In 1974, science fiction writer Philip K. Dick had what he would come to understand as a religious experience, or more specifically, a Platonic anamnesis—a loss of forgetfulness. Triggered by exposure to an ichthys, what is commonly known as a “Jesus fish,” he had a flash of the continued existence of Rome circa 70 AD and felt the certainty of the early Christians that their messiah had just left and would be right back. This experience was followed by several nighttime visions where a beam of pink light beamed information into his head from an alien satellite.
Dick struggled to understand what had happened to him and wrestled with these themes, most comprehensively in the writing of his exegesis, the VALIS trilogy, and, in 1976, the creation of Radio Free Ablemuth. Those that have read VALIS will recognize this novel as a tentative first crack at the material that would define and consume Dick until his death in 1982. This is not to say that this book doesn’t stand on its own, in many ways it is the more down-to-earth take on a very complex and singular cosmology, however, the VALIS mythos did become richer as a result of the extra effort. Too much of the underlying schema in this early draft is pitched in the form of manic exposition.
Dick would later recast himself as Horselover Fat/Phil and kept the gist of Radio Free Ablemuth intact as the experimental film that forms the centerpiece of VALIS. Some characters, however, lose something in the translation. Cancer survivor Sadassa Silvia Aramchek comes across as a better-realized and motivated person than her later incarnation, Sherri Solvig.
The thinly disguised Richard M. Nixon stand-in, Ferris F. Fremont, is a delightfully evil antagonist, doubly chilling as the portrait rings true in hindsight. All in all, Ablemuth is not the place to start exploring later-period PKD, but it is a worthwhile read as well as a fascinating example of what a rewrite/re-imagining can do.