
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In A Maze of Death a group of strangers all receive job transfers to a remote planet and await instructions as to the purpose of their colony. We have a mystery on our hands when those instructions don’t arrive, and the members of the group are murdered one by one.

The LSD-inspired plot that follows has a great ending when we find out the colonists have been in a simulated reality all along. They are actually crew members of a ship stranded with no hope of rescue, and so they enter these computer-created artificial worlds again and again, with an amnesia of their actual plight, in order to pass the time before their inevitable death in space.

The religion they all follow in their invented world was generated by the ship’s computer. It resembles Christianity, although with a logic based on the existence of a physical God.

Cast of characters

  • Ben Tallchief – Delmak-O’s naturalist
  • Seth Morley – Delmak-O’s marine biologist
  • Mary Morley – Seth’s wife
  • Betty Jo Berm – Delmak-O’s linguist
  • Bert Kosler – Delmak-O’s custodian
  • Maggie Walsh – Delmak-O’s theologian
  • Ignatz Thugg – Delmak-O’s thermoplastics expert
  • Milton Babble – Delmak-O’s doctor
  • Tony Dunkelwelt – Delmak-O’s photographer and soil-sample expert
  • Glen Belsnor – Delmak-O’s electronics specialist and the group’s leader
  • Roberta Rockingham – Delmak-O’s sociologist
  • Susie Smart – Delmak-O’s clerk
  • Wade Frazer – Delmak-O’s psychologist
  • Ned Russell – Delmak-O’s economist

Other things to know

  • How I Rose From the Dead in My Spare Time and So Can You – their religion’s holy book written by Communist theologian A. J. Specktowsky
  • The Intercessor – a Christ-like manifestation of the deity
  • The Mentufacturer – the God-like manifestation of the deity
  • Walker-on-Earth – the ‘Holy ghost’ manifestation that completes the deity’s trinity
  • Form Destroyer – the yin to the deity’s yang

Rating:

Related:

The Divine Invasion published 1981

The Divine Invasion has a funny set up. We find out Herb Asher was killed in an accident but is in cryonic suspension awaiting an organ transplant that will revive him. The Cry-Labs warehouse is close to an FM radio tower, and so as Asher dreams and relives the events leading up to the accident he also hears a faint muzak version of Fiddler on the Roof that no one else can hear. This gag comes up again late in the book during a farcical encounter with a cop when Asher isn’t sure what reality he is in.

The Divine Invasion
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Other than these brief moments The Divine Invasion is a mostly humorless story about a woman on a faraway colony planet who is impregnated by Yahweh who was driven there from Earth in 73 A.D. She travels back to Earth along with the Joseph stand-in Herb Asher and a reincarnated Elijah so that her soon-to-be-born son Emmanuel can overthrow Earth’s ruling powers and save mankind… or something along those lines.

It gets better in the second half when Zina transports them all to an alternate reality and there is some mystery about who/what Zina really is (Wisdom? A fairy queen? VALIS? Satan? Christ himself… which would make Emmanuel what?), but it still remains my least favorite book of the VALIS Trilogy.

Cast of characters

  • Emmanuel – the reborn savior
  • Elias Tate – Elijah reincarnated. Emmanuel’s guardian after Herb and Rybys die
  • Herb Asher – Emmanuel’s ‘father’
  • Rybys Rommey – Emmanuel’s mother
  • Zina – the young girl who is Emmanuel’s friend
  • Cardinal Fulton Statler Harms – Chief Prelate of the Christian-Islamic Church. Trying to use Big Noodle to verify St. Anselm’s Ontological Proof for the existence of God
  • Nicholas Bulkowsky – Procurator Maximus of the Scientific Legate
  • Linda Fox – intergalactic pop superstar, at least in the book’s beginning reality

Other things to know

  • Christian-Islamic Church – formerly the Catholic Church
  • Scientific Legate – formerly the Communist Party. One of the two ruling parties of Earth along with the C.I.C.
  • Big Noodle – Earth’s great Artificial Intelligence
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