Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Ubik by Philip K. Dick

Instant Ubik has all the fresh flavour of just-brewed drip coffee. Your husband will say, Christ, Sally, I used to think your coffee was only so-so. But now, wow!  Safe when taken as directed.

phillip_k_dick_ubikGlen Runciter is dead. Or is he? Someone died in the explosion orchestrated by his business rivals, but even as his funeral is scheduled, his mourning employees are receiving bewildering messages from their boss. And the world around them is warping and regressing in ways which suggest that their own time is running out. If it hasn’t already.

I will admit that when I read the above blurb on the back of the latest book chosen for my real-life book group, I winced. Flights of fancy, fantasy, and anything that is decidedly Not Real aren’t my thing. I like big fat storylines, good solid plots. As I put it to a good friend only last week, there ain’t nothing wrong with a linear narrative. And now here I was holding something that was so far removed from my comfort zone, that I really just wanted to put it down and run away. “Warping.” “Regressing.” “Is he really dead?” Who cares, bring me some realism, stat.

Lift your arms and be all at once curvier! New extra-gentle Ubik bra and long-line Ubik special bra mean, Lift your arms and be all at once curvier! Supplies firm, relaxing support to bosom all day long with fitted as directed.

The opening pages didn’t do much to sway me. References to telepaths, inertials, teeps, and ident-flags just made me long for a nice Victorian pot-boiler. But I stuck with it, because I’m nothing if not annoyingly determined. We quickly learn that in this version of 1992 (the novel is set some 30-odd years after it was written) humanity is divided into those people who have developed telepathic powers, and those who are able to block the use of those powers. Whole businesses – interplanetary corporations, indeed – have been built around these skills and competition is fierce. Glen Runciter runs one of these firms, and often consults his young wife on the future of the business. Except his wife is dead. Oh did I not mention that? Technology now allows the recently deceased to be stored and their brainwaves tapped into periodically in what is called the half-life. The half-life is finite and eventually true death will occur, more quickly if you “talk” with them too often. The thing is, if you’re stored too close to another person, there is the chance that your brainwaves can get crossed, and poor Mr Runciter occasionally gets interrupted by the chap next to his wife. This is somewhat problematic when you’re trying to do business.

Meanwhile, Joe Chip is a bit down on his luck, and can’t even afford to pay his own door. (The door isn’t best pleased.) So when a spot of work with Runciter comes up, he’s there. Then the aforementioned explosion happens, and everything goes a bit wonky.

We wanted to give you a shave like no other you ever had. We said, It’s about time a man’s face got a little loving. We said, With Ubik’s self-winding Swiss chromium never-ending blade, the days of scrape-scrape are over. So try Ubik. And be loved. Warning: use only as directed. And with caution.

It wasn’t looking good. I had to read it, it was for book group. Weird words, shifting times. Oh no no no. But then something even weirder happened: I couldn’t put it down. I read it all in two days, which is good going when you’ve also got a full time job and a toddler. The thing that surprised me most was how funny it was. I actually laughed out loud. Literally LOLed. That never happens to me. Yes, it took a bit of time to understand what all those inertials and teeps were up to, but once I got used to it, the plot was fast-moving and kept me interested in just what on earth was going on. It’s a fine line, I think, when you’re dealing with concepts unique to a particular book between intriguing and baffling your readers.

So, I confronted a prejudice, and in the end, I probably liked Ubik more than anyone else in my book group. I’ve even bought a couple more novels by PKD.

But what exactly is Ubik, and what are those funny little paragraphs (sampled above) that head up every chapter? Well, that’s one of the things that you’ll just have to read to find out…

Philip K. Dick: Ubik (London: Gollanz, SF Masterworks, 2000 edn.) ISBN 9781857988536, RRP £4.99

4 comments on “Ubik by Philip K. Dick

  1. kirstyjane
    September 10, 2014

    I have to admit I would have been put off too — have, in fact, womanfully resisted reading any PKD. But now I may have to try. Lovely response, thank you.

  2. Kirsty D
    September 10, 2014

    It’s worth a bash, definitely. Even those who didn’t particularly end up liking it in the book group got through very quickly, so it has at least that in its favour!

  3. Jackie
    September 10, 2014

    I read the story that Blade Runner was based on long ago & Haven’t read any more of this author, because I’m not a big fan of scifi(so little nature in the genre). But I must admit, you’ve piqued my interest here & seeing as how you also aren’t into scifi, yet enjoyed it, makes me think I might too.
    Those advertising blurbs are the opposite of futuristic though, they’re positively retro!

  4. Pingback: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel | Vulpes Libris

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This entry was posted on September 10, 2014 by in Entries by Kirsty D, Fiction, Fiction: 20th Century, Fiction: science fiction and tagged , , .



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