Rafeeq O.'s Reviews > Ubik

Ubik by Philip K. Dick
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it was amazing

Philip K. Dick's 1969 Ubik is set in a classically Dickian future of flying cars, personal Moon rockets for the wealthy, jarringly unusual clothing styles, apartments with coin-operated kitchens and televisions and even doors, and the dead kept in frozen "half-life" available for communication with living loved ones.

In this once-future of 1992, the novel begins "[a]t three-thirty A.M. on the night of June 5" when "the top telepath in the Sol system [falls] off the map in the offices of Glen Runciter Associates in New York City" (1983 DAW paperback, page 7). With telepaths and precogs and telekineticists being employed in various capacities to snoop into, and even potentially influence, the affairs of individuals and companies, Runciter's "prudence organization" (pages 11-12) provides clients privacy and security via the "anti" talents of his own employees. Runciter's "inertials" therefore shadow all of their possible opponents in Raymond Hollis's organization, and although they have "lost track of too many of Hollis' psis during the last two months" (page 7), losing the specially powerful S. Dole Melipone, who apparently now "is nowhere on Earth, nor...on a colony world" (page 8), is particularly worrisome. "I'll consult my dead wife," decides Runciter (page 8).

After all, while the "moratoriums" on the East Coast of the North American Confederation are closed for the night, the fancy one in Switzerland, where the deceased, formerly twenty-year-old Ella Runciter is housed in "cold-pac," is open for visiting. On the one hand, "with each resuscitation into active half-life, into a return of cerebral activity, however short, Ella die[s] somewhat" (page 14), shortening her remaining time in half-life and thus hastening her toward her rebirth, an event that by now has been proven (page 16). On the other hand, Ella still would welcome the voice contact via "protophason amplifier" because, per "her own stated wishes, before her death and in early half-life encounters," she wished to continue running the company with her husband (page 14). Despite some strange cross-chatter from an adjacent half-lifer named Jory, the couple at least begin to discuss combatting Hollis's move...whatever it is.

Once Runciter returns to New York, a mysterious new client suddenly needs a large group of "antis" to protect his project on the Moon against a group of telepaths whose nearby emanations have been detected. Certain that the missing Hollis psis are the cause of the mischief, Runciter organizes a team of his best people, including Joe Chip, the deadbeat but highly skilled expert at the detection and measurement of psi emanations, and an enigmatic girl with a previously unheard-of anti-talent of blocking precogs by, essentially, slipping back in time to split the timeline away from a future the precog previously had seen correctly (page 28). Completely apropos of nothing, presumably, is the tattoo on the "bare, dark forearm" of the "slim and copper-skinned" Pat: "CAVEAT EMPTOR" (page 25)...

The lunar job is a trap, of course--this is not a spoiler, exactly, as upon opening the cover of my copy I am presented with the blurb of the "self-destruct humanoid bomb" of their purported client "float[ing] to the ceiling of the room, his arms protruding distendedly and rigidly," unctuously trying to reassure his victims before exploding (page 1)--and soon we are moving through layer after layer of perpetually shifting realities. Who actually was killed on the Moon and slid hastily into cold-pac? Who actually is running around in a simulacrum rather than life itself? Who or what is looking in, and dropping hints in strange places? And what is the ubiquitous Ubik, whose commercials form the epigrams beginning each chapter? Ubik is described being "discount[ed]...by this much money" after "throwing away the blue book" (page 7), "speed[ing] relief to head and stomach" so the consumer can "make the frug contest" (page 42), or making "[y]our husband...say, Christ, Sally, I used to think your coffee was only so-so. But now, wow!" (page 21)...and of course it must always be "used as directed."

Philip K. Dick's Ubik is a strange but entertaining 5-star journey through the maze of the mind, and of reality itself. And yet after the revelation near the end that shifts the ground seismically under us and seems to explain everything...well, even the last page retains its own surprises.

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Reading Progress

October 16, 2020 – Started Reading
October 17, 2020 – Finished Reading
October 25, 2020 – Shelved

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