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4.6 out of 5 stars
Ubik
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Showing 1-8 of 8 reviews(4 star)show all reviews
on August 25, 2014
Ubik is one of the weirder science fiction books I've read.

Psychic powers are now common, and a major industry is that of 'prudence'—protecting a client's privacy by neutralizing prying telepaths. Glen Runciter runs one of the solar system's largest prudence firms, and while on a job on the moon, is assassinated in an explosion that also wounds his eleven best agents. The agents recover and rush Runciter back to Earth, since the soul lingers for a few hours after death and can be trapped with cryonics. Alas, they are too late, and Runciter's soul has slipped away into true death, leaving his agent Joe Chip in charge of the company.

Soon after, Chip begins receiving strange messages implying that he and the other agents were the ones killed in the explosion, and Runciter, the only survivor, is attempting to talk with their souls in the half-life. Things get more mind-bending when time starts reversing and technology reverts to earlier states. In every time period, though, a mysterious product called Ubik is advertised, and seems to be Chip's key to survival—and he needs to get his hands on some soon, because his fellow agents are slowly turning up true-dead as well.

One of PKD's former wives has stated that Ubik is a metaphor for the omnipotence and omnipresence of God (Ubik deriving from 'ubiquitous'). Dick had some pretty crazy ideas about theology and divine experiences later in his life, and it begins to show in Ubik. Regardless, the novel can be read as a science fiction mystery, and quite a page-turning mystery at that. Four stars overall.
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Millions of humans on this planet are right now eagerly waiting for the premiere of the second installment in the Wachowsky brothers' pop stew of Hong Kong fight movies, Berkeley idealism, techno-trance music, gadgetry culture and Adams Family attire -- known as "The Matrix". Decades ago, a tormented American author was already exploring idealism through science fiction; and you know who I am talking about. It seems the central problem in PK Dick's literature is the definition of a character's identity when he discovers himself a dweller of a false (or, as we would say nowadays, "virtual") reality. "Ubik" is no exception and here you will find a very interesting blend of the Matrix and more saturnine themes, such as life after death, solitude and the ubiquity of commercial interest in modern society (my personal take at the book's title).
Unfortunately, Dick spends much less energy in character development than in the exploration of his main mystical insights. So don't expect Dostoievsky, but Wachowsky: entertaining pulp fiction written by a born (gnostic?) philosopher. If you liked the first Matrix movie, try PK Dick's novels for a more serious literary survey of the same themes. And when you are finally ready for the real thing, go for Bishop Berkeley and Ramana Maharshi.
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on February 2, 2003
As much a mystery-style thriller as science-fiction novel, "Ubik" projects a future (1992, but no matter) in which telepathic citizens, or "psis," are hired to invade privacy and spy on businesses, while "inertials" are employed to neutralize these insidious forces. In this new world, technological advances maintain recently departed citizens in "half life," a temporary state of suspended animation, and commercial moratoriums provide access to loved ones until they eventually pass on to their next full life.
Glen Runciter is co-owner, with his half-dead (or half-alive) wife, of the leading anti-psi firm. He and his assistant, Joe Chip, find themselves challenged by new, even more sinister forces they don't quite understand. Some of the members of their firm seem to have died in an act of sabotage, but which ones? Who's responsible? What is Ubik, the aerosol spray that claims to do everything (when used as directed)? And why is time regressing to 1939? Every clue seems to be a red herring, and the "truth" isn't revealed until the very end--or is it?
As others have noted, Dick's writing is characteristically featureless (a minimalist, almost pulp-fiction style), but the intricacies of the page-turning plot more than compensate for the pedestrianism. Published in 1969, "Ubik" still entertains while it scrutinizes (and lampoons) both crass commercialism and metaphysics. On the one hand, the omnipresence of advertising and pay-per-use dispensers is dead-on satire in a century where we've become seemingly immune to paying a couple of bucks for a bottle of water with a fancy label on it. (Perpetually in debt, Joe Chip has to pay every time he opens his refrigerator, uses the shower, and enters--or leaves--his apartment, which leads to some pretty hilarious dilemmas.) On the other hand, how seriously you take the "philosophy" presented in this book might depend on your beliefs in the afterlife and/or reincarnation (not for nothing does Dick refer twice to the "Tibetan Book of the Dead"). But even if such metaphysical concepts aren't your thing, you can still sit back and enjoy the ride.
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on August 22, 2002
If Phillip K. Dick were to rise from his grave today, he would probably peruse the current state of 'alternative entertainment' with a knowing smirk. The dominant themes Dick mined in his thirty-year career - including alien invasions, time/reality distortion, psychoactive illness, drug abuse, paranoia, metaphysical yearning - have been used and reused so much in the last decade that 'alternative entertainment' now has a solid niche in the mainstream. Note the recent success (in theater or video) of Momento, The Matrix, Mulholland Drive, Fight Club, etc. Dick's own work has been drafted for the mainstream buck from time to time, as well, though usually in clipped or totally reworked format, _Total Recall_ being a good example of the former, _Blade Runner_ of the latter.
I state the above because it helps to read some of Dick's sci-fi with strong hindsight; to realize that when Dick was writing it, there was nothing else like it. Such is the case with _Ubik_. For though this book suffers from some typical Dick sloppiness (two dimensional characters, lazy grammar, a meandering plot that almost made me throw the book down in disgust - ) the core ideas Dick introduces and uses were undoubtedly radical for its time, far beyond cliché or contrived conflict.
The specifics: Glen Runciter is the owner of an 'anti-psi' organization, which roots out errant telepaths and protects the 'unevolved' layman from mental sabotage. After Runciter is slain by a business competitor, his gifted employees scramble to keep the company afloat...then scramble to stay alive, for reality itself seems to be disintegrating before their very eyes. Stranger still, Runciter's face appears on money; he (or his ghost, perhaps?) leaves surreal messages on the walls of bathroom stalls. Is Runciter dead? Or is everyone else? And how does the universal panacea Ubik figure into all of this?
_Ubik_ is not one of Dick's better novels. The characters are dull; many interesting ideas are quickly introduced and just as quickly discarded; the whole middle section of the book is a bit of a slog. But the ending redeems the effort spent, as everything falls into place - almost.
All in all, a good mind-bender for a summer afternoon. Four stars.
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I read Ubik in one sitting during a 10 hour transatlantic flight. It certainly provided a unique atmosphere to the plane journey! As is common in Dick's books, Ubik takes the reader through one of PKD's many nightmarish distopian worlds. I was pretty disorientated by the time I got off the plane, which is one of the things which makes his writing so special. I think an element of truth lies in the statement that structure-wise, much of Dick's work can be sloppy and disjointed, but I think those statements only really apply to the 'structure' of his novels. His stories are so rich with ideas and themes, and the reader is never left to feel 'secure', constantly being flung from one nightmarish pseudo-reality to another. I dislike strategically-structured novels, which can often appear stale and too thought-out. Dicks stuff is fast-paced and at times overwhelming which is why its so wonderful. I dare the reader to read something like Ubik in a single sitting and then try and find their way around Chicago airport ;)
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on August 5, 2002
With the release of the film Minority Report, Philip K Dick is undergoing a slight revival at the moment. Having read Ubik it's hard to understand why he should have ever fallen from favour. The style of this novel is somewhere between Science-Fiction and Cyperpunk, but since it was written over thirty years ago its science is not really an extrapolation of today's technology like most cyperpunk and a lot of sci-fi, making Dick's future feel both "futuristic" and dated, yet still as fresh and exciting as anything written today.
Are the main characters in Half-life, a computer generated reality created for those that are not alive, yet not quite dead yet? Or are they alive? These, and many other questions, will be answered upon reading Ubik! (Warning: Safe when used as directed. Read with caution)
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on March 5, 2000
I hope this isn't Dick's best novels because while I thought it was really good, it was imperfect. More others should write science fition that is unconventional and even for the particular genre, wholly strange. Most sci fi is too interested in developing the details of the tchnology in use (this sci-fi can be great too) than developing whatever it is that Dick does develop. The characters in this book could use some work though, and the book is not entirely focused. In fact, I wish he would have stuck with the question of how a person from the future could live in the past and it's current ideas knowing the major events to occur. Also, WHY DIDN'T JOE USE THE UBIK SPRAY TO UNREGRESS THE UBIK BALM? Oh well, just a minor detail.
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on August 26, 2001
It pains me sometimes to read the works of Phillip K. Dick. His ideas are always innovative and mind-bending, but his prose is somewhat lacking. This book is a fun read, and a great idea, it just isn't very well-crafted. I recommend for first time Phillip K. Dick readers the novel A SCANNER DARKLY, one of the few novels where Dick has both a great idea and a distinct literary voice.
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