Book Review: Ubik by Philip K. Dick (1969)

Release: 1969

What a ride. That is the most I can really say about Ubik. The book is a light and entertaining read that tackles some fairly interesting and unique topics in a simple and unexpected manner. Though I didn’t want to add any spoilers, this review might have some. I tried to keep it to a minimum, but found it impossible to give it a fair review without revealing some details (skip to the last line or blog tags for the score). This is my third attempt at reading Philip K. Dick and while it isn’t quite as phenomenal as Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? it is a bit of an improvement over A Scanner Darkly. The themes and subject matter bring exactly what you’d expect of Philip K. Dick and he presents it develops in a surprising direction. The story suffers a bit as the protagonists never seem to really advance the plot, but rather they experience a ride in which they have zero control. Nearing the end I expected to be dissatisfied with the turn of events, but ultimately I find myself pleased with the whole experience.

As the first few chapters developed I fully expected the book to become an intriguing story about various types of psychics battling it out in a world of corporate intrigue. The first few chapters seem to be going this direction, but the course it takes is a surprising one. It is really about being trapped in a dream state at the end of your life. Would you be able to tell the dream from reality? The book turns into The Matrix meets Haruki Murakami‘s Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End Of The World. For most of the novel you really aren’t sure what is going on or who is really in the dream world and this prospect is a little terrifying.

My only real gripe with the novel is the characters lack of power. Everyone is in this strange de-aging world and no one can do anything about it and no one seems to be causing it. All the characters are so passively a part of the plot that it is a little bit frustrating. I wanted more development. More explanation of the causes. Everything just happens because of some unseen force and concluded by some other unseen force. That being said the conclusion is amazingly satisfying. There is some substance even if it just reads as a series of events. It is a mystery where the reader and characters are equally clueless.

My complaints aren’t exactly fair. I had some expectations after the novels start and these were left completely unfulfilled. The story that it becomes is equally intriguing and unique. The characters are a bit too passive to the plot, but this feels almost necessary for the intrigue. I spent half the book hating it as it became something I didn’t want, but as it came to a conclusion I found the story was engaging and fascinating. The book is an easy, fun read and I imagine the story I wanted would have been incredibly difficult to do well. The story I got is an interesting look at dreamworlds and the possibility of distinguishing fact from fiction.  This was a strange and fun journey that I would give a 4 out of 5 stars.


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