by Philip K. Dick
Discussed December 2006
Ubik by Philip K. Dick
Book Reviews

by Andy Freede

UBIK started a bit slow, but still managed to thrust the reader right into its world with little introduction. The major technological and societal differences must be understood through observation rather than explanation. It took me about 4 days to read the first 60 pages, mainly due to the process of absorbing the details of the setting. However, once the plotline’s major conflict began around the middle of chapter 6, I finished the remaining 160 pages in a single evening. It was one of those situations where it completely captured my full attention, and everything else was tuned out.

Dick’s style of writing is extremely easy to read; very simple, straightforward sentences. However, his plots tend to veer into the complex. Reading UBIK is meant to keep the reader off guard. Two conflicting versions of reality are presented, and one’s assessment of which of these two is actually “real” continually shifts back and forth throughout the entire novel.

The essence of the plot is that the dead are kept in a frozen state with continued brain activity. The living can then continue to communicate with the dead in this state of “half-life” for a limited period of time. After an assassination attempt on the major characters, it becomes apparent that some of the characters have survived, and some have not. The challenge, for both the reader and the characters, is in determining which ones are truly alive, and which are in “half-life”.

Eventually, the reader is given the answers to the questions that they have been battling with during the entire story, and the results are bittersweet. Both the story’s villain and the true nature of “half-life” are revealed, and leave the reader sad but hopeful for the protagonists.