"All books are either dreams or swords,/You can cut, or you can drug, with words." - Amy Lowell, 'Sword Blades and Poppy Seed'

Monday, July 18, 2011


Dick, Philip K. Ubik. In Four Novels of the 1960s. New York: Library of America, 1997. 189 pages (for Ubik, which is pages 609-798)

Overall Rating: **** (out of five)

"Ubik (1969), with its future world of psychic espionage agents and cryonically frozen patients inhabiting an illusory 'half-life,' pursues Dick's theme of simulated realities and false perceptions to ever more disturbing conclusions, as time collapses on itself and characters stranded in past eras search desperately for the elusive, constantly shape-shifting panacea Ubik." (description from book jacket)

  • Premise. The idea of putting people who are dead, but not entirely dead (insert Princess Bride joke about being mostly dead here) being put in stasis where they live in an alternate world, but can be communicated with once and awhile is interesting. Particularly once the worlds start bleeding into each other.
  • Writing Style. Dick's style is descriptive and simple, which suits the complexity of the plot well.
  • Complexity of Plot.  Dick's plot can be convoluted, and the futuristic world of 1992 that he created can be a little hard to follow. At times it has a hallucinogenic quality that might not be to everybody's taste.
Ubik exemplifies Dick's writing style and bleak view of the world.  Whether he always saw this world this way or it was the result of his heavy drug use, his writing is distinctly different from anyone else of his era.  The world of Ubik is certainly not an attractive one, where people need to pay money to even open their doors.  Once the main characters survive an explosion off planet, they discover that the world is slowly (And sometimes quickly) decaying and reverting to early periods in time, and odd messages and graffiti begin appearing everywhere.

This is one of those stories that messes with your sense of reality, with a twist ending that in pure Dick style creates more questions than it answers.  Dick's style of writing and his stories are not for everyone.  The world is dark and depressing and the main character is not particularly special or likable.  And yet this is the case in most of his stories: anti-heroes striving against a bleak and disturbing world.  In Ubik, he brilliantly creates a world and a story that forces you to question your assumptions and rethink the way the world works.  It is a book that requires thought, but rewards the reader with a different appreciation for the world as it is.

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