A while back, I heard that there was going to be a new movie based on the work of one of my favorite sci-fi authors, Philip K. Dick. It just so happened that the new film was taken from a novel I’d yet to read, though I’ve been moving it from house to house for 20 some years: Radio Free Albemuth. So I thought, let me give it a try.
Little did I know what I was in for, in more ways than one.
The book proved strange, indeed. A protoganist that has a seizure involving bright pink light begins to receive messages from an erstwhile Russian communication satellite, as well as the occasional transmission from his decidedly more earthbound clock radio. Oddly, the communication is not from the Russians but some strange deity-like figure that appears to have some relation to early Gnostic cosmology.
Needless to say, I hit the ground running.
After finishing this bizarre, wonderful, and enigmatic little volume, I did a little background work and found out that the novel was the first version of another novel I’d been meaning to read for awhile entitled Valis, the first of three books which loosely make up the “Valis Trilogy.”
Nearly a thousand pages and some seriously scrambled brains later, I was up to speed with alien invasion, Gnostic philosophy, divine possession, and a few other lesser Dickian motifs. Valis, the first book of said trilogy, turned out to be a completely new take on essentially the exact same story as Radio Free Albemuth, which lead me to wonder “how do you pick one over the other to make a movie?” The second book of the trilogy, The Divine Invasion, upped the oddness quotient considerably, making it perhaps the strangest book I’ve ever read, which is saying something because I’ve read some strange things. Probably the most satisfactory of all four books was the concluding volume, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, which revisits many of the same ideas but plays out at once more smoothly and satisfactorily.
Just when I’d thought I was more ready than I’d ever need be for the movie version of Radio Free Albemuth, I came across a notice of still another new Philip K. Dick movie, this one in post-production and entitled The Adjustment Bureau, based on the short story “The Adjustment Team.” Here’s the trailer:
A little like The Matrix/Dark City meets the Bourne franchise, yet, if one can tell from a mere 2:30 excerpt, it somehow has the Philip K. Dick tone. All kinds of Hollywood money there, so it’s bound to bring it and, hopefully, righteously. Admittedly, the trailer seems a bit removed from the short story I read, but ain’t that the way.
Radio Free Albemuth, a small, independent production, got some test screenings in London a few months back. Here’s one viewer’s take. Still wondering if this is for you? How about an interview with first time director, John Alan Simon. Should we throw Alanis Morissette in to the bargain?
What all four of these books and the two movies have in common is that they share material which, unbelievably, comes directly from the author’s life. Radio Free Albemuth, in fact, is Dick’s most autobiographical novel. It even has a character named “Philip K. Dick,” lending a touch of post-modernism to its dissociative feel. Seizures which seem to be divine communication, totalitarian oppression in the good old US of A, deep Gnostic musings, and an other-worldliness that belies the 1970s/1980s settings all come directly from his own experiences.
Now, I figured, I was just about ready. And then I learned that thousands of pages of Dick’s journal, which he entitled Exegesis, and upon which all of these novels were based, are about to come out in a multi-volume release.