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Get UBIK! Science fiction masterwork. (Safe if read as directed)
on 3 April 2014
Although I'm familiar (as most people are) with the work of PKD through the various films that his short stories and novels have spawned, and others he has inspired, this was to my shame, my first ever PKD read. Ubik centres on a near future earth where telepathic and pre-cognitive abilities have become commonplace, and indeed dangerous to big business. As Dick wonderfully explains, in a form of natural evolutionary balance, an opposing force has developed alongside them, that of the "inertials": people born with an innate the ability to "block" specific types of psychic ability. When a business magnate hires the Prudence organisation (a company of such inertials) to secure his lunar facilities from telepaths, it's owner Glenn Runciter assembles eleven of his agents for the task, including Joe Chip a debt-ridden technician, and the newly hired Pat, a young woman with the unprecedented parapsychological ability to counter pre-cog ability by undoing past events. But what follows sends Chip and the team spiralling into peculiar events where their very existence seems to shift between past, present, and an eerie alternative universe where an ominous presence appears to be bearing an unfathomable influence. As they struggle to understand what's happening, the lines between reality and unreality begin to blur and the truth perhaps lies only in the strangely scrawled messages and notes that begin to appear in impossibly random locations, and the significance of the mysterious multi-purpose product "UBIK". But can the team survive long enough to find the answers and save themselves?
Ubik firmly deserve the accolade of "Masterwork". It's amazing to think that this visionary novel, exploring the themes of technology and reality is over 50 years old and it's clear why PKD continues to be such a massive influence on the science fiction community. The book itself is beautifully told, with the downbeat and broke Technician Joe Chip, and Prudence owner Runciter sharing the pov for the majority of the narrative. Dick's concise descriptions of a somewhat disconnected and impersonal future through its incessantly rigid machine operated systems and steampunk-esque 'retro-future' devices are brilliantly evocative, whilst his explanations of complicated physics keep you firmly rooted in the genre, yet awlays on the right side of sci-fi babble. In fact, through a seamless use of character and scene, Dick does a perfect job of maintaining tension and momentum in a story that in other hands could easily be nothing more than a massively self indulgent mess. Above all, in spite the wealth of its wonderfully inventive ideas and tehcnological world building, Ubik is much mroe than a set of brilliant concepts moulded into a story. It's a darkly comic, intriguing, and thoroughly absorbing narrative that works because of a perfect symbiosis between setting chracter and story and pushes forward to the next mind bending twist and turn with the masterful ease of an author who understands his reader.
At a basic level it's a solid sci-fi yarn, but Ubik has so much more to offer than that; with PKD's typical themes of humanity and boundaries of reality and in the case of Ubik itself, even the very nature of faith in its human and theological forms.
As an intro to PKD's writings, I can't recommend this highly enough. I for one will now be scouring through his catalogue!