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Ubik Paperback – December 3, 1991
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Nobody but Philip K. Dick could so successfully combine SF comedy with the unease of reality gone wrong, shifting underfoot like quicksand. Besides grisly ideas like funeral parlors where you swap gossip for the advice of the frozen dead, Ubik (1969) offers such deadpan farce as a moneyless character's attack on the robot apartment door that demands a five-cent toll:
"I'll sue you," the door said as the first screw fell out.
Joe Chip said, "I've never been sued by a door. But I guess I can live through it."
Chip works for Glen Runciter's anti-psi security agency, which hires out its talents to block telepathic snooping and paranormal dirty tricks. When its special team tackles a big job on the Moon, something goes terribly wrong. Runciter is killed, it seems--but messages from him now appear on toilet walls, traffic tickets, or product labels. Meanwhile, fragments of reality are timeslipping into past versions: Joe Chip's beloved stereo system reverts to a hand-cranked 78 player with bamboo needles. Why does Runciter's face appear on U.S. coins? Why the repeated ads for a hard-to-find universal panacea called Ubik ("safe when taken as directed")?
The true, chilling state of affairs slowly becomes clear, though the villain isn't who Joe Chip thinks. And this is Dick country, where final truths are never quite final and--with the help of Ubik--the reality/illusion balance can still be tilted the other way. --David Langford, Amazon.co.uk
One of the most original practitioners writing any kind of fiction, Dick made most of the European avant-garde seem like navel-gazers in a cul-de-sac * Sunday Times * For everyone lost in the endlessly multiplicating realities of the modern world, remember: Philip K. Dick got there first * Terry Gilliam * My literary hero * Fay Weldon * --This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.
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Having read PKD a couple times previously, I found the book rather predictable, but after it got rolling, hard to put down. I did have the ending pretty well pegged right from the start. That's what dismayed me when I came to the end and was not at all surprised. It was a typical Dick ending, and therefore predictable. I can say that even with having my own precog ability to guess the ending, it was enjoyable. I wonder how this would really work in a screen play. I kept thinking about that the enitre way through the book...I just don't see it working. I see a lot of Minority Report in there, and didn't much like the screen version of that either...mind numbingly dull and with someone else's interpretation that just didn't work.
I can see where people want to say UBIK was God, and Jory seeming like the devil...or death...the way he "ate" people. That was rather odd, and just like someone on acid may think up. It's like he was on one bad acid trip the entire time he wrote the book....which is probably right.
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.
This was my first time reading Philip K. Dick, and it lived up to how he was described to me. I blew through this book in one evening and enjoyed it thoroughly.