Monday, March 15, 2010

Ubik - Philip K. Dick

Ubik - Ubiquitous - Everywhere

Joe Chip works as a technician for a "prudence company". The company employs anti-psych people. One such talent might be the ability to block a telepathic. If you're sceptic about paranormal talents you're not the only one. At least one of the company's customers doubts their claims. Do they really do something or are they just drinking up our coffee while burning a whole in my pocket? But he's rather safe than sorry and just coughs up the money.

The book starts when the company receives a big order in times of crises. Safety bells should ring in their heads but they go ahead anyway. Arriving at the scene an explosion happens. Apparently their boss Runciter is killed. They immediately go off and bring their boss to the mortuary where he can be kept in a state of half life for a few more years. In half life he can still be asked some questions once every few years.

In a lot of books this prologue would be the offset for an action packed novel. Psychs vs non psychs, the fight! But not in this book. Instead everything gets fuzzier and fuzzier. As the book moves along their environment starts to change. Their money turns into toy money with Runciters face on. Their environment slowly degrades to the thirties. And they start seeing Ubik advertisements everywhere. Ubik promises them to restore their life and bring them back their old lives, they just have to get a bottle. How do you explain all this? Every time Joe gets one step closer to an answer something happens that puts us back two steps.

What's real? It's a concept that we can see in more of Dicks novels. Do androids dream of electric sheep (filmed as Blade Runner) is probably the most famous example. There an android hunter has to figure out who's an android and who's not, who's "real" and who's not. And the less obvious question remains unanswered, is he an android himself? How can we be sure what's real and not except through our senses? And in the end, does it matter what's real? We've only got the here and now and we have to make the best of it. Even if we all took the blue pill.

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