The marvelous cover for the first hardcover edition, 1969
For those who enjoy their realities getting fucked with, there’s no better writer for that than the great Philip K. Dick, and among his many unsettling works, his novel Ubik is held in unusually high esteem.
Ubik is about a mission to a moon base that includes Joe Chip, a technician who works for Glen Runciter’s “prudence organization,” and 10 cohorts. The mission ends in a fatal explosion, but who lived and survived that explosion is a puzzle the book never quite reveals.
It’s a bewildering mindfuck of a book, featuring routinized space travel, psychics and “anti-psychics,” a character who can alter reality by traveling to the past, and a mysterious (and mystical) product called Ubik (same root as “ubiquitous”) that comes in a spray can and serves as a slippery metaphor for God itself.
One brilliant aspect of the book is the devilishly ambiguous ending—as Dick’s wife Tessa wrote,
Many readers have puzzled over the ending of Ubik, when Glen Runciter finds a Joe Chip coin in his pocket. What does it mean? Is Runciter dead? Are Joe Chip and the others alive? Actually, this is meant to tell you that we can’t be sure of anything in the world that we call ‘reality.’ It is possible that they are all dead and in cold pac or that the half-life world can affect the full-life world. It is also possible that they are all alive and dreaming.
Ubik was selected for inclusion on Time magazine’s list (compiled in 2010) of the 100 greatest novels in the English language written after 1923. As Lev Grossman wrote in Time, “From the stuff of space opera, Dick spins a deeply unsettling existential horror story, a nightmare you’ll never be sure you’ve woken up from.”
A few years ago a Deviant Art user going by the handle martinacecilia created three alluring posters advertising the benefits of Ubik, using a retro style and adapting “mostly vintage ads of Coca-cola.”
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘Californium’: Finally, the ultimate video game tribute to the worlds of Philip K. Dick