Reviews of Ubik (1969)
Review by karnak (2007-07-10)
Ubik was selected as one of Time Magazine’s Top 100 Novels because it is Dick’s most way-out novel, and therefore his most representative – the most “Phildickian." Though Dick is an uneven writer at best, Time included him because of the originality of his vision: his metaphysical explorations of reality and humanity, his use of SF elements to satirize the present day world, his paranoia. Ubik is a mind-buckling rollercoaster ride through collapsing realities. It opens with a telepath agency and blasts off from there. The bulk of the book deals with a reality in which everything is devolving back in time and the only antidote is an enigmatic product called Ubik, which is also featured in commercial spots at the start of all the chapters. An excellent introduction to one of SF’s greatest writers.
Review by ropie (2007-04-23)
Philip K Dick is well known as an author who toys with the reader's perecption of reality. In this sense I liken Christopher Priest to him. The big difference between the two though, as far as I can see, is that Dick was much more liberal with his prose. He doesn't really care for formula or literary style, readability or even quality - certainly with 'Ubik' he seems happy to bang out the story at a flying rate, capturing a certain atmosphere along the way but leaving the reader to pick up the pieces and reassemble them into a meaningful tale.
Joe Chip, the main protagonist, works for an agency organization that hires out anti-telepaths to block telepathic abilities displayed by certain members of society. With this immediately it is clear that the book is turning certain conventions upside down. Ubik itself is something of an emiga being neither one thing nor the other but seemingly (at first anyway) a term for any kind of consumable product. How this links in with an assassination attempt and lots of unexpected time-travel goodness is for you to figure out as you read...
The novel has a pace and a plot that allows you to get through it very quickly and understand almost nothing of it. Alternatively you could probably read it quite slowly and understand almost nothing of it. Despite this it's also an easy story to enjoy. The characters are solid but well-drawn stereoptypes and the situations plainly bizarre. The humour is dark and just adds to the strange atmosphere.
Something of an iconic book, it is also one of the few SF tales that made it in to Time Magazine's Top 100 novels since 1923. I'm not sure how it got on there really as it's a bit of mess as a novel. Fascinating premise though and probably a very good re-read also. Good luck figuring it out!
Review by clong (2006-04-09)
What can you say about Ubik? It's kind of like a cross between The Demolished Man and The Twilight Zone, a novel where appearances are always deceiving, where nobody really knows even the few things they think they know.
The characters are confidently drawn. Joe Chip is a likable protagonist, in some ways a very effective man and in others totally inept. Glen Runciter is also likable, a man trying to take control of an uncontrollable situation. The enigmatic Pat is a sometimes nemesis, sometimes ally.
The real star of the book is the frequently absurd world created by Dick, a future world where doors won't let you out of a room unless you pay them. A world where you can still talk to dead people. There are plenty of very funny throw away moments as we move through this world, not the least of which is how people dress. When we meet Stanton Mick, he is wearing "fuchsia pedal-pushers, pink yakfur slippers, a snakeskin sleeveless blouse, and a ribbon in his waist-length dyed white hair." Later von Vogelsang greets them wearing "tweed toga, loafers, crimson sash and a purple airplane-propeller beanie."
Despite these moments of humor, this is not a comedy. Chip and his colleagues spend most of the book racing against the clock to fight a deterioration of reality that threatens to suck the very life out of them and leave nothing but a desiccated shell of bones and skin. And it is not until the very end that the various layers of illusion on penetrated to the point that we can understand what is really happening.
This is my favorite Dick book to date.