on April 28, 2004
In Ubik, first published in 1969, we find the first distinct appearance of the transcendental element in Dick's work. In his earlier novels, he had been content to demonstrate that there is no "objective" reality irrespective of consciousness: the mind essentially constructs its own world. In Ubik, the protagonist Joe Chip, condemned to a perpetual "half-life" of suspended animation after a fatal accident, finds his world inexorably deteriorating around him. The only thing standing between Joe and complete extinction is a product called Ubik, which comes in spray cans, and, when sprayed on, instantly counteracts the forces of destruction. Among other things, Ubik appears as a razor blade, a deodorant, a bra, a breakfast cereal, a pill for stomach relief, plastic wrap, a salad dressing, a used car, and a savings and loan. As its name implies, it is ubiquitous. Though a symbol of the divine, it is not a mere magical aid but a gift that can only be summoned by the person who needs it through an exercise of will and intelligence. The ending of Ubik has a twist that calls into question the substantiality of the "real world." This is my favorite PKD novel, the one that combines the most dazzling metaphysics with the most involving story and characters. After reading it, one can only start scanning one's own environment for hopeful signs of the redeeming Ubik!
on April 15, 2004
This book is fantastic! I have to admit that Ubik was the first Philip K. Dick book I read and I was thrilled by his concepts. I loved this book from the very first page on because it is...abnormal. In the meantime I have also read a couple of other Philip K. Dick books but Ubik is the one which is above all them. The kind of ideas he throws at you are just stunning. Objects are morphing back into earlier technologies (a fancy high speed elevator transforms into an old cable operated thing), a talking doors threatens to prosecute one of the main characters, messages from a dead guy, the picture of the same dead guy turns up on money coins, and last but not least the all important question: are we dead or is everybody else dead? The book has only 200 pages and not a single word is wasted. The story is superbly and plotted in a complex way and takes countless unexpected turns. Every single time when you start to believe what this is all about, it just changes in such a drastic way that you have to put your thoughts together from scratch. Philip K. Dick is a master in his own genre and I don't think anybody else dares to enter his realms. The only sad thing which is currently happening to his brilliant stories is the way Hollywood turns them into cheap blockbusters such as Pay check. I can understand that the complexity of his stories can not be easily turned into movies but using 10% of his genius ideas and 90% action crap is not good
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.
on August 2, 2010
I've always been deeply in love with Philip Dick's paranoid worlds. I love his books, I love his short stories, I even love things like Our Friends From Frolix 8. There is something raw and razor-sharp, almost clinical in Dick's writing, something that transcends style, ideas and story. You can always tell that a part of him - and it might very well be a dominant part - not only believes in what he writes, but lives it.
I haven't read all of Dick's books. I haven't even read half of them. Still I've read most of those whose names everyone knows, and I have read enough to think that even a genius of his magnitude would be hard pressed to write anything quite as good as Ubik twice. If I had to point at a single one of Philip Dick's works as his magnum opus, that would undoubtedly be it.
As Michael Marshall Smith aptly puts it in the forward of my edition of the book, there is a mind-boggling number of SF ideas in Ubik: time-travel; psychic abilities and their corresponding anti-abilities; the dead being kept in a state of "half-life" where they could be reached by the living; alternate realities and reality revision; futuristic space-faring society; dystopian economic system. Many authors would spin a book around any ONE of those, but for Philip Dick it's always what's underneath the flesh that matters, so he casually presents them ALL in the first ten pages of his novel.
In Ubik's world technology has advanced to the state where colonization of the Moon and other worlds is possible. Psychic phenomena are common and many people employ psychics in their business ventures or shadier dealings. And since no law could control such powers, the so called "prudence organizations" have appeared. Those who work in them have the ability to negate one psychic power like telepathy or precognition. Meanwhile, people could be put in "cold-pac" after death - a half-life existence that slowly diminishes until the person dies again, this time - forever.
The main character, Joe Chip, is a technician for Glen Runciter's prudence organization. When a client hires twelve agents to negate telepathic spies in his lunar facilities, Runciter and Chip travel with them to the Moon. The assignment turns out to be a trap, possibly set by the company's nemesis Ray Hollis (who leads an organization of psychics), and Glen Runciter is killed in the ensuing explosion. The party quickly returns to Earth to put him in cold-pac.
But afterwords the twelve agents and Joe Chip begin to experience strange reality shifts. Food and drink deteriorate prematurely, and the world seems to regress into the past. What's more disturbing, they all receive messages from Glen Runciter, implying that it is actually he who is alive, and they who are in cold-pac. And above all is the ever-present Ubik, appearing in commercials on TV and radio. Nobody knows what it is, but it is everywhere. And it is important.
Then the deaths begin...
Ubik is a deeply unsettling book. The characters' hold on reality is at best loose, and the uncertainty they feel as to the nature of their very existence seeps into the reader's own mind, turning the novel into almost a horror story. When the action and the race (quite literally) against time begin, you are almost grateful for the opportunity to evade the disturbing questions concerning what's real, what's not, and which one is more dangerous. Dick's misleadingly simple language and the traditionally schematic relationships between his characters, only seem to accentuate the unnatural events he is painting.
Philip Dick is a master of multiple realities that intertwine and overlapp until the mind's ability to grasp it all simply fails, and madness begins. As Paul Di Filippo says in a review of the book, "No reality is priveliged". Nowhere is Dick's ability to test the limits of perception and self more strikingly demonstrated than in Ubik. And even if you take nothing from the book, but the amazing mystery and suspense filled story, it would still have been one of the most satisfying reading experiences you've ever had.
on September 1, 2003
I've been reading the works of Philip K. Dick for several years now, and have read most of his more well-known works, thought I still have a lot to go. I have read a lot of books from many different genres, including the classics and technical writings, and the books of Philip K. Dick are, in many ways, the most complex of them all. Ubik was not his most original or creative work, as the author himself admitted, but is a great blending of many of the elements that make up the PhiDickian universe. Here we find Dick toying with many of his favorite themes: paranoia, isolation, alienation, paranormal phenomenon, and, of course, the slippery nature of reality. Ubik works on several levels, as do all of Dick's books; one is a quasi-detective story, which will interest the average reader with its suspense and intrigue, and another is as a dark metaphysical comedy. Much of the book is funny, in its way, wavering from black humor to near-slapstick. All the time, we are drawn further and further into the world of the book as weirdness piles upon weirdness and the mystery of the book thickens. Like all PKD, it is superbly and complexly plotted -- almost unimaginably so. His works never cease to amaze me. How did he come up with this stuff? It is almost incredible that he did -- and so easily and quickly at that. Dick spits out immensely imaginative subplots and asides that lesser authors could build an entire career on. His plots are the most complex I have ever encountered in literature, surpassing even the convuluted multiplexity of other science fiction works. Dick had a truly incredible imagination. That said, Ubik, as with all PKD, is very tightly written and extremely focused; though all of his books contain enough material for years of pondering, most all of them are around the 200 page range. Not a word is wasted. Aside from the ideas -- Dick peppers all of his books with philosophical asides, caustically witty remarks, and laugh-out-loud funny dialogues -- Dick is always worth reading for his superb writing and masterful technique. Ubik is quite a disorienting read at first: it drops right into the middle of the story, and it will take the reader a little bit to come to grips with what is going on (as another reviewer pointed out, another author would've spend many pages setting this part of the story up.) As with the best PKD, just when it all starts to come together in one's mind, the book takes a completely different turn, and everything that one has thought up to that point is eradicated. And then it makes another twist, destroying again everything that had come before. And then another. And then, finally, the ending offsets everything that has come before and puts the entire book in a different light. Only Philip K. Dick could make this work. This is a rich, rewarding, and immensely engrossing work that is complex, funny, and highly entertaining. I finished it several days ago, and have been pondering it -- but I'm still not sure I understand the ending. Or the book at all. I almost always have this feeling after reading Dick. Is there something more? What did I miss? One always wants to read the book all over again. That is the true mark of a great author.
on August 8, 2003
Every time I read a book by Phil Dick, I'm surprised. How did he come up with this stuff? You get repetitive themes: alternate realities, psychic phenomenon, alienation, a constant questioning of the nature of reality, and so on. But he managed to make it fresh and exciting nearly every time. And if the uniqueness of his prose and plotting isn't enough, he off-handedly peppered all his writing, especially his best, with interesting thoughts, bits of philosophy, and keen insight. Granted, the man's no philosopher, but he'll still get you thinking.
Ubik as a particular manifestation of Dick's psyche is no different. From a few chapters onward, Dick continuously keeps us guessing, trying to figure out what the heck is going on, what Ubik is, and why reality keeps slipping out from under our feet. With almost disgusting ease, Dick manufactures worlds, situations, people, and technology that, though slightly dated faced by today's hyper-aware (of itself, science, theory, fad psychology, what-have-you) sci-fi, nonetheless flawlessly convey something true about man and his relationship to a rapidly changing (some, including Dick, might say disintegrating) world.
What is Ubik? How safe is it? Is Glen Runciter really dead? Why do all the objects in the book keep morphing into earlier technologies (so that what is a state-of-the-art stereo one day is an old phonograph the next)? This book will keep you guessing until the very last page, building up new theories of what's 'really' going on only to dash them to pieces a few pages later.
If you like PKD and haven't read Ubik, get it now. It's one of his best. If you haven't read any PKD, Ubik is a good place to start. Though it's a little disorienting at first, especially if you aren't familiar with his fascination with psychic phenomena, the story quickly grips you, and will also introduce you to most of his major themes. Great, great stuff.
on May 5, 2003
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.
on February 10, 2003
From about the mid-60's to mid-70's PKD was really in his element, delivering his greatest novels of bizarre mind-expanding futures. While some of his earlier and later works are bogged down by preachiness or a lack of focus, *Ubik* is one of PKD's sure classics, along with *A Scanner Darkly* and others from around the same time. Here we have a world in which psychic and anti-psychic people battle for supremacy in a cutthroat corporate environment, and this battle extends to the world of death as well. Characters try to determine if they're alive or dead while time collapses around them. Holding everything together in its own weird way is a strange product called Ubik, which is clearly PKD's commentary on brand name products and saturation marketing. The uncommon term "entropic fiction" applies to this novel and a few other of its ilk by a variety of writers, in which time and society degenerate into disorder - but not necessarily chaos, just a different state of reality. Like the best of PKD's mindbending works, just read this and then spend some time removing the entropy from your thoughts.
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.
on January 5, 2003
I think I have to say that the only people who can truly read a P.K.D. book from start to finish without becoming disheartened are people who enjoy and take pleasure out of intellectual activities and exercising the brain that his books always present. This means, I think, that only certain people will truly enjoy his books. It's just like how someone who does not take pleasure out of reading sports novels or detective fiction will simply not be able to read those kinds of books. The characters are usually pretty flat in his books, although I would definitely have to say that sometimes I wish they were better. Then again, adding 10-20 pages of character development in the beginning of his books might simply confuse the reader and bore the intellectuals who love reading his books. All told, I think he executes his style perfectly.
Ubik is a perfect example of a classic P.K.D. book. Having read some of his other books, I found some of the characters and plotlines to be similar but nonetheless still a love to read.
If you like reading because of the exercise it gives your brain or like good ideas or brilliant prose you'll certainly find Ubik very fun to read.