Ubik – Philip K. Dick: A Review

Date finished: April 2nd 2016

A 60’s sci-fi author in name, Philip K Dick strikes me as being somewhat apart from the other famous sci-fi authors. Whereas Asimov, Clarke and their ilk were thinking about the future and the various implications of new technologies, Dick was paying far more scrutiny to our conception of reality. He was among the most creative and most successful authors to question our perceptions of the nature of reality. It’s just that he often does it within a futuristic context that means he’s often labelled as run-of-the-mill ‘sci-fi’ when he’s so much more than this.

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Ubik, whilst by no mean Dick’s most-famous work, is often considered to be one of his best. The plot focuses on an ‘anti-talent’ agency – a business whose employees have the ability to negate the insidious effect of telepaths, pre-cognoscenti and suchlike. The head of the company is killed in a bomb blast conducted by a rival organisation. Or is he? His employees have started to receive strange messages implying he may still exist in some form. But then, do they exist? Because reality is starting to warp, decaying and regressing around them, and they’re beginning to question their own reality – and their safety. And just what is this mysterious product called Ubik they keep hearing about?

Written in ’69, Ubik is Dick at his creative peak: inventing fantastical technologies, then  delving into the strengths and failings that could arise from their technical application and applying this sci-fi framework to broader questions surrounding the nature of life, reality and the afterlife to create a compelling, mind-bending thriller with a healthy dose of humour on the side. Dick’s protagonist, Joe Chip, is a refreshing mix of bewildered and determined; reacting to and contemplating his ever-changing environment in with a relatable cocktail of cynicism and determination.

The more I read of Dick, the more I grow to like him, and it certainly seems to be the case that his less popular novels prove to be more satisfying and transcendent than more mainstream works such as The Man in the High Castle, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – both great novels in their own right, but lacking the penetration and insight of Ubik which, at its close, left me needing a hard pinch to bring me back to reality. Philip K. Dick is rapidly becoming a favourite author of mine, and this is the best I’ve read of his thus far.

8/10

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