In a lot of ways, UBIK is the the quintessential Philip K. Dick novel. It’s got pre-cogs, alternate histories, mind-bending questions on the nature of reality, and a down-on-his-luck protagonist caught up in a struggle for his own survival. And unlike some of his later works, it’s also relatively accessible and straightforward – which make its nightmarish qualities even more powerful. If you’re new to Dick, UBIK is a good place to start when it comes to understanding the themes and motifs that show up throughout his works. And if you’re a Dick aficionado, I’m guessing that this is already one of your favorites.
Set in the “Future” of 1992, UBIK describes a world in which human consciousness can be suspended in “Half-Life” long after the person has died; where psychic mutations like telepathy and pre-cognition have become mainstream; and where organizations hire these psis (and anti-psis) to conduct corporate espionage. Because of the prevalence of people with psychic abilities, companies often need to hire these anti-psis in order to achieve any level of secrecy. Joe Chip is a technician for one of these “prudence organizations,” run by Glen Runciter (with help from his deceased wife Ella who exists in “cold-pac” cryonic suspension), along with a number of other psychics.
The action begins as Runciter’s group is hired to perform anti-psi work for a business magnate on the moon. In addition to Joe Chip and the other psyhics, we meet a woman named Pat Conley who seems to have the ability to change events in the past using her unique parapsychological abilities. However, after a bomb goes off at the facility killing Runicter and leaving the rest of the psychics to fend for themselves, they soon discover that the entire mission was a trap set by a rival organization led by Ray Hollis.
Now here’s where things start to get strange. Eager to preserve Runciter, Joe and his fellow psychics rush to try and get him into cold-pac while his consciousness still exists. But as they make their way back to Earth and try to save Runciter, they start to notice strange phenomenon happening around them that indicate that reality may not be what it seems. Their first clue is when perishable goods like milk and cigarettes start going bad near instantly. When one of the group gets lost from the rest, they find them later in a state of advanced decomposition (even though it’s only been a day). And the world they’re experiencing seems to be running backwards in time, eventually landing them in the 1930’s. And to top it all off, they start seeing coins with Runciter’s face on them and hearing strange messages about a product called UBIK. In order to save himself and his fellow psychics, Joe must figure out why they’re experiencing these strange occurrences and what the purpose of UBIK really is.
What Dick is able to do better than any other Science Fiction writer I know of is to create