Ubik – Phillip K. Dick (1969)

by Chingiz Ismailov

My hair is so dry, so unmanageable. What’s a girl to do? Simply rub in creamy Ubik hair conditioner. In just five days you’ll discover new body in your hair, new glossiness. And Ubik hairspray used as directed is absolutely safe.

Phillip K. Dick’s strange, dreamlike vision of an alternate future was my first spelunk into science fiction in a very long time. And what a spelunk it was. Diving right in, my first feelings were simply those of curiosity, and that singular excitement of beginning a new book, of exploring virgin territory. When I came to, several hours later, I found myself halfway through a novel of paranoia, fear, and conspiracy, involved in weird visions of a future not totally devoid of a sense of humour (particularly funny was the casts’ wardrobe. Read the book and you’ll see what I mean.)

Dick explores the line between life and death, using the idea of the cold-pac body preservation system. With this system, a person can be kept in a kind of temporary  ‘half-life’, and with certain devices, it is possible to communicate with a person preserved in such a way. At first, the line between life and death is clear. Glen Runciter, the boss of a prudence organisation – a company that employs people to negate the abilities of telepaths – wishes to speak to his wife Ella, preserved in a Zurich moratorium. Then he is killed by a competitor. Or is he? Dick begins to blur the line; it quickly becomes unclear who is alive, who is being played by telepaths and time-manipulators, and who is dead.

And that is the wonder of this book, the way Phillip K. Dick expertly manages to pull off this blurring, the way he can manage – without any overwrought flourishes or pretension – to utterly draw you into a surreal fantasy world. In the end, our only salvation is Ubik. Entirely harmless if used as directed.