Philip K. Dick, ‘SF’s premier visionary’ (Vox), gives us Platonic reality in a spray-can in this fabulously funny and spectacularly weird story of Joe Chip and the ubiquitous UBIK.
Glen Runciter runs the largest Prudence organization in the world. He employs forty or so anti-psi operatives, that is, people with the power to neutralize the various and dangerous psychic powers manifest in the late twentieth century. His chief scout is Joe Chip, a hopelessly shambolic but intuitively gifted reader of souls. He would be quite right, for instance, about the evil lurking in Pat Conley, precog neutralizer, only Pat’s talent keeps shifting Joe into timelines that confuse him. Being anti-precog, the only one known, history is hers for the making.
Worse, if that’s possible, she’s not in fact alone in the space (or time) between realities: a very nasty little boy is busy eating the half-lives of the cryogenically stored and will soon invade… if not the real world, what passes for it.
Joe Chip must solve the murder of Runciter, the disintegration of Wendy, the girl he loves, and foil the dastardly plot by psi corporations to eliminate Prudence.
It’s a race against devolving time with the aid of doubly impossible messages – from Runciter, who is dead, and found in match books and soap wrappers bought off store shelves. He devolves almost back to a time before flight was invented before there’s any resolution, and then, surprise, it is not the solution he had hoped for. It’s all UBIK.
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Nobody but Philip K Dick could so successfully combine SF comedy with the unease of reality gone wrong, shifting underfoot like quicksand. Besides grisly ideas like funeral parlours where you swap gossip for the advice of the frozen dead, Ubik (1969) offers such deadpan farce as a moneyless character's attack on the robot apartment door that demands a five-cent toll:
"I'll sue you," the door said as the first screw fell out.Chip works for Glen Runciter's anti-psi security agency, which hires out its talents to block telepathic snooping and paranormal dirty tricks. When its special team tackles a big job on the Moon, something goes badly wrong. Runciter is killed, it seems--but messages from him now appear on toilet walls, traffic tickets or product labels. Meanwhile fragments of reality are time-slipping into past versions: Joe Chip's beloved stereo system reverts to a hand-cranked 78 player with bamboo needles. Why does Runciter's face appear on US coins? Why the repeated ads for a hard-to-find universal panacea called Ubik ("safe when taken as directed")?
Joe Chip said, "I've never been sued by a door. But I guess I can live through it."
The true, chilling state of affairs slowly becomes clear, though the villain isn't who Joe Chip thinks. And this is Dick country, where final truths are never quite final and--with the help of Ubik--the reality/illusion balance can still be tilted the other way...Another nifty choice from Millennium SF Masterworks. --David LangfordReview:
‘The best sci-fi mind on any planet’
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Book Description Voyager, 1998. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 6482872