Ubiquity is defined by the dictionary as “presence everywhere or in many places, especially simultaneously.”
Ubik, the indescribable entity at the heart of Philip K. Dick’s novel of the same name, is everything. Ubik is the question behind it all, but it’s also the answer. It’s the solvent, the mysteriousness about life that we can’t quite grasp. In the novel, it also happens to be the name of a mass marketed solvent that stops the process of degradation—but this product is a mask. It’s a commercialized, packaged allusion to a greater truth.
When it comes to science fiction, there really aren’t many names that can stand alongside Philip K. Dick. There are few authors who have made such massive contributions to the genre, and Ubik, one of his most underrated gems, is no exception.
Like many of Dick’s greatest works, such as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and The Man in the High Castle, Ubik is primarily concerned with questioning the nature of consciousness. Dick ponders the questions that one must ask about one’s own perception, and whether the world and/or life that one perceives is, in fact, accurate to reality – or whether it is nothing more than a flawed illusion.
Deckard famously had to question whether or not he was an android. In The Man in the High Castle, the characters must question the reality of the world they live in, a mundane apocalypse wherein the Nazis have won WWII. But in Ubik, the assaults on reality are frequent and contradictory, putting the reader on bizarre and unsteady footing.
The plot, at the outset, deals with a world wherein psychics are prevalent, and businesses hire anti-psychic nullifiers; people born with the unexciting (but profitable) “ability” to nullify psychic powers. These anti-psychics are contracted to prevent their secrets from being leaked.
At this point, the battlefield is already distorted, off-kilter and strange. But reality grows increasingly unstable when Dick not only introduces a character who, while not able to physically travel to the past, can rewrite past events with her mind. Furthermore, the future that Dick writes about is a world wherein people no longer die; instead, the recently dead are immediately frozen in a state of suspended animation – a sort of half-life – wherein their consciousness exists suspended between two worlds.
Not much more can be said without spoiling some of the novel’s more interesting twists, but suffice to say, it’s a page turner.
“”Ubik is a metaphor for God. Ubik is all-powerful and all-knowing, and Ubik is everywhere. The spray can is only a form that Ubik takes to make it easy for people to understand it and use it. It is not the substance inside the can that helps them, but rather their faith in the promise that it will help them.”
-Tessa B. Dick
Ubik is the kind of novel that changes personalities every few chapters or so. Every time the reader thinks that he or she knows the direction that it’s going, the narrative wildly fluctuates in unforeseen ways. It’s easily one of the most mind-bending sci-fi novels of all time, and also one of the most memorable.
Dick’s influence on science fiction cannot be understated. His brilliant novels have inspired such movies as Blade Runner and Inception, and his dark stories possess a quality of paranoid unreality that is still just as relevant in contemporary times. Science fiction will forever grow and evolve, but the genre will always miss Philip K. Dick.