Ubik

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This article is about the science fiction novel. For other uses, see Ubik (disambiguation).
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 (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[edit]

The novel is set in the year 1992, by which 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" which employs "inertials", people with the ability to negate the powers of telepaths and "precogs", to enforce privacy of clients. The company is run by Glenn 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, 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 Pat Conley, a mysterious girl with the unique psychic ability to undo events by changing the past who has just been hired by the company. Runciter and Chip travel with the group to 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 and his body is set to be buried.

From the moment of the explosion, the group begins to experience strange shifts in reality. Many objects they come into contact with are much older than they should be, some of them being older types of the same object, and 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 as his face appears on their money. Furthermore, members of the group one by one begin to feel tired and cold, then quickly wither away and die. 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 product which can be used to temporarily reverse deterioration. He deduces that they may have all died in the blast, now linked together in half-life, and unsuccessfully tries to get hold of Ubik.

After receiving another message, Chip accuses 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 killed off now the entire group, as he "consumes" half-lifers to sustain himself, and that the entire reality they are experiencing is created and maintained by him, except the reversal to 1939. 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. Ubik is claimed to have been developed by her 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 the short chapter, Runciter, who is in the "living" world mourning the loss of his best employees, finds himself with coins showing Chip's face, and feels that this is "just the beginning".

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] 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.

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 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.

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.[10][11][12]

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

See also[edit]

References[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)