Ubik; or, Adventures in Reader Reactions

The remodeling is done. It will be awhile before new content appears though. (That’s code for me making some notes on stuff I’ve already read.)

Others, however, have been reading Philip K. Dick’s Ubik, a book I remember fondly.

Raw Feed (2005): Ubik, Philip K. Dick, 1969.ubik

This novel lived up to its reputation as one of Dick’s classics.

Its theme of personal realities and the imposition of one’s own reality on others echoes Dick’s Eye in the Sky and his a Maze of Death. The intimation of personal death in the bathroom graffiti of

Lean over the bowl

And then take a dive.

All of you are dead. I am alive.

echoes the death of Jason Taverner’s celebrity identity in Dick’s Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said. The horrifying presence of entropy seen in Dick’s Martian Time-Slip is echoed here when Joe Chip senses death and entropy closing in on him.

The malevolent presence of Jory infiltrating the minds of those in cryonic suspension was a bit like the gnostic god of a Maze of Death. The omnipresent Ubik messages are a classic example of divine messages found in trash and advertising, the divine penetrating the mundane world. Of course, Runciter is not god, but he is, in some sense, more real given that he is mobile and moves about in the “real world” and not the delusional world of those in the moratorium.

The style of this novel got me to thinking about the virtues and faults of Dick’s often rapid and ramshackle speed of composition. (I have no idea how quickly this novel was conceived and written.) I found the jarring nomenclature odd and interesting. Specifically, there is the clever “ubik” for “ubiquitous”, but we also get the decidedly staid Latin of “moratorium”. On the one hand, I sense Dick was writing in a hurry and (perhaps like the use of “demesne” in his The Penultimate Truth) simply used a rather improbable and long Latin word when a real future would have invented a slang word or corruption (like “ubik”). On the other hand, it’s a great use of the word’s literal meaning — “to delay”.

However, I can’t decide if the ending, when Runciter sees Joe Chip money, rather than the reverse throughout most of the book when the living Runciter attempts to communicate to “dead” Chip via things like his picture on money, is meant to make a thematic point I don’t understand or just a vestige of A. E. van Vogt’s influence on Dick — to wit, the need to pile one more plot twist on the end of the novel even if it makes or even corrodes any serious philosophical or thematic point Dick was trying to make.

It should be noted that Runciter, while generally a rather sympathetic god figure, seems not above conducting business scams to drum up clients for his anti-psi service which may make him sort of a corrupt gnostic god if we buy the Runciter world = divinity, moratorium=our flawed world analogy. Of course there was also the mandatory dark haired girl here with Pat. There was plenty of humor to be had in the plight of the financially incompetent Joe Chip in a world where vending machines have to be constantly fed, where you have to pay to even use the door out in your own apartment.

What others think:

Battered, Tattered, Yellowed & Creased

From Couch to Moon


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.


One thought on “Ubik; or, Adventures in Reader Reactions

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.