Saturday, November 03, 2007

Book Review: "Ubik" by Philip K. Dick

"Ubik" was originally published in 1969 and is filled with all sorts of psychedelic feelings and storytelling as was prevalent with that time. This story has some time travel, regression, de-evolution and twists and turns in the plot that what you may think the story's outcome will be may not even happen, or is it that it already happened?

The novel takes place in the North American Confederation in an alternate version of 1992, technology has advanced to the extent of permitting civilians to reach the Moon and psi phenomena are widely accepted as real. The protagonist is Joe Chip, a debt-ridden technician for Glen Runciter's "prudence organization," which employs people with the ability to block certain psychic powers (as in the case of an anti-telepath, who can prevent a telepath from reading a client's mind) to enforce privacy by request. Runciter runs the company with the assistance of his deceased wife Ella, who is kept in a state of "half-life," a form of cryonic suspension that gives the deceased person limited consciousness and communication ability.

The company’s main adversary is Ray Hollis, who leads an organization of psychics. When business magnate Stanton Mick hires Runciter’s company to secure his Lunar facilities from telepaths, Runciter assembles a dozen agents for this task. The group includes Pat Conley, a mysterious young woman who has an unprecedented parapsychological ability to undo events by changing the past.

Then the time hopping begins. Stanton Mick is a ruse to lure Runciter and his company to the moon for assassination. A humanoid robot explodes amidst the anti-telepaths and Runciter apparently killing Runciter. Joe Chip immediately takes action to get Runciter's body to Zurich so he can be put in half-life so he can still run the company, at least mentally. But as they return to Earth the team notices things are de-evolving. Money is changing to either be out of date or some have a futuristic feel to them with Runciter's profile on the money. Cigarettes are stale and Milk is going sour around the team.

It turns out that Runciter is too far gone to put into half-life and dies. The team heads back to New York to put the business back together and to figure out what happened. Joe Chip stays behind in a hotel room provided by the half-life company and during the night one of the team members dies. When found the next morning it appears as if she's been dead for hundreds of years, mummified. Joe goes to New York and starts his own devolving, elevators turn to the old fashioned elevators with iron cages and operators. Cars regress back to Model Ts and the newspapers show that he has gone back to 1939.

But who is responsible? Better yet, is this really happening? At some points it seems as if the team died and only Runciter survived. But this story is filled with so many twists that the ending will shock you.

Look at it this way, mix a little "Matrix," "Bladerunner," "Alice through the looking glass" and some "Twilight Zone" and you may have a hint as to what's in store for your reading experience in this book. One of the fun aspects of this book is that at the beginning of each chapter is an ad for a different product all with the name "UBIK." As it turns in the story Ubik is what keeps reality from straying away, but the ads make it out to be everything from toothpaste to appliances.

So keep lots of herbal tea handy and enjoy this romp through time, space and mind.

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