Skip to main content

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.


Popular posts from this blog

Why Did Reality Winner Leak to the Intercept?

So Reality Winner, former NSA contractor, is in federal prison for leaking classified information — for five years and three months, the longest sentence of any whistleblower in history. She gave documents on how Russia had attempted to hack vendors of election machinery and software to The Intercept , which completely bungled basic security procedures (according to a recent New York Times piece from Ben Smith, the main fault lay with Matthew Cole and Richard Esposito ), leading to her capture within hours. Winner recently contracted COVID-19 in prison, and is reportedly suffering some lingering aftereffects. Glenn Greenwald has been furiously denying that he had anything at all to do with the Winner clusterfuck, and I recently got in an argument with him about it on Twitter. I read a New York story about Winner, which clearly implies that she was listening to the Intercepted podcast of March 22, 2017 , where Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill expressed skepticism about Russia actually b

Varanus albigularis albigularis

That is the Latin name for the white-throated monitor lizard , a large reptile native to southern Africa that can grow up to two meters long (see pictures of one at the Oakland Zoo here ). In Setswana, it's called a "gopane." I saw one of these in my village yesterday on the way back from my run. Some kids from school found it in the riverbed and tortured it to death, stabbing out its eyes, cutting off its tail, and gutting it which finally killed it. It seemed to be a female as there were a bunch of round white things I can only imagine were eggs amongst the guts. I only arrived after it was already dead, but they described what had happened with much hilarity and re-enactment. When I asked why they killed it, they said it was because it would eat their chickens and eggs, which is probably true, and because it sucks blood from people, which is completely ridiculous. It might bite a person, but not unless threatened. It seems roughly the same as killing wolves that

Internet Writing and the Content Vacuum

It's been a few times now I've had full weekday control of the Monthly 's headline blog, Political Animal, and I feel like I have a decent idea now what it's like being at the top level of blogging. (Not to say that I am  at the top level, of course, just that I've walked in those shoes for a few days and gotten some blisters.) Anyway, the first thing I've noticed is that it is really, really hard to do well. I've had days before when I just didn't have anything to do and ended up at home writing 4-5 posts in one day on this site, but pro blogging is an entirely different beast. The expectation is that during the day you will write 10-12 posts. This includes an intro music video, a lunch links post, and evening links and/or video. So that means 7-9 short, punchy essays on something , with maybe 1-2 of those being longer and more worked out thoughts. This ferocious demand for content is both good and bad. The iron weight of responsibiliy—the knowledge