Yeah, alright. I did it. I told myself I wouldn’t, but here we are. After reading twelve goddamn Philip K. Dick books and finding only a handful that didn’t piss me off as lyricless, drug-laddled sci-fi dime novels, I told myself that I was done. Why did it take me so long? What sort of masochistic psychotic would take a dozen punches to the head after the first one failed to entice or breach far above the creek high barrier of being simply entertaining? Because someone swore by him, someone I respected, someone smarter and better equipped in pretty much every linguistic art than myself, said he was shot to the head that altered the way they saw the world.
I live for that. I live for books that hit you so hard pieces of you are left exhumed and crucified on the pages after you are finished. These books are hard to come by and the idea that there was even one hidden among the teetering stacks of Dick’s bibliography gnaws at the back of me like the rumblings of a toothache.
So after four years I came back to the yellow-papered alter of Dick’s major works and picked up the last one I had yet to read: Ubik.
In the nigh half decade since I had last walked Dick’s path, I hadn’t forgotten my general hatred towards his style of writing or his non-characters saying narratively important things when they had no legitimate means of intuiting but because he was either too stoned or impatience to be bothered to write the extra chapters required for the world to properly wield an answer organically let’s just scream authorial fiat and move on, I went in with low expectations…which helped.
Less grating in style and psychedelic philosophizing, Ubik acts as a middleground in both time and theme between Dick’s earlier novel Eye in the Sky and his later, rather indulgent headtrip VALIS. Being slightly more correct it’s basically Dick’s Eye in the Sky had some transtemporal affair with the yet 30 year unborne Stephen King novel It.
Ubik is, on its face, about a group of people who survive an explosion and afterwards begin to perceive themselves going back in time. As they do so more and more of them begin to die off and leave the rest of the certain the same ending is coming for them.
Ubik runs through this gauntlet of (mostly) psychological suspense, attempting in that Dickish way to leave us guessing, but much like every other book that attempts Ubik‘s particular temporal gambit (e.g. Graham Joyce’s more thoughtful but much too long The Silent Land) one can’t help but have figured it out by about the time Dick finally begins to show his hand, which leaves the author dumping information via dialogue in bursts that, while classically Dickish in their clumsiness, are hard to read without gritting one’s teeth.
Which takes us to the ending, which is a chapter of one part Power of Believing, two parts Deus Ex Machina, and a sprinkling of All Reality is Illusory, Shut Up.
So not a strong ending, then, which again, is not uncommon for Dick, barring my favorite of his novels (read: A Scanner Darkly) most of his book operate by the mode of thinking that “Hey it’s not the destination it is the journey,”, to which my response is always, “Sure, but you can’t expect me to be grateful for a beautiful trip through the Adirondacks if it’s going to culminate in us running off a cliff and hitting the bottom of a gorge going 85 miles per hour.”
I’m picky like that.
“You know that recent Supreme Court ruling where a husband can legally murder his wife if he can prove she wouldn’t under any circumstances give him a divorce?” ― Philip K. Dick, Ubik