So I just finished Ubik. I hate to say this, but I think it's been more than a decade since I read it last. I remember reading it when I lived in Hawaii in the mid-90s. It was probably one of the first five PKD novels I read. I know I've tried to re-read it a few times, but I couldn't ever get through the first 90 pages, which are a little slow going. Well, don't I feel stupid. As those of you who have read it recently will attest, it's a tour de force. I mean I knew the plot and everything, but what a fun book to read. I don't have time to make this very long, but I wanted to get some thoughts out before returning to my work on the e (as those of us working on it have come to refer to it).
I have always referred to Ubik, the substance, as the 'anti-kipple' - that is to say its effect is restorative; it counteracts entropy. I still think that's right on, but we can get more specific. If kipple pulls towards chaos and disorder and death, Ubik is redemptive; its energies have religious overtones rather than the physical laws that seem at play with kipple. That is another way in which Ubik is the opposite of kipple. Ubik is the antidote.
PKD wrote Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Ubik, back to back, in 1966. They are very much connected. But Ubik marks an even larger shift in Dick's writing. In the middle of chapter eight the characters zero in on the forces at work:
"You know what? I think these processes are going in opposite directions. One is a going-away, so to speak. A going-out-of-existence. That's process one. The second process is a coming-into-existence. But of something that's never existed before."
It's this process of redemption that becomes the focus of Dick's writing after authoring Ubik. Those of you that have read earlier Exegesis excerpts in In Pursuit of VALIS already know this is one of the central themes in the e.
Here are some discussion question to answer in the comments section:
Why is everything coin operated?
Dick spends significant time describing characters' crazy wardrobes. Is there some point to this?
Is it significant that Ubik arises seemingly out of the vapid and mundane world of advertisements?
Over the next week I will endeavor to explore the academic work that has been written about Ubik so that we can bring that to bare one our examination of the text. The novel is a central preoccupation of PKD's in the Exegesis, so more research is necessary.
In a letter to someone (can anyone help with the citation?) Dick speculates that instead of titling the book Ubik by Philip K Dick, it could be titled, Philip K Dick by Ubik. Interestingly, it was this idea that inspired Pamela Jackson's doctoral dissertation at UC Berkeley, and she's the main editor on the current project, so this all works out well. Let's not forget Jonathan Lethem has a Ubik tattoo. Ubik is everywhere.