I think I’ve only read one Philip K. Dick book before, and that was Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and I didn’t really get on with that. I wonder now if that was due to different interests at the time, not settling down with it enough… because I did enjoy Radio Free Albemuth, and it’s making me want to try going back to Do Androids Dream and to some of Dick’s other work, and have another try.
It’s a smooth read, confidently written, and easy to follow — which as I recall, was my problem with Do Androids Dream; I just couldn’t keep a handle on what was happening and why, for whatever reason. I was braced for that with this book, but actually, it unfolded reasonably easily. The sci-fi aspects are well done, and the dystopian setting is sketched in so that you can imagine the whole world from the little bits you do see. There’s something very 1984 about it, obviously, but with — well, I won’t spoiler it.
The discomforting thing is really the fact that this is semi-autobiographical, and Dick really believed this, or some of this anyway, was happening to him. When I didn’t know that — I didn’t know much about Dick, other than something about Harlan Ellison saying he used drugs? — it was fine, but once I did, I found myself looking for what he was trying to say with it, trying to find his line between fact and fiction.
The bad news is, I’m pretty sure he was bonkers. The good news is, I don’t think it was a harmful kind of bonkers, and he could tell me about Valis all day if he wanted. I’d probably just feel a little cringy at the total disconnect from reality, outside of a science fiction novel. In a way, if Dick really did believe all that… well, he lived in a universe that was full of different possibilities. You’ve got to envy him that a little.