|Author||Philip K. Dick|
|Genre||Science fiction, science fantasy, paranoid fiction, philosophical fiction|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
Ubik (// YOO-bik) is a 1969 science fiction novel by American writer Philip K. Dick. The story is set in a future 1992 where psychic powers are utilized in corporate espionage, while cryogenic technology allows recently deceased people to be maintained in a lengthy state of hibernation. It follows Joe Chip, a technician at a psychic agency who, after an assassination attempt, begins to experience strange alterations in reality that can be temporarily reversed by a mysterious store-bought substance called Ubik.
Ubik is one of Dick's most acclaimed novels. In 2009, 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".
By the year 1992, humanity has colonized the Moon and psychic powers are common. The protagonist, Joe Chip, is a debt-ridden technician working for Runciter Associates, a "prudence organization" employing "inertials"—people with the ability to negate the powers of telepaths and "precogs"—to enforce the privacy of clients. The company is run by Glen Runciter, assisted by his deceased wife Ella who is kept in a state of "half-life", a form of cryonic suspension that allows the deceased limited consciousness and ability to communicate. While consulting with Ella, Runciter discovers that her consciousness is being invaded by another half-lifer named Jory Miller.
When business magnate Stanton Mick hires Runciter Associates to secure his lunar facilities from alleged psychic intrusion, Runciter assembles a team of 11 of his best inertials, including recent hire Pat Conley, a mysterious girl with the unique psychic ability to undo events by changing the past. Runciter and Chip travel with the group to Stanton Mick's Moon base, where 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 blast apparently kills Runciter without significantly harming the others. They rush back to Earth to place him into half-life, but they cannot establish contact with him so his body is set to be buried.
From the moment of the explosion, the group begins to experience shifts in reality. Many objects they come into contact with (especially cigarettes) are much older than they should be, some being older types of the same object, and are rapidly deteriorating. They gradually find themselves moving into the past, eventually anchoring in 1939. At the same time, they find themselves surrounded by "manifestations" of Runciter; for example, his face appears on their money. As the novel progresses, members of the group one by one begin to feel tired and cold, then suddenly shrivel and die. Joe Chip attempts to make sense of what is happening and discovers two contradictory messages from Runciter, one stating that he is alive and they are dead, and another claiming to have been recorded by him while he was still alive. The latter message advertises Ubik, a store-brought product which can be used to temporarily reverse deterioration and which often appears as a can of aerosol spray. Chip deduces that they may have all died in the blast and are now linked together in half-life, and unsuccessfully tries to get hold of Ubik.
After receiving another message and travelling to Runciter's hometown, Joe Chip accuses Pat Conley of working for Hollis and causing the deterioration with her ability, and while he himself is withering away, she confirms this. As she leaves him to die, he is saved by Runciter, who sprays him with Ubik and tells him that the group is indeed in half-life and he himself is alive and trying to help them, though he does not know where Ubik comes from. As Runciter disappears, Jory Miller reveals himself to Chip, telling him that he, not Conley, has now killed off the entire group (including Conley), as he "eats" half-lifers to sustain himself, and that the entire reality they are experiencing is created and maintained by him. However, Chip is temporarily protected from being consumed through the effect of Ubik, and leaves Jory. As he at last begins to deteriorate again, he meets Ella, who saves him by granting him a life-long supply of Ubik, and instructs him to stay half-alive to assist Runciter after she herself reincarnates. It is implied that Jory has allies in the real world who help him find other half-lifers to consume in order to prolong his own half-life. Ubik is claimed to have been developed by Ella and several other half-lifers as a defense against Jory.
Each chapter is introduced by a commercial advertising Ubik as a different product serving a specific use. The last chapter is introduced by Ubik claiming that it has created and directed the universe, and that its real name is unknown and unspoken. In this short chapter, Runciter, who is in the "living" world mourning the loss of his best employees, discovers coins showing Chip's face, and feels that this is "just the beginning".
Friends, this is clean-up time and we're discounting all our silent, electric Ubiks by this much money. Yes, we're throwing away the bluebook. And remember: every Ubik on our lot has been used only as directed.
Glen Runciter, in charge of Runciter Associates, an organization seeking to neutralise psychics, receives a phone call informing him his 'inertials' have lost track of yet another powerful precog named S. Dole Melipone. Recently, the psychics, working for a man named Hollis, have eluded the organisation. Runciter decides to consult his dead wife, who is kept in 'cold-pac', a state of hibernation allowing deceased individuals to contact the living from time to time. To do so, he must go to the Beloved Brethren Moratorium, where individuals are kept in 'cold-pac'. This moratorium is directed by Herbert Schoenheit von Volgelsang.
Glen Runciter arrives at the moratorium and a secretary sets about tracking down his wife so he can talk to her.
The best way to ask for beer is to sing out Ubik. Made from select hops, choice water, slow-aged for perfect flavor, Ubik is the nation's number-one choice in beer. Made only in Cleveland.
Runciter consults with his wife, Ella Runciter, through active half-life. With every resuscitation, her cerebral activity diminishes, until it is too low for her to be 'activated' once more. Ella tells her husband that she has dreams of a hazy red smoke, and that she feels like she is merging with the other individuals in cold-pac around her. Runciter explains to her the situation and she starts to offer him advice… until suddenly her voice is cut off and replaced with a man's. He calls himself Jory and is located next to Ella's container. His signal is much stronger than Ella's and is blocking her's.
Von Volgelsang proposes to isolate Ella Runciter in a reinforced chamber so as to inhibit Jory's hetero-psychic signal. Runciter accepts… but thinks it is too late.
Instant Ubik has all the fresh flavor of just-brewed drip coffee. Your husband will say, Christ, Sally, I used to think your coffee was only so-so. But now, wow! Safe when taken as directed.
Joe Chip, one of Runciter's employees, receives a visit from G. G. Ashwood, another of Runciter's associates, in charge of finding 'anti-psis', individuals who negate the effects of other psychics. He has brought with him a woman named Pat Conley whom he thinks possesses a special ability : she can undo events by changing the past. Joe is tasked with assessing her. As soon as Ashwood leaves, Pat shows Joe a piece of paper proving he has already tested and failed her. She has now created a different present and if Joe passes, she will help him get out of debt...
On the test paper Joe draws a symbol, telling her it means Runiciter should hire her immediately. In fact, it symbolizes that the firm should watch her, and that she is a hazard.
Wild new Ubik salad dressing, not Italian, not French, but an entirely new and different taste treat that's waking up the world. Wake up to Ubik and be wild! Safe when taken as directed.
Runciter meets a woman called Zoe Wirt. Her boss, named Shepard Howard, needs some anti-telepaths to rid his company of a psychic intrusion. Runciter leaves her for a few moments and talks to his in-house psychic, Nina Freede. She tells him Miss Wirt is lying and she works for Stanton Mick, a rich business magnate. This pleases Runciter, as he knows Mick will be willing to pay a large sum for his work. Back in the office, Miss Wirt says the job will take place on the planet Luna and lays out the conditions: she wants 11 inertials. Then, Pat Conley is introduced to Glen Runciter by Joe Chip, and he decides to hire her and use her for the Luna operation.
Can't make the frug contest, Helen; stomach's upset. I'll fix you Ubik! Ubik drops you back in the thick of things fast. Taken as directed, Ubik speeds relief to head and stomach. Remember; Ubik is only seconds away. Avoid prolonged use.
Runciter is in his office familiarizing himself with the group of 11 inertials he has assembled, when he suddenly finds himself outside an antique shop, looking at old coins. When he returns to the room, he finds only Pat, Joe and G.G. Ashwood still present. Even stranger, Pat and Joe are now married. Eventually, Pat admits she is just showing them her capabilities and takes them back to the original present. The group, including Pat Conley, Glen Runciter, Joe Chip, Zoe Wirt and 10 inertials then leave for Luna onboard the Pratfall II, the firm's own spacecraft.
We wanted to give you a shave like no other you ever had. We said, It's about time a man's face got a little loving. We said, With Ubik's self-winding Swiss chromium never-ending blade, the days of scrape-scrape are over. So try Ubik. And be loved. Warning: use only as directed. And with caution.
Miss Wirt meets them on their arrival on Luna and takes them to a conference room where Joe Chip immediately starts taking a psi reading. Stanton Mick walks into the room and tells Joe to stop before floating to the center of the room and exploding. The blast kills Runciter. Joe and the others, barely escaping, rush his body back to the ship, put him in coldpac and fly him to a Moratorium in Zurich. Onboard the ship, Wendy remarks that she feels old, and that maybe the blast has aged them as even the package of cigarettes Joe opens is dry and stale...
Perk up pouting household surfaces with new miracle Ubik, the easy-to-apply, extra-shiny, nonstick plastic coating. Entirely harmless if used as directed. Saves endless scrubbing, glides you right out of the kitchen!
As they arrive, a helicopter from the Beloved Brethren Moratorium is waiting for them. The director, Herbert Schoenheit von Volgelsang expresses his concern that Runciter wasn't put in cold-pac quick enough and he is dead. On Al's advice, Joe stays at a hotel in Zurich and says he will send Wendy Wright to keep him company.
If money worries have you in the cellar, go visit the lady at Ubik Savings and Loan. She'll take the frets out of your debts. Suppose, for example, you borrow fifty-nine poscreds on an interest-only loan. Let's see, that adds up to -
However, when Joe wakes up in the morning, he is by himself. He goes to the phone to ring Al, but all he can hear is Runciter's voice. There is a knock and Joe opens the door to the Moratorium manager. The manager asks where Wendy Wright is and Joe says she never came. Thinking this strange, the manager searches the room. In the closet is Wendy's dead body, shriveled and dried-out. Joe goes back to the Runciter offices in New York. Here Al shows him that all the coins and notes are now emblazoned with Runciter's profile. In addition, they are buying coffee and cigarettes that are already years old. Al and Joe decide to go to Baltimore to see if they can spend the Runciter currency.
My hair is so dry and unmanageable. What's a girl to do? Simply rub in creamy Ubik hair conditioner. In just five days you'll discover new body in your hair, new glossiness. And Ubik hairspray, used as directed, is absolutely safe.
In a shop in Baltimore, the cashier takes the money, but the cigarettes they buy crumble in their hands. They go back into the shop and look at some of the other goods. In a big box of cigarettes, they find a note from Runciter. It tells them the situation they are in is serious.
Back in New York, Joe and Al are stepping into a lift when Al pulls Joe back. He says the elevator was not the usual one, but looked about 50 years old. Joe tells Al the elevator was normal and Al must be ill. In the bathroom they find another scrawled message from Runciter. It says he did not die from the blast, but they did. Al thinks he is dying the same way Wendy died, by regressing rapidly into old age. He says he has no chance for survival, but Joe will still live if he gets back with the others and stays with them.
Joe goes back to the room where they had earlier left the others watching TV, but no one is there...
Has perspiration odor taken you out of the swim? Ten-day Ubik deodorant spray or Ubik roll-on ends worry of offending, brings you back where the happening is. Safe when used as directed in a conscientious program of body hygiene.
Joe goes back to the room where they had earlier left the others watching TV, but no one is there. However, the television is still on and showing Runciter's funeral in Des Moines. Joe switches the television off, but it turns back on, this time Runciter's face appearing on the screen. He is advertising a product called Ubik, a spray that works to reverse deterioration. Suddenly Runciter begins to speak directly to Joe, telling him his only chance of survival is finding Ubik. He says he sent a sample to Joe's apartment.
When Joe gets back to his apartment, everything has regressed to what looks like the 1950s. In his post box, he finds a sample of Ubik, but instead of a spray can, it is nothing but old-fashioned medicine. At this point Joe knows he needs to get to Des Moines…
Outside his apartment he finds a 1939 LaSalle automobile and decides to drive it to the airfield to fly to Des Moines as he believes it will be quicker. At the airfield, he tries to trade his expensive car for a trip to Des Moines, but by then his car has already regressed to a 1929 Model-A Ford, nearly worthless…
Taken as directed, Ubik provides uninterrupted sleep without morning-after grogginess. You awaken fresh, ready to tackle all those little annoying problems facing you. Do not exceed recommended dosage.
Fortunately, the pilot agrees to take him there if Joe gives him his flask of "Elixir of Ubique" : gold particles are one of its main ingredients. The funeral director Mr. Bliss picks Joe up from an airfield in Des Moines and takes him to the funeral. Mr. Bliss talks about Hitler, and Joe realizes it is now 1939. Joe is too late for the funeral, but drives back to the hotel with the others. Meanwhile, Edie Dorn has gone missing… It is assumed she is now dead.
Pop tasty Ubik into your toaster, made only from fresh fruit and healthful all-vegetable shortening. Ubik makes breakfast a feast, puts zing into your thing! Safe when handled as directed.
On the way, a policeman stops them and hands Joe a ticket with a note from Runciter. It states that Pat Conley has been lying to them since the start She is responsible for everything that has happened. Joe shares this information with Don Denny but Pat Conley appears and tells them that Fred Zafsky and Tippy Jackson are both regressing now. She then reads the message on the ticket and questions Joe and Don. They are both frightened and think she was hired by Hollis to kill them. Pat simply smiles and then the lobby of the hotel explodes in Joe Chip's face…
Lift your arms and be all at once curvier! New extra-gentle Ubik bra and long-line Ubik special bra mean, Lift your arms and be all at once curvier! Supplies firm, relaxing support to bosom all day long when fitted as directed.
At the hotel, Joe starts to feel weak and Pat offers to escort him to his room. Joe refuses to take the elevator because of what Al saw earlier and insists they take the stairs instead. As he slowly makes his way, Pat taunts his efforts, claiming Ray Hollis hired her to kill Runciter and his best anti-telepaths. She leaves Joe outside his hotel room to die.
However, Joe eventually manages to open his room door where he sees Runciter sitting on a chair beside his bed.
It takes more than a bag to seal in food flavor; it takes Ubik plastic wrap - actually four layers in one. Keeps freshness in, air and moisture out. Watch this simulated test.
He sprays Joe with Ubik, restoring Joe's health, though he admits it is only temporary, and Joe needs to find more. Runciter goes on to say he is currently sitting in the Moratorium and Joe, along with the others, is in half-life. He blames all the problems on Pat, but when Joe questions him further Runciter admits he is lying and does not know what is happening.
Could it be that I have bad breath, Tom? Well, Ed, if you're worried about that, try today's new Ubik, with powerful germicidal foaming action, guaranteed safe when taken as directed.
Don Denny comes to Joe's hotel room with a doctor. Joe tells him what Runciter said and offers him the Ubik spray to restore his health. When Denny uses the spray, he evaporates and a young boy called Jory replaces him. He says he is a half-life that eats other people's energy so he can continue to exist and control the half-life world. Joe tries to kill Jory, but it proves impossible.
Wake up to a hearty, lip-smacking bowlful of nutritious nourishing Ubik toasted flakes, the adult cereal that's more crunchy, more tasty, more ummmish. Ubik breakfast cereal, the whole-bowl taste treat! Do not exceed recommended portion at any one meal.
Joe takes a taxi to the Matador restaurant. On the way, he sees a young lady walking down the road and tells the driver to stop. The lady tells him she has nothing to do with Jory and hands Joe a certificate that guarantees him a lifetime supply of Ubik. She says her name is Ella Runciter. She is helping Joe because she is passing onto another life and needs him to keep her husband company.
Joe goes to a pharmacy to pick up his Ubik. However, the spray can has regressed to a box of useless powder. Joe says he knows the pharmacist is Jory and that he has spray cans in the shop. Jory appears, but Joe still cannot get any spray. Outside the pharmacist, a woman approaches him and hands him some Ubik, saying she works for the company, and Joe summoned her when he refused to accept that there was no spray.
I am Ubik. Before the universe was, I am. I made the suns. I made the worlds. I created the lives and the places they inhabit; I move them here, I put them there. They go as I say, they do as I tell them. I am the word and my name is never spoken, the name which no one knows. I am called Ubik, but that is not my name. I am. I shall always be.
Back in the Moratorium Runiciter tries in vain to find the manager, as he wants to have a chat with Ella. Finally, a worker brings out her casket. Runciter goes to hand him a tip, but on each of his coins is Joe Chip's profile.
Interpretation and analysis
Dick's former wife Tessa remarked,
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.
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.
Peter Fitting (1975) sees parallels between the God-Devil/Life-Death relationship of Ubik and the antagonist's consumptive abilities within half-life, and the commercialized industry between psychics and psychic-inhibiting "inertials" which occupies the novel's "reality". Fitting also notes Dick's effort to desacralize and commercialize Ubik through the ironic advertising messages which begin each chapter.
In 1998, Cryo Interactive Entertainment released Philip K. Dick's Ubik, a tactical action/strategy video game 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.
Planned film adaptations
Original attempt – Gorin
In 1974, French film-maker Jean-Pierre Gorin commissioned Dick to write a screenplay based on Ubik. Dick completed the screenplay within a month, but Gorin never filmed it. 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".
Dick's screenplay features numerous scenes that are not in the novel. According to Tim Powers, a friend of Dick's and fellow science fiction writer, in his foreword to Ubik: The Screenplay, Dick had an idea for the film that 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".
Pallotta and Celluloid Dreams
Tommy Pallotta, who produced the film adaptation of Dick's novel A Scanner Darkly, said in an interview in July 2006 that he "still [had] the option for Ubik" and wanted to "make a live action feature from it". In 2007, Dick's daughter, Isa Dick Hackett, said that the film adaptation of Ubik was at an advanced stage of negotiations. In May 2008, the film was optioned by Celluloid Dreams, to be produced by Hengameh Panahi for Celluloid Dreams and Isa Dick Hackett for Electric Shepherd Productions. It was to go into production in early 2009, but never did.
Failed Gondry production
Michel Gondry was working on a film adaptation in early 2011, with Steve Golin and Steve Zaillian producing. In 2014, however, Gondry told French outlet Telerama (via Jeux Actu) that he was no longer working on the project and explained:
"The book is brilliant, but it's good as a literary work. Having tried to adapt it with several screenwriters, ... at the moment I don't feel up to doing it. It doesn't have the dramatic structure that would make it a good film. I received a script that disheartened me a bit, and that was it. It was a dream, but in life you can't always have what you want."
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. Another version released in 2016 by Brilliance Audio, read by Luke Daniels, is unabridged and runs 7 hrs 56 minutes.
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 1992 Richard Pinhas released an album titled DWW featuring the tracks called "Ubik" and "The Joe Chip Song".
- Jordison, Sam. "Philip K Dick's Ubik: a masterpiece of malleability". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 March 2019.
- Grossman, Lev. "Ubik–All-Time 100 Novels". Time. Retrieved on May 2, 2009.
- Grossman, Lev. "Ubik–All-Time 100 Novels". Time. Retrieved on May 2, 2009.
- UBIK Explained, sort of[permanent dead link] Tessa Dick, It's a Philip K. Dick World, December 4, 2008
- Fitting, Peter (1975). "Ubik: The Deconstruction of Bourgeois SF". Science Fiction Studies. 2 (1).
- Paul Williams, Introduction, Ubik: The Screenplay by Philip K. Dick, 1985
- UBIK and other movies Tessa Dick, It's a Philip K. Dick World, September 8, 2008
- Tim Powers, Foreword, Ubik: The Screenplay by Philip K. Dick, 1985
- "Tommy Pallotta: Substance PKD". greencine.com. Archived from the original on 2011-06-07.
- calendarlive.com Archived 2007-12-11 at the Wayback Machine
- Kevin Jagernauth (16 February 2011). "Michel Gondry Adapting Philip K. Dick's 'Ubik'". The Playlist. Archived from the original on 2014-01-10. Retrieved 2018-12-07.
- Ubik by Philip K. Dick - Blackstone Audio Archived 2010-01-15 at the Wayback Machine ISBN 978-1-4332-2817-9
- "The SF Site Featured Review: UBIK". sfsite.com.
- AudioFile audiobook review: Ubik By Philip K. Dick, Read by Anthony Heald
- "Ubik". Audible. 2017-08-07.
- Braver, Lee, (2015) "Coin-Operated Doors and God: A Gnostic Reading of Philip K. Dick's Ubik", Extrapolation 56.1, pp. 83-110. https://doi.org/10.3828/extr.2015.6
- 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. (in Italian)
- 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. (in Italian)