"I Quit!"
-Taylor Mead


by Philip K. Dick
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-547-57229-1
$13.95, 227 pp

Philip K. Dick is everywhere. Browse any science fiction section of your local booksellers, and you'll find him. Check out the Library of America, and you'll find him there too. With 121 short stories, forty-five novels and in twenty-five languages, he is an omnipotent presence in literary circles. Stylized visions of unfamiliar worlds, his novels feed the imagination, blending reality with fantasy, the familiar with the fantastic. In short, Philip K. Dick is dope.

The World According to Dick
Eleven of Dick's works have been adapted to film, the best-known being Minority Report, Total Recall and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? aka Blade Runner, all prime examples of the mind-melding worlds he creates. Though not yet a film, the world of Ubik is no less of a mind-fuck.

The story follows Joe Chip and twelve others from Runciter Associates, their place of employment. They're on a quest of sorts: trying to get back to 1992; Ubik's 1992. It's a weird futuristic hybrid of reality 1992. Written in 1969, there are machines in Dick's 1992 that come very close to mirroring the technology of reality 1992. Something called a homeopape delivers news - personalized to the user's taste; supermarkets have automated check stands; something called 'stant mail sends mail instantaneously. Familiar, but different.

Dick writes with an economy of words. With the slightest detail he's able to convey solid, fleshed out characters and settings. It's as though he knows the key words that will trigger the imagination center of the reader, and uses them to great effect. He pursues the characters of Ubik like a hound on the hunt. One moment Joe has it all figured out; the next he realizes he's chasing down a totally erroneous path; our choice is but to follow.

They glide through the world like they're moving through

gelatin; a microbial soup of photons, hallucinatory and dreamlike.

The world of Dick's 1992 is a Libertarian wet dream. The most mundane aspects of life create profit for somebody. Home appliances require coins to operate. Housing is all gathered into blocks of individual apartment units called conapts. You can't enter or leave without feeding the door. Rather than heads of government on their coins, the faces of business leaders appear on them. Sometimes without warning. Government regulatory agencies are all but non-existent.

There is a degree of Orwellian order to society though, the role of Big Brother being handled by private companies who infiltrate the psyches of unwitting prospects. As a matter of course, prudence agencies - they mirror the modern insurance industry in that you don't know you need them 'til you need them, and just what you need only they can tell - are hired by trusting individuals and businesses to thwart the psis and precogs quietly waging psychic battle on them. It's an industry driven by fear, hired on faith, and Runciter Associates is the leading agency.

When Worlds Collide
Joe and the gang begin their journey off world on Luna. They're there at the behest of an extremely influential client. Or so they think. When their boss, Glen Runciter, is mortally wounded by a bomb, the eleven inertias (they counter psychic spies) and Joe make a narrow escape back to earth with the lifeless body of their employer. It is critical they get him to a moratorium - a mausoleum for the living - and into a cryo tank before brain function ceases. The process is called half-life; the dead are called half-lifers, and exist in a state between life and death. Family and friends can visit with half-lifers for short periods of time, communicating with them via headset, but eventually they fade into oblivion, cryo or no.

Once back on earth, things begin to get strange. Joe, et al, find themselves going back in time. It's confusing for them because as time digresses, elements of the present carry over. It's as if time is folding over onto itself, carrying them into the past. They glide through the world like they're moving through gelatin; a microbial soup of photons, hallucinatory and dreamlike. Then they start dying.

In the end, Ubik plays out as more philosophical than sci-fi. It's a take on the Christ myth with Runciter filling the key role, his employees the disciples, and half-life the world beyond the grave. And, like its author, it too is everywhere.

posted 11/12/16