Sunday, December 11, 2011

Review of "Ubik" by Philip K. Dick

Jung, Freud, and countless other psychologists, psychoanalysts, psychiatrists, psychometers, psychos, not to mention the average Joe laying on the sofa, have all tried to transcribe the meaning of dreams.  Art imitating life, it falls on the shoulders of writers, however, to recreate dream scenarios in words.  Reality continually shifting underfoot and the world never quite objectively fixed in the mind’s eye, this is the ocean through which Philip K. Dick’s 1969 Ubik swims.  That dreams are only the mode of the story, takes the book to another level, however!  A brief look at the plot will explain things.

It is not far into Ubik that strange events begin happening to our everyday protagonist, Joe Chip.  Moments from the past blend with the present, characters appear and disappear randomly, and above all, a mood suffuses his life that nothing is stable or trustworthy.  Set in the near future where certain people have developed the ability to psychologically invade the minds of others, anti-psis (people who can prevent this mind rape) arise naturally from the business landscape.  Joe may not have much going for him (he’s in debt over his ears), but he does have one valuable skill: the ability to detect the strength of people’s psyche.  This makes him a most prized asset to Glen Ruciter, the owner of one of the largest anti-psi companies.  Things go smoothly for the company until a contract turns bad.   Hired to do an anti-psi sweep of a company on the moon, a bomb explodes mid-operation.  In the aftermath, reality becomes more unstable each day.  However, whether or not Ruciter has been killed in the blast is only the beginning of Joe’s concerns.  

Viewing the book purely from a style point of view, Dick will not garner many awards for the scratchings of his pen.  Ordinary at best, his prose is neither melodious or gripping.  But where Dick shines are the idea and plot departments (it isn’t a coincidence that more than seven of his stories have been made into films), and Ubik, despite moving at pedestrian speeds, is no different.  It delivers a compelling story that does what literature should do: make us question life.  Many consider the novel Dick’s masterpiece, so if you are a fan of thought-provoking sci-fi, particularly that which discusses the roots of the interaction between the psyche and technology, then by all means have a read.  If this is not enough, then perhaps the additional content of death, alternate reality, paranoia, brain-in-the-vat, and the metaphysical questions these ideas give way to, may be. 

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