Ubik by Philip K. Dick


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Literature: Ubik

Fitting, Peter. "Ubik and the Deconstruction of Bourgeois SF", Science-Fiction Studies # 5, 2:1, 1975, pp. 47–54.

Lem, Stanislaw. Microworlds: Writings on Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Franz Rottensteiner. New York: Harvest / HBJ, 1986. Includes inter alia:

“Science Fiction: A Hopeless Case—with Exceptions" (pp. 45-105).

Lem, Stanislaw. Philip K. Dick: A Visionary Among the Charlatans,” translated from the Polish by Robert Abernathy, Science Fiction Studies # 5 (Volume 2, Part 1), March 1975. (Reprinted in Microworlds.)

Notes by R. Dumain

2 December 2015

Preliminary notes

1.      Style: great writing

2.      Stylistics: also reads like pulp SF

3.      Published 1969: marked by technology of time: tapes, phones, punch cards, etc.

4.      Predicts future in general but not in specifics (cf. William Gibson)

5.      UBIK:  brilliance. Shape-shifting but universal rule of advertising, commodification

6.      UBIK: confusing: what role does in play in half-life as repellent against invasion by predatory half-lifers (Jory)?

7.      Projections:  everything commodified, costs money: unification of advanced technology and commerce

a.      E.g. talking doors that charge for use

8.      Dick unleashes  a variety of ideas at once: his rich imagination exploits the same themes in his various stories but he never repeats himself. Brilliant extrapolations of a variety of concepts. (Cf. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)

9.       Notion of half-life à dreamscape

10. Plot gets bogged down in stretch of chapters comprising the temporal regression of Joe Chip’s half-life

a.      Regression to 1930s: Midwestern bigotry

11.  Telepathy/psi & counter-psi  correlated with capitalist competition & gangsterism

12. Stanislaw Lem insightful about Lem (E. Europe viz. USA)

13. Noteworthy passages

a.      Prudence organization

b.      Bonds of Erotic Polymorphic Experience: whorehouse hotel

c.      Jory Miller invading Ella Runciter/wife’s half-life

d.      Door reminding Runciter of conapt contract

e.      Kibbutz

f.        Anti-talent

g.      G.G. Ashwood: talent of recruit: goes back in time, sort of

h.      Immediate employer—subcontracting

i.        Unions

j.         Moratorium theology

k.      Joe vs automated coffee-dispenser (poscred, credit cards)

l.         Joe calls Al “Uncle Tom”

m.    Wendy Wright hiding in closet

n.      Runciter money

o.      Vidphone

p.      Message from Runciter on wall of urinal

q.      Ubik viz. pseudo-environment?

r.        Ubiquity is derivation of Ubik (spray-can)

s.      Plato / Platonism: body/soul dualism

t.        Plato’s ideal objects: survival of forms (TV—>film, etc.)?

u.      Alienness of 1990s people in 1939 midwestern social environment

v.       Francy’s Ubik dream

w.     Pat Conley the enemy

x.       “devolved world of constantly declining time-binding capacity”

y.       New & improved Ubik

z.       Ubik dangled repeatedly but always out of reach

aa. Pat Conley or Hollis bomb blast?

bb. Chapter 17: “I am Ubik. Before the universe was, I am.”

cc.  Joe Chip coin: “This was just the beginning.” (end)

dd. Carl Jung hospital

From book club discussion:

1.      Question 1: What is Ubik?

a.      Dumain: Trying to unify 3 different takes on Ubik

                                                           i.      The world ruled by advertising, universal commodification, a shape-shifting outfit or organizing principle of society

                                                         ii.      Ubik in half-life: the spray-can that can reverse the effects of half-life vampirism

                                                       iii.      Chapter 17 (Ending): Ubik as originary cosmic principle

b.      Responses:

                                                           i.      Ubik described as the hand of God: theological:  Ubik a restorative force.

                                                         ii.      Related to Dick’s [later[ religious vision?

                                                       iii.      Ubik = capital

c.      The ending (Chapter 17):

                                                           i.       It appears that Joe Chip’s endeavor to stabilize the reality-disintegrating effects of Jory is just another illusion

                                                         ii.      A marker of the self-undermining narrative: appearance of Joe Chip on coins

                                                       iii.      Is Ubik then a universal illusion: delusional projection of a cosmic force (theology),  united with the illusions of the advertising industry serving commerce?

                                                        iv.      Discussion of Platonic ideal forms

                                                          v.      Proposal: resignation to half-life?

                                                        vi.      Is the narrative a simple undermining of reality, or a cynical cosmic vision?

                                                      vii.      Ubik as religion comparable to Mercerism in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

    1.   Dumain: Dick apparently had brilliant intuition of what new religions would be like, tailored to the mind of late capitalist culture   

2.      Dick as prophetic of the future

a.      From the vantage point of the ‘60s, foreseeing the consequences of universal monetization

b.      An innovation in the prevailing dystopian literature”  not the centralized totalitarian state  but a totally privatized merger of advanced technology & commercial enterprise

c.      Discussion of whether I am right about this: what else in the ‘60s?

                                                           i.      Recommendation: film:  “The President’s Analyst”

                                                         ii.      The Man in the High Castle:  unlike usual alternative histories:  Dickian ambiguity of what is real

3.      Humor

a.      Ubik  commercials

b.      Some readers found the story funny, one not

4.      Style

a.      Dumain: combination of Dick’s gift for description & good writing combined with a pulpy style and pulpy characters

b.      Dumain: reminiscent of Samuel R. Delany’s Babel-17, Delany’s style in ‘60s Ace Double paperbacks: sophistication disguised as pulp literature

c.      Dumain: Stanislaw Lem’s essay on  Dick & Ubik

d.      Dumain: Dick’s profligate imagination: not centered around just one idea, but a half dozen ideas, lets the consequences rip, takes possibilities to their extreme. This makes Dick different.

e.      Discussion & dissension over whether readers like this style

                                                           i.      One ordinarily would not but thinks Dick handled this brilliantly: it’s subversive

                                                         ii.      Another dislikes this style: makes unfavorable comparison to crime novel genre

1.      Dick unfavorably compared to Chandler, Hammett

2.      Once paradigm is established, repetition of the model gets stale

3.      Example of relationships in film: “Laura”


Stanislaw Lem on Jorge Luis Borges (Borges 16) 

Science Fiction & Utopia Research Resources:
A Selective Work in Progress


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Uploaded 5 December 2015

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