Sunday, August 30, 2015

Ubik (1966)

Ubik is difficult to summarize inasmuch as it is a maze contraption built out of tentative interdependencies of conceits, concepts, and metaphors. Pronounced "YOU-bick" because it derives from the word "ubiquitous," here is the first problem. What is Ubik? I don't know. It appears to be a manufactured product. In the world of Ubik, corporations are everything and corporatism is a way of life. That vision is as deeply embedded into the proceedings as any. So Ubik is a product—it is a miracle product—literally a miracle product. It is 1992 (the book was written in 1966, published in 1969) and society appears to be organized along two axes: corporations which fight for control of markets (in everything, including an afterlife of specific tiny proportions) and a spectrum of human psychic capability. At one end of this spectrum are mind readers, future seers, spoon benders, and such. At the other are "inertials," who obstruct the psychic abilities of others. Inertials are organized into "prudence" corporate entities—a flavor of insurance company with a pronounced security component, analogous to the Pinkertons of another era. In Ubik, people are generally paranoid about the advantages enjoyed by psychics, reacting with fear and hostility. Inertials can help to control that. This is at the macro level. Down on the human scale, as always, people in Dick novels are just trying to get along, make a living, live their lives, and stay out of trouble. Which is not easy when one is hectored all the time by marketers. Not only phones but refrigerators and even doors are coin-operated in this world. There's definitely a noticeable and strange kind of religiosity beginning to enter into Dick's writing here, with the afterlife hedged a bit as fading electric discharges from carefully preserved brains. In fact, in the end the novel appears to be a story exactly about that afterlife, though it's not information to which the characters, much less the reader, are particularly privy. So really weird things happen here—I mean really weird—such as at one point the entire time frame itself pulls up stakes and begins to lurch and lumber uncertainly into the past. Calculations about travel require consideration for the expected level of technology upon arrival, such as for example whether the internal combustion engine will be available for use. Really weird and really well done. I'm tempted to turn around right now and go through it again.

In case it's not at the library.

1 comment:

  1. When I taught, I used UBIK more than any other PKD novel. That, or Now Wait for Last Year.