I’ve had Radio Free Albemuth sitting on my nightstand for a while now. I went to pick it up to read it recently, when I had the harebrained idea that I should instead work my way up to it, by reading everything that Philip K. Dick wrote in chronological order. Now, I’ve read a pretty fair bit of PKD’s work already, and not in any kind of sensible order. But I’ve done this chronological thing before: when our first child was born (and I was spending a lot of time sitting on the sofa, being held down by a sleeping infant) I started reading all of the Spenser novels by Robert B. Parker in publication order. It took me about 3 years to finish… or actually maybe 5, since his final novel came out in 2011. It took 3 years to catch up with the novels then currently published, anyway. (And if you’re interested, the best one is A Catskill Eagle, IMO.) So anyway, I tweeted about this PKD-in-chronological-order idea, got some amusing feedback, and then of course felt like I’d committed myself. So here, for the record, are the rules of engagement that I’ve decided on… after-the-fact, as I’ve been going along, but that I’ve decided to stick to from here on out.

  1. I will read novels in the order in which they were written, not the order in which they were published. Unfortunately, this started me off with Gather Yourselves Together (written 1950, published 1994, finished it last week) and Voices from the Street (written 1952, published 2007, reading it now), neither of which is very good. So, not an auspicious beginning. I’m really looking forward to PKD’s first novel-length foray into actual science fiction, Vulcan’s Hammer.
  2. I will read short stories in sets defined by the years in which they were written. I haven’t been able to find a source that tells me in what precise order short stories were written… and maybe no one knows. So I’ll just lump all short stories written in a particular year together, and read them in some arbitrary order. Probably I’ll do it alphabetically, just because that’s how they’re listed on the Philip K. Dick bibliography page on Wikipedia.
  3. I will read the novels published in a particular year first, followed by the short stories published in that year. Why novels then short stories, in that order? It was a completely arbitrary decision.
  4. I will use Wikipedia as the authoritative source for the order in which I should read works. I wanted to use PKD’s official site, but unfortunately that site lists his novels in order of publication date, not when they were written.
  5. I will not read the entire PKD corpus without break. First of all, I have too many other books on my nightstand. Second, I think reading nothing but PKD for, how long would it take, a year? more? really would make me insane. So this project may take as long or longer than the Spenser project. Don’t hold your breath, beloved audience.

It’s going to be a long time before I allow myself to read Radio Free Albemuth (written 1976).

Update: I stand corrected. It is known in what precise order short stories were written. Though I will use this source (replacing Wikipedia) as the authoritative source for the order in which I should read works: it’s probably less reliable than Only Apparently Real, but it’s more complete. It’s also clear that I’ve skipped a few works from the very early days of PKD’s career, which I now need to double back to, before I move on.