Ubik by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Ubik starts with pretty standard Sci Fi and Dick-ian elements. The US is now the North American Federation but I don't see how this particularly matters except to emphasize the slightly future world is different. The more interesting change is that your front door, toaster, TV all have to be fed money for each use so that if you don't have any change you can't leave your house.
Anyway, the world now hows gift people who have different skills like mind reading and precognition (seeing into the future). And then there is the group featured in the book, a company of “inertials” who are not so endowed but manage to nullify the psychic powers. It seems one some businesses will hire the psychics to gain information about the competition and the assailed company hires this other group of anti telepaths to prevent this.
But all of the is just a tool to get to a scenario where the characters end up in a world that somehow begins to devolve in a surrealistic manner so that the reader doesn't know what is going on and the people in the book struggle to identify the currents that are ruining their existence.
As an example of science fiction I don't think it fulfills the traditional goals of the genre and aside from the key three or four characters I had trouble remembering who was who. But as a metaphor for a life of existential uncertainty it is spot on.
I read it because while reading Gibson's Nueromancer I thought it reminded be of Ubik which I read many years ago. But the only real connection is of atmosphere and maybe a slight similarity of pace in a few scenes.
Aside form these superficial likenesses of some parts, the fundamental difference is that aside from the gritty atmosphere of Neuromancer, the ultimate worldview of the characters is upbeat and positive. Even the drug addict feels good about himself in the end and the assassin is at peace with her profession. But PKD being PKD creates a world of uncertainty and suspicion about what is “real”.
It may be a possibly sad insight into my psyche (not psychic), but I find myself relating much more to the unease of the Philip K Dick world than the masculine certainty of Gibson's cyberpunk approach.
One recurring feature of the story in Ubik was that the items people handled would strangely be old and worn out even if purchased moments before, things were stale, yellowed. Anyway, after I finished reading and thinking about Neuromancer vs Ubik it realized that I read a digital version of Gibson's book but my copy of Ubik was from 1977 and was old, yellow and some of the pages were brittle. So I am kinda proud of my self for accidentally reading each novel in an appropriate format.
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