Ubik, by Philip K. Dick

1969. Written five years before PKD experienced his 2-3-74 vision which he then spent the rest of his life exploring, researching, recording, challenging, buttressing, re-examining, and relating to his body of work.

Ubik–you’ll have to read the book to get the meaning of the term–unspools in a future (1992)Dickian world where corporations are interplanetary, the government is global, communication is by fixed-line vidphones, and telepaths, inertials, and precogs read telepathic aura. Oh, and time is fungible.

When Glen Runciter of the Runciter organization is wakened in the middle of the night due to the sudden disappearance of yet another of his telepaths, he is concerned enough to “consult his dead wife” in Switzerland. And we enter PKD-land.

A ruthless competitor prompts Runciter to assemble a team of inertials for a project on Luna, and then….

But I don’t want to lay out the plot. Too much is going on in Dick’s world. The story is enjoyable and you need to read carefully, flip back and forth sometimes to keep it all straight. Life and death, time and space, forward and backward, energy and entropy are slippery concepts in Dick’s hands. Of course no one is what they seem, but neither is the entire tale what it seems. That’s what I like and admire about Dick’s novels and stories: they take up residence in my pea brain and bug me long after I’ve finished them.

And trying to explain what Ubik is about I feel is only a subjective retelling of the bones of the story, a retelling which can’t do justice to the reading/thinking/puzzling experience. A retelling which reduces a story to just a story. Or more likely, I’m just not up to the task. I can’t tell you with great confidence what the story is about because I believe the story is so expertly told that it will have a different meaning for a different reader.

In Exegesis by PKD, he talks alot about Ubik, (Ubik the book and Ubik the term). He talks alot about Runciter. The novel is one of the several works which figures prominently in his exegetical exercise. In a way, he seems to believe that his body of work, of which Ubik is an important waystation, presaged his 2-3-74 vision. His work became clearer to him after he saw through to the informational underpinning of the universe. That sound crazy to you? Well Dick wasn’t crazy and he wrote more than a half million published words (who knows how many unpublished) after 2-3-74 in pursuit of an understanding of that vision.

Ubik by itself stands as an entertaining read, a sci-fi tale that challenges our concepts of reality, life, death, and the big one: why are we here? Serious topics explored in a whimsical, playful, smart narrative with oddball characters at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid.  Misfits like Dick up against the man, trying like hell to make some sense out of this life down here on earth.

Ubik is more than a fun sojourn into PKD-land. But if that’s all you get out of it, it’ll work that way too. Me: I can’t get it out of my mind.



M L Rudolph has worked for CNN among other American and British television and film companies. He has written for general interest and trade magazines and published his first novel, Facing the Son, A novel of Africa, on Amazon in 2011. More are on the way. Rudolph is a dual US/UK national and lives in Pasadena, CA. View all posts by M L RUDOLPH

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