May 17, 2010

Book review: Ubik

Fans of Philip K. Dick (Dickheads, they're called) have told me Ubik is his most accessible work, so I queued it up on my mp3 player (due to a freak coincidence, I have seventeen Dick works on audiobook). I really liked it. It's set in then-future 1992 where psionic phenomena are common. Joe Chip, the protagonist, works for Glen Runcider's "prudence organization," which employs people with anti-psi talents, hired to negate the telepaths and "precogs" who infest other organizations. Runcider manages the company with the help of his dead wife Ella, preserved in "half-life." A big contract takes them to the moon, which turns out to be an ambush. Runcider is injured but the rest survive unscathed. After the return to Earth, strange events start happening. Cigarettes and food are decaying, and everything begins to revert to the 1930s.

I was reminded sharply of Kafka. I wouldn't call it Kafkaesque exactly, though there is a bit of the feel of Kafka, the hopeless and senseless paranoia. It was more the writing style--in particular the style of dialogue, which is convoluted and clinical. However, it's a lot funnier than Kafka, and the plot is far more resolved (not saying much, I know). It's also at times just balls-out terrifying, which I don't really associate with Kafka either.

Dick was clearly a man of ideas. The writing in Ubik was stripped-down, functional, designed to convey the ideas as quickly and clearly as possible but sometimes a bit awkward. This was an irritant at first, but the staggering imagination of Dick quickly bludgeoned down any building complaints. Overall a great and disturbing look at solipsism, paranoia, and one's perceptions.

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