Ubik by Philip K. Dick; Mariner Books

Ubik, another of Philip K. Dick’s novels, was published in 1969.  The edition I read was the 2012 Mariner Books edition.  I much prefer the Vintage edition from 1991.  Mariner Books is a division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and was founded in 1997.  It seems to be the case that in 2012, Mariner Books reprinted all of Philip K. Dick’s novels.  I don’t really like their covers as much as the psychedelic covers Vintage used for PKD’s novels.

Ubik - Vintage

Ubik – Vintage edition

This is now the third novel by PKD that I have read and I am going to give it three stars – just like I gave the other two novels.  PKD’s writing is once again amazing for its fluidity and ease.  The pages turn so easily – it’s really easy to devour PKD novels.  It makes me a little sad, because the novels tend to end so much more quickly because the writing is so fluid.  I started the novel and was on page 70. Then I was on page 150 and suddenly, it was all over.

One of my friends (Robyn) on Goodreads wrote this in their review of Ubik:  “No time to gawk at all this odd stuff, we have IMPORTANT THINGS to do”  — and I feel this is exactly how to describe how PKD writes.  The novels are mostly in media res, the reader is not given lots of fine detail, we do not know the complete personal histories of every character, and there are truckloads of bizarre or weird scenes and objects.  Never mind! We have important things to do – meaning, the storyline is rolling onward and the characters are busy!  And this is how PKD writes; he just drops the reader into a world, throws a problem at the characters, and off we go!  No time to fret about the logistics or the background or the details.

I cannot tell you what this novel is about, per se.  To do so would involve plenty of spoilers and color your experience of reading PKD.  As with all PKD, the novel moves into the surreal, anti-real, dream-like settings that the author is known for.  This book, in particular, would make an awesome movie – and as I read along, I kept imagining this as a movie (something I rarely do when reading).  However, I think it would also be a very difficult movie to make.  What kind of movie?  Well, I was going to suggest a movie like Inception.  But I hated Inception.  In fact, several movies have been attempted of this novel – to include a variety of screenplays (one being written by the author himself).  Anyway, remember eleven PKD novels have been made into movies including the ultra-famous Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly.

Most of the time I dislike pinning PKD novels down into the science fiction category.  I tend to have stricter requirements for what qualifies as science fiction.  For example, space, aliens, and futuristic science always are integral to science fiction.  But what about PKD novels?  Ubik has scenes off-planet. Ubik takes place in the future (1992, which is the future for 1969).  Ubik has alternate life-forms (those identities in “half-life” cryonic suspension).   So, to say Ubik is not science fiction is incorrect.  But it would be improper to mislead potential readers into thinking this is the typical science fiction novel.  It’s not – but it is the typical PKD novel. Be prepared for surreal madness at breakneck speed.

The best (and worst) part of PKD novels, I’ve learned, is that they leave you wanting more.  More novels and ideas from PKD for sure, but also more of each story – tell me what happens, explain this, how did that play in?  As you read you wonder “is this bizarre object/person relevant or just a false trail?”   So I have read three PKD novels now, I gave them each three stars, but I am practically salivating to get my hands on another of his novels.  The obvious question is why do I give them such a low rating if I am addicted to them?  Well, the honest answer is that I have read five star novels and PKD has not shown me one of those yet.  Three stars is roughly average for all aspects of the novel. And I realize that these novels are not for everyone and sometimes the storylines are not great – but the experience of reading about them is unique and odd.

Having read three PKD novels, A Canticle for Leibowitz, The Trial, Invitation to a Beheading, and two Stanislaw Lem novels this year – I am starting to feel reality is getting a bit shifty. It may seriously be time to read some hard-boiled detective fiction.

3 stars

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