Philip K Dick
Completed 3/18/2018, reviewed 3/18/2018
Ubik is quite the strange, complicated book. I’ve been told it’s not for PKD beginners, and that may be true. It’s about layers of reality and life after death, and the ending isn’t straight-forward. I found it engrossing and confusing at the same time. That, I think, is its strength. PKD is a damned good writer who makes you question reality and doesn’t leave you with any tidy conclusions.
The book is about Joe Chip, a guy who is doing well for himself but doesn’t seem to ever have enough money for the simple things in life. He works for Glen Runciter, who runs a business of anti-psychics and precogs, selling their services to companies to protect them from corporate espionage. Runciter takes Joe and eleven other anti-psis to Luna for a contract with a company that is experiencing such espionage. But it turns out to be a trap by a competitor and Runciter is killed in an explosion. Joe and the others soon begin to experience a time regression that sends them back to 1939, and they begin to wither and die themselves. Can Joe find out what it will take to stop the regressions and deaths? Is Ubik the answer?
The world building is really interesting. In this future, you have to pay for everything. For example, it costs a nickel every time you want to open your front door. Since Joe doesn’t have much money, he stays at home a lot.
Also in this future, the dead don’t really die. Physically, they do, but their minds are still active in a half-life state. The living can go to moratoriums (not mortuaries) where they can visit the dead and talk to them. Runciter’s wife and business partner, Ella, is in the half-life state, but her mind is in danger of being overtaken by an aggressive half-life teen named Jory. When Runciter gets killed in the explosion on Luna, they can’t get his body to the moratorium in time to access his mind and keep him in half life. However, strange messages reach Joe indicating that he really is in half-life, or maybe even alive. This is just a small part of the multi-layered reality puzzle that Joe must solve.
The character development is pretty good for having so many characters. Joe of course gets the most characterization. We know him pretty well. But PKD does a pretty good job of creating a cast of supporting characters, particularly the other anti-psis. For a relatively short book, I was surprised the characters didn’t all just run together. More than a few stood out has having their own personalities.
The real genius in the book is trying to figure out what’s real and what’s not, who is in half-life and who’s not, and what is Ubik anyway. Just when you think the book is finishing and you know the answers, there’s one more really short chapter that tosses all your conclusions out the window. I give the book four stars out of five.