Ubik on Toast

A philosophical problem of no importance or meaning and incapable of being proved one way or the other.

Ubik by Philip K. Dick

As I have often admitted, science fiction in general bores me to distraction. I have also expressed a unfavorable view of heavy dialect or esoteric language, so the nuances of two ptavvs chatting over lunch is less than thrilling. Although I went through a period when, under the guidance of a science fiction & fantasy guru (the office cleaner at work), looking back, most of the science fiction authors I have read with any regularity were authors first and science fiction writers second. Even so, some were fun, others were dreary, and most were forgettable.

Several years ago I was introduced to Philip K. Dick as the author of a novel which became the movie Bladerunner. At first I was terribly confused because I had read The Bladerunner by physician and science fiction writer A. E. Nourse and it seemed to have no relation to the movie. I did a little research and it learned that the idea for Bladerunner started with Nourse, was developed into a film treatment by William S. Burroughs, combined with the concepts from Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, with the rights to the title, Bladerunner, being bought by Riddley Scott who subsequently made the movie Bladerunner with Harrison Ford.


But that was then and this in now: What is Ubik?

I don’t want to go into the many usages of Ubik introduced in the novel by the same name, but Philip K Dick is yet again toying with metaphors and allegories that suggest the eternal struggle of good and evil, or freedom and subjugation, or democracy and communism. Here the interesting slant is that psionics and precognition are common in society and the growth industry is the prudence organization that, like a bug sweeper, will identify and eliminate all unauthorized intrusions on a person’s psychic privacy .. at a moderate cost. Add to this the maintenance of dead people in a cryogenic suspension which slows down the gradual decay of the mind and we have a fabulous setting for the infusion of yet-another common theme:  what is reality and what is a condition of the mind?

Ubik had just enough fun things going on (and just a touch of gruesomeness) to keep me entertained and my brain stimulated. But like so much of science fiction, the novel early on had trouble staying on the tracks and in the end might have introduced more questions and speculations than it resolved. I suppose that since science fiction can always put a god out of the machine it can be allowed any inconsistencies .. but that doesn’t mean the reader isn’t allowed to raise an eyebrow.

Still, imagine what a comfort it is to know that how matter how bad things get, a little spritz of Ubik will make it all right .. say, is Ubik an all knowing and all seeing benevolent god in a spray can?

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