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Cover of first edition (hardcover)
Author Philip K. Dick
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Science fiction novel
Publisher Doubleday
Publication date 1969
Media type print (hardcover & paperback)
Pages 202 pp
ISBN 978-0-57507-921-2 & 0-679-73664-6

Ubik (pronounced /juːbɪk/ "yoo-bik"[1]) is a 1969 science fiction novel by Philip K. Dick. In 2005, Time named it one of the one hundred greatest English-language novels published since 1923.[2]


[edit] Plot synopsis

The novel takes place in the 'North American Confederation' of 1992, wherein technology has advanced to the extent of permitting civilians to reach the Moon and psi phenomena are widely accepted as real. The protagonist is Joe Chip, a debt-ridden technician for Glen Runciter's "prudence organization", which employs people with the ability to block certain psychic powers (as in the case of an anti-telepath, who can prevent a telepath from reading a client's mind) to enforce privacy by request. Runciter runs the company with the assistance of his deceased wife Ella, who is kept in a state of "half-life", a form of cryonic suspension that gives the deceased person limited consciousness and communication ability.

The company’s main adversary is Ray Hollis, who leads an organization of psychics. Hollis appears only for a short time in the novel.

When business magnate Stanton Mick hires Runciter’s company to secure his lunar facilities from telepaths, Runciter assembles a dozen agents for this task. The group includes Pat Conley, a mysterious young woman who has an unprecedented parapsychological ability to undo events by changing the past. Joe Chip is shown at several points to have sexual feelings for the defiant Pat Conley, who once gives the impression of reciprocating them.

When Runciter, Chip, and the others reach Mick’s moon base, they discover that the assignment is a trap, presumably set by Hollis. A bomb explosion apparently kills Runciter without significantly harming the others. They rush back to Earth to place him in half-life.

Afterwards, the group begins to experience strange shifts in reality. Consumables, such as milk and cigarettes, begin to expire prematurely. Also, the group sees Runciter's face on coins and receives strange messages from him in writing and on television. Most of these messages imply that Runciter is in fact alive, while the others are in half-life, or "cold-pac" as it is informally called. Group members who separate from the group are found dead, in a gruesome state of decomposition.

The reality gradually shifts backward in time until the group finds itself in a world resembling the United States in 1939. They try throughout to deduce what is causing these strange occurrences, prevent each other from dying, and find a mysterious product called Ubik, which is advertised in every time period they enter. Messages from Runciter indicate that Ubik may be their only hope of survival.

Ultimately, Joe Chip learns that Runciter, in fact, was the sole survivor of the explosion on Luna, and that his messages to the group are the result of his attempts to communicate with them while they are in half-life. The regressing world in which they find themselves is discovered to be the product of Jory Miller, another half-lifer whom Runciter encounters earlier in the story while communicating with Ella. It is revealed that Jory devours the life force of other people who are in suspended animation to prolong his own present existence. Of the group of anti-psychics and technicians, only Joe Chip eludes him, aided by the substance called Ubik. This substance, whose name is derived from the word "ubiquity", has the property of preserving people who are in half-life. Joe Chip is instructed in its use by Ella Runciter, who is en route to a reincarnation.

In the living world, Glen Runciter encounters several coins showing Joe Chip's face. He suspects that this is "just the beginning".

[edit] Themes

Whereas the confusion between real and unreal, obscured by the perception of the main character(s), is common in Dick's work, in Ubik this confusion occurs in more than one way. Given the premise of half-life (the term is related to radioactive half-lives in that the partially dead person continues to slowly die and eventually is completely dead), one puzzle lies in resolving the false reality of the deceased with the real perceptions of those who are still alive. This is further complicated by Pat Conley, whose ability to change the past (and thus the present) may be causing the reality changes. The interference of psychics causes further confusion. The story presents unsettling shifts between realities and timelines, so that the reader is never certain what is real and what is illusion.

Another theme is the opposition between the twin forces of decay (the regression experienced by the characters) and restoration (Ubik, which reverses that decay). There's also an examination of what decomposition actually means and whether ideas are immune.

Ubik features several character types common to Dick's fiction: Chip as the downtrodden, working class protagonist; Conley as the dark-haired, alluring, unattainable, possibly insane, sadistic, and by some means empowered woman; Runciter as a cynical but fatherly old man, who holds a position of great power at the top of the social hierarchy (similar to Leo Bulero in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch or Felix Buckman in Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said). These character types are nearly universal to his work and tend to follow similar roles: the downtrodden protagonist finds himself at odds with a large and complicated plot, not specifically against him, but in which he becomes inadvertently entangled. He is then alternately aided by, confused by, or maliciously harmed by the dark-haired woman, is helped indirectly by the fatherly old man (whose warnings are often unheeded or too late), and faces the spokesman of the evil conspiracy, who is mysterious, powerful, well-informed, and more or less undeniable, leaving the downtrodden hero with little or bittersweet success. Generally, multiple explanations for the nature of the events, the outcome of the story, and the nature and identity of the evil spokesman are available, especially if drug use or other psychic complications blur the lines of reality. Generally speaking, the narrator participates in the perspective of the characters, so the revelation of whether the experience is a drug-induced delusion or a bona fide event is left vague for the reader. Ultimately, the reader is left to wonder what actually happened in the "real world" of the story and is left few clues, much as a person rehabilitated from extended drug use might look back at the recent months of life and wonder what was real, what was misinterpreted, and what was false.

[edit] Literary allusions

Cover of the 1970 Dell paperback edition of Ubik

The term Ubik comes from the Latin word ubique, which means "everywhere" and is the source of the English language word ubiquitous, which means being or seeming to be everywhere at the same time. This could be considered ironic, given that Ubik is a rare and highly sought-after substance in the novel, but it may also indicate that Ubik is a life-force of sorts.

Ubik also references Plato’s idea of Forms, great universals that define the essence of all matter. When the world begins to seemingly regress in time and all objects in it (such as television sets, refrigerators and automobiles) become that time period’s version of that object, Chip remarks that each is coming closer to barest, simplest Form.

The name "Joe Chip" has the same initials as "Jesus Christ". Parallels can be drawn between Chip as a Christ figure (who suffers a temporary death or near-death and subsequent resurrection), Runciter as God-the-father, and Ubik as the Holy Spirit. However, these and other possible allusions to Christianity are by no means straightforward, and it is much more useful to examine the religious metaphors of Ubik in the context of Dick's grander spiritual and metaphysical worldview rather than as a readily explicable religious tale.

[edit] Adaptations

[edit] Videogame

In 1998, Cryo Interactive Entertainment released Philip K. Dick’s Ubik, a tactical action/strategy videogame very loosely based on the book. The game allowed players to act as Joe Chip and train combat squads into missions against the Hollis Corporation. The game was available for Sony PlayStation and for Microsoft Windows and was not a significant commercial success.

[edit] Attempts to produce a Ubik film

In 1974, French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin commissioned Dick to write a screenplay for a Ubik film. Dick completed the screenplay, turning it in within a month, but Gorin never filmed the project.[3] The screenplay was published as Ubik: The Screenplay in 1985 (ISBN-13: 978-0911169065) and again in 2008 (ISBN 9781596061699).

Dick's screenplay differs from the source material, featuring numerous scenes that are not in the novel.[1] According to the foreword of Ubik: The Screenplay (by Tim Powers, a friend of Dick's and fellow science fiction writer), Dick had an idea for the film which involved "the film itself appearing to undergo a series of reversions: to black-and-white, then to the awkward jerkiness of very early movies, then to a crookedly jammed frame which proceeds to blacken, bubble and melt away, leaving only the white glare of the projection bulb, which in turn deteriorates to leave the theater in darkness, and might almost leave the moviegoer wondering what sort of dilapidated, antique jalopy he'll find his car-keys fitting when he goes outside."[4]

Tommy Pallotta, who produced the film adaptation of Dick's A Scanner Darkly, said in a July 2006 interview that he "still [has] the option for Ubik and will be looking to make a live action feature from it."[5] Dick's daughter, Isa Dick Hackett, said the film adaptation of Ubik is in advanced negotiation.[6] In May of 2008, the film was optioned by Celluloid Dreams. It will be produced by Hengameh Panahi of Celluloid Dreams and Isa Dick Hackett, of Electric Shepherd Productions. It is slated to go into production in early 2009.[7]

[edit] Music

Secret Chiefs 3 created an auditory adaptation on their "The Electromagnetic Azoth - Ubik / Ishraqiyun - Balance of the 19" 7" record. The "Ubik" track features musicians Trey Spruance (Faith No More, Mr. Bungle) and Bill Horist. In 2000 Art Zoyd released a musical interpretation of the novel titled u.B.I.Q.U.e.

[edit] Criticism

  • Fitting, Peter, (1975) "Ubik and the Deconstruction of Bourgeois SF", Science-Fiction Studies # 5, 2:1, pp. 47-54.
  • Lem, Stanislaw, (1975) “Science and Reality in Philip K. Dick’s Ubik”, A Multitude of Visions, ed. Cy Chauvin, Baltimore; T-K Graphics, pp. 35-9.
  • Pagetti, Carlo, (2003) “Ubik uno e trino” [afterword], Philip K. Dick, Ubik, Roma: Fanucci, pp. 253-66.
  • Proietti, Salvatore, (2006) “Vuoti di potere e resistenza umana: Dick, Ubik e l'epica americana”, Trasmigrazioni: I mondi di Philip K. Dick, eds. Valerio Massimo De Angelis and Umberto Rossi, Firenze: Le Monnier, pp. 204-16.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b "Hour 25: A Talk With Philip K. Dick". philipKdick.com. http://www.philipkdickfans.com/frank/hour25.htm. Retrieved on 2008-07-30. 
  2. ^ Ubik - ALL-TIME 100 Novels - TIME
  3. ^ Paul Williams, Introduction, Ubik: The Screenplay by Philip K. Dick, 1985
  4. ^ Tim Powers, Foreword, Ubik: The Screenplay by Philip K. Dick, 1985
  5. ^ GreenCine | article
  6. ^ calendarlive.com
  7. ^ SciFi.com
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