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Cover of first edition (hardcover)
Author Philip K. Dick
Country United States
Genre Science fiction
Philosophical fiction
Publisher Doubleday
Publication date
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 202
ISBN 978-0-575-07921-2
OCLC 67871286

Ubik (/ˈjuːbk/ 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, where civilians regularly travel to 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 psychic powers (like an anti-telepath, preventing a telepath from reading a mind) to help enforce privacy. 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 limited consciousness and the ability to communicate.

When business magnate Stanton Mick hires Runciter’s company to secure his lunar facilities from telepaths, Runciter assembles a team of 11 agents. The group includes Pat Conley, a mysterious young woman who has the 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 rapidly deteriorate. Also, the group sees Runciter's face on coins and receives strange messages from him. Most of these messages imply that Runciter is 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 others are found dead, in an advanced stage 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 existence. Of the group of anti-psychics and technicians, only Joe Chip eludes him, aided by the product Ubik. Ubik, whose name is derived from the Latin word "ubique", meaning everywhere, can preserve 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 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. 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.


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] It is altogether possible to take Glen Runciter's convictions that he himself is alive and that the others are in half-life at face value, given Joe Chip's ruminations on the organic values of his own world's pseudo-reality at the end of the penultimate chapter. The reinforcement of this limbo state's 'reality' by repeated use of Ubik, as well as its prolongment via widespread half-life, could allow it to cross over into true reality by being set up as its parallel: just as Glen Runciter was able to impose his presence on half-life by repeated contact with Joe. Part of the confusion of interpretation is down to the mystery concerning the means of survival and escape of Glen Runciter following the explosion on the moon.



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 and 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, to 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, however, writer/director Gondry told French outlet Telerama (via Jeux Actu) that he was no longer working on the project. "The book is brilliant," Gondry told Telerama, "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."

Ubik is alive and well with a screenplay by Jeff Vintar and producers Isa Hackett, Kalen Egan, and Alix Madigan.


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.[10][11][12]


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.. It is also the name of a Timo Maas single.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Grossman, Lev. "Ubik–All-Time 100 Novels". Time. Retrieved on May 2, 2009.
  2. ^ a b UBIK Explained, sort of Tessa Dick, It's a Philip K. Dick World, December 4, 2008
  3. ^ Paul Williams, Introduction, Ubik: The Screenplay by Philip K. Dick, 1985
  4. ^ UBIK and other movies Tessa Dick, It's a Philip K. Dick World, September 8, 2008
  5. ^ Tim Powers, Foreword, Ubik: The Screenplay by Philip K. Dick, 1985
  6. ^ "Tommy Pallotta: Substance PKD". greencine.com. 
  7. ^ calendarlive.com
  8. ^ SciFi.com
  9. ^ Kevin Jagernauth (16 February 2011). "Michel Gondry Adapting Philip K. Dick's 'Ubik'". The Playlist. 
  10. ^ Ubik by Philip K. Dick - Blackstone Audio ISBN 978-1-4332-2817-9
  11. ^ "The SF Site Featured Review: UBIK". sfsite.com. 
  12. ^ AudioFile audiobook review: Ubik By Philip K. Dick, Read by Anthony Heald

Further reading[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. (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. (Italian)