Ubik

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Ubik
Ubik(1stEd).jpg
Cover of first edition (hardcover)
Author Philip K. Dick
Country United States
Genre Science fiction
Philosophical fiction
Publisher Doubleday
Publication date
1969
Media type Print (Hardcover & Paperback)
Pages 202 pp
ISBN 978-0-575-07921-2 & 0-679-73664-6
OCLC 67871286

Ubik (/ˈjuːbɨk/ EW-bik) is a 1969 science fiction novel by American writer Philip K. Dick. It is one of Dick's most acclaimed novels. It was chosen by Time magazine as one of the 100 greatest novels since 1923. In his review for Time, critic Lev Grossman described it as "a deeply unsettling existential horror story, a nightmare you'll never be sure you've woken up from."[1]

Plot synopsis[edit]

The novel takes place in the "North American Confederation" of 1992, wherein technology has advanced to the extent of permitting civilians to reach the Moon, and psi phenomena are common. The novel's protagonist, Joe Chip, is 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.

When business magnate Stanton Mick hires Runciter’s company to secure his lunar facilities from telepaths, Runciter assembles eleven 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. Joe Chip and Pat have a repressed and distrustful sexual tension throughout the story.

When Runciter, Chip, and the others reach Mick’s moon base, they discover that the assignment is a trap, presumably set by the company’s main adversary, Ray Hollis, who leads an organization of psychics. A bomb explosion apparently kills Runciter without significantly harming the others. They rush back to Earth to place him in half-life.

Afterwards, the group begins to experience strange shifts in reality. Consumables, such as milk and cigarettes, begin to deteriorate prematurely. Also, the group sees Runciter's face on coins and receives strange messages from him in writing and on television. Most of these messages imply that Runciter is in fact alive and that the rest of the group is in half-life, or "cold-pac" as it is informally called. Group members who separate from the group are found dead, in a gruesome state of decomposition.

The reality gradually shifts backward in time until the group finds itself in a world resembling the United States in 1939. Throughout, they try to deduce what is causing these strange occurrences, prevent each other from dying, and find a mysterious product called Ubik, which is advertised in every time period they enter. Messages from Runciter indicate that Ubik may be their only hope of survival.

Ultimately, Joe Chip learns that Runciter was, in fact, the sole survivor of the explosion on the moon, and the messages to the group are the result of his attempts to communicate with them while they are in half-life. The regressing world in which they find themselves is discovered to be the product of Jory Miller, another half-lifer whom Runciter encounters earlier in the story while communicating with Ella. It is revealed that Jory devours the life force of other people who are in suspended animation in order to prolong his own present existence. Of the group of anti-psychics and technicians, only Joe Chip eludes him, aided by the substance called Ubik. This substance, whose name is derived from the Latin word "ubique" (meaning "everywhere"), has the property of preserving people who are in half-life. Ubik was invented by a group of half-lifers, led by Ella Runciter, who developed it as protection from Jory. Joe Chip is instructed in its use by Ella, who is en route to a reincarnation.

In what he has hitherto perceived as the "living" world, Glen Runciter encounters several coins showing Joe Chip's face, just as Joe and others first encountered coins with Runciter's face. Runciter suspects that the new currency is "just the beginning," and the novel ends with the unresolved implication that Runciter himself may be dead after all.

Interpretation[edit]

Dick's former wife Tessa remarked that "Ubik is a metaphor for God. Ubik is all-powerful and all-knowing, and Ubik is everywhere. The spray can is only a form that Ubik takes to make it easy for people to understand it and use it. It is not the substance inside the can that helps them, but rather their faith in the promise that it will help them."[2] She also interpreted the ending by writing, "Many readers have puzzled over the ending of Ubik, when Glen Runciter finds a Joe Chip coin in his pocket. What does it mean? Is Runciter dead? Are Joe Chip and the others alive? Actually, this is meant to tell you that we can't be sure of anything in the world that we call 'reality.' It is possible that they are all dead and in cold pac or that the half-life world can affect the full-life world. It is also possible that they are all alive and dreaming."[2]

Adaptations[edit]

Videogame[edit]

In 1998, Cryo Interactive Entertainment released Philip K. Dick’s Ubik, a tactical action/strategy videogame very loosely based on the book. The game allowed players to act as Joe Chip and train combat squads into missions against the Hollis Corporation. The game was available for PlayStation and for Microsoft Windows and was not a significant commercial success.

Attempts to produce a Ubik film[edit]

Original Attempt - Gorin[edit]

In 1974, French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin commissioned Dick to write a screenplay for a Ubik film. Dick completed the screenplay, turning it in within a month, but Gorin never filmed the project.[3] The screenplay was published as Ubik: The Screenplay in 1985 (ISBN 978-0911169065) and again in 2008 (ISBN 9781596061699). Dick's former wife Tessa claims that the published screenplay "has been heavily edited, and others have added material to the screenplay that Phil wrote", though she suggests that "film producers really ought to take a look at the author’s own screenplay before embarking upon their journey of interpretation".[4]

Screenplay Publications[edit]

Dick's screenplay differs from the source material, featuring numerous scenes that are not in the novel. According to the foreword of Ubik: The Screenplay (by Tim Powers, a friend of Dick's and fellow science fiction writer), Dick had an idea for the film which involved "the film itself appearing to undergo a series of reversions: to black-and-white, then to the awkward jerkiness of very early movies, then to a crookedly jammed frame which proceeds to blacken, bubble and melt away, leaving only the white glare of the projection bulb, which in turn deteriorates to leave the theater in darkness, and might almost leave the moviegoer wondering what sort of dilapidated, antique jalopy he'll find his car-keys fitting when he goes outside."[5]

Optioning in the 2000s - Pallotta & Celluloid Dreams[edit]

Tommy Pallotta, who produced the film adaptation of Dick's A Scanner Darkly, said in a July 2006 interview that he "still [has] the option for Ubik and will be looking to make a live action feature from it."[6] Dick's daughter, Isa Dick Hackett, said the film adaptation of Ubik is in advanced negotiation.[7] In May 2008, the film was optioned by Celluloid Dreams. It will be produced by Hengameh Panahi of Celluloid Dreams and Isa Dick Hackett, of Electric Shepherd Productions. It was slated to go into production in early 2009.[8]

Production in 2010s - Gondry[edit]

Michel Gondry was revealed to be working on a film adaptation in early 2011, with Steve Golin and Steve Zaillian producing.[9]

In 2014, Gondry announced that he was no longer working on the project.[10]

Audiobook[edit]

An audiobook version of Ubik was released in 2008 by Blackstone Audio. The audiobook, read by Anthony Heald, is unabridged and runs approximately 7 hours over 6 CDs.[11][12][13]

Music[edit]

Secret Chiefs 3 created an auditory adaptation on their "The Electromagnetic Azoth - Ubik / Ishraqiyun - Balance of the 19" 7" record. The "Ubik" track features musicians Trey Spruance (Faith No More, Mr. Bungle) and Bill Horist. In 2000 Art Zoyd released a musical interpretation of the novel titled u.B.I.Q.U.e.. Also the name of a Timo Maas single.

Criticism[edit]

  • Fitting, Peter, (1975) "Ubik and the Deconstruction of Bourgeois SF", Science-Fiction Studies # 5, 2:1, pp. 47–54.
  • Lem, Stanislaw, (1975) “Science and Reality in Philip K. Dick’s Ubik”, A Multitude of Visions, ed. Cy Chauvin, Baltimore; T-K Graphics, pp. 35–9.
  • Pagetti, Carlo, (2003) “Ubik uno e trino” [afterword], Philip K. Dick, Ubik, Roma: Fanucci, pp. 253–66.
  • Proietti, Salvatore, (2006) “Vuoti di potere e resistenza umana: Dick, Ubik e l'epica americana”, Trasmigrazioni: I mondi di Philip K. Dick, eds. Valerio Massimo De Angelis and Umberto Rossi, Firenze: Le Monnier, pp. 204–16.

See also[edit]

References[edit]