Monday, February 18, 2013

Revisiting the Classics -- Ubik

Today I have a real gem for you: Philip K. Dick's Ubik. Written in the 1960's, Ubik, like a lot of Dick's work, was way ahead of its time.

The story depicts the future (1992) as imagined by Dick. In it, telepaths are used for corporate espionage. The protagonist, Joe Chip, works for a company that detects these psychic spies for clients concerned they may have been infiltrated by them. Now, it is also important to explain that in this future when people die they are put into cold storage ("coldpac") where they are kept alive in a semi-vegetative state, and every so often their relatives can have them thawed out briefly for social contact.

Anyway--Joe assembles a team of his own telepaths ("inertials"), and they, along with their company's boss, Glen Runciter, head to the moon to ferret out spies. However, it turns out to be a trap, and a bomb goes off, and Runciter dies. Or does he? Despite being told their boss is too far gone even for coldpac, Joe and the team begin receiving messages from Runciter in the most unlikely places, telling them to seek out a mysterious product called Ubik. This, of course, confuses the hell out of them, and to make matters worse, the world around them begins regressing at an accelerated rate. Everything--technology, money and even food--starts becoming older and older. This means that soon all food will become too old to eat. Why is this happening? Where is Runciter? What is Ubik, and does it in fact hold the key to saving their world?

Ubik is a smart, fast-paced ride that has withstood the test of time (an ironic statement, considering the problems its protagonists face). I kept telling myself, "Just another pair of pages." The book is a page-turner, no doubt. It has interesting characters and a not-so-predictable ending. And, as is characteristic of Philip K. Dick stories, the narrative stands as a warning about the unchecked advancement of technology, although in a slightly lighter tone than, say, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (the fact that Joe must insert coins into his front door like a pay phone every time he enters or exits his apartment--and the door gripes about it if he fails to do so--is particularly funny. I place Dick into that exclusive class of visionaries inhabited by Jules Verne and Arthur C. Clarke, and this could quite possibly be my favorite of his novels.

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