Denver Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club

Ubik USA trade paperback Ubik (1969)

USA Vintage Books trade edition
216 pages (left)
cover design by Heidi North
cover photograph by Digital Art/Westlight

UK Gollancz SF Masterworks paperback
224 pages (right)
Ubik UK paperback

From the back cover of the Vintage trade paperback:
       Glen Runciter is dead.  Or is everybody else?  Someone died in an explosion orchestrated by Runciter's business competitors.  And, indeed, it's the kingly Runciter whose funeral is scheduled in Des Moines.  But in the meantime, his mourning employees are receiving bewildering -- and sometimes scatological -- messages from their boss.  And the world around them is warping in ways that suggest that their own time is running out.  Or already has.
       Philip K. Dick's searing metaphysical comedy of death and salvation (the latter available in a convenient aerosol spray) is tour de force of paranoiac menace and unfettered slapstick, in which the departed give business advice, shop for their next incarnation, and run the continual risk of dying yet again.

Read for group discussion on October 23, 2002

Amy's summary :  Ubik - Philip K. Dick

Ubik is a book filled with quirky details.  It was first published in 1969, and is set in 1992, but doesn't feel all that dated.

Runciter Associates is an anti-psi or "prudence organization", that uses people who are "inertials" to nullify privacy intrusions by telepaths and precogs.  It's headed by Glen Runciter, who consults on business decisions with his dead wife, Ella, who is in half-life at the Beloved Brethren Moratorium in Zurich.

Joe Chip is a psi tester working for Runciter, who is so broke he can barely afford his apartment's coin operated door.  A scout brings Pat Conley to him; a woman with a dangerous talent to counter precogs by changing the past, and by changing the past she consequently changes the present.

Runciter Associates is contracted to block psi talents at a research facility on the Moon.  A team is put together of eleven inertials including Pat, plus Joe and Runciter.  Once on Luna, the contract is revealed to be a trap.  A humanoid bomb explodes, Runciter is killed, and the rest of the team escapes back to Earth, and the North American Confederation.

The Beloved Brethren Moratorium is unable to obtain an adequate photophasonic flow to revive dead Runciter into half-life, but Runciter keeps manifesting to the team.  Runciter's voice is on Joe's phone; a matchfolder proclaims Runciter is getting rich despite being frozen; cryptic messages on bathroom walls are in Runciter's handwriting; Runciter's face appears on money.

A process of temporal deterioration is adversely affecting the team.  There's an out-of-date phone book, stale cigarettes, obsolete money, clotted cream, and scummy coffee.  Tape recorders and elevators are becoming outdated models.  Worse, Wendy, one of the survivors who said she felt old after the bomb blast, is later found dead; a dehydrated, shriveled heap.

Runciter is seen on TV promoting a wonder product in a spray can called Ubik.  Ubik can supposedly support reality, and banish even unglimpsed manifestations of decay.  But even Ubik can regress to Ubik liver and kidney balm, and Elixir of Ubique.

Joe Chip goes to Des Moines for Runciter's funeral, where he hopes to find answers.  There he meets the other surviving members of the team.  Technology is devolving around them back to 1939.  Are the regressions due to Pat's talent, or are other forces at play?

summary written by

Ubik: The Screenplay
Also by Philip K. Dick. Written 1974, published 1985. Not produced into a movie.

Ubik first US paperback Ubik
Another book cover:

first paperback printing, 1970
Dell Books, 208 pages
cover art by Jones

How we each rated this book
Dan 7 Amy 9 stack of books 10   Wow! Don't miss it
8-9  Highly recommended
7    Recommended
5-6  Mild recommendation
3-4  Take your chances
1-2  Below average; skip it
0    Get out the flamethrower!
U    Unfinishable or unreadable
-    Skipped or no rating given
Cheri 9 Barb 7
Aaron - Cynthia -
Jackie 8 Ron 8
Sara -    

Our book group has also read the following book by Philip K. Dick:
-- Blade Runner / Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep   in July 1997
-- The Man in the High Castle   in September 1998
-- Valis   in September 2006

Philip K. Dick (1928-1982) was an important US science fiction writer.  He was born in Chicago, but lived most of his life in Berkeley, California.  His middle initial, K., stands for Kindred.

Complexity, paranoia, and drugs feature in many of his works.  His first publication was a short story in 1952, his first novel appeared in 1955.  Between 1950-1970 he was a very productive writer.  After 1970 metaphysical questions dominated his life.  In 1974 he had a life-changing, religious experience.  There are many books written about the author Philip K. Dick.

1963 Hugo Award for novel The Man in the High Castle
1975 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said

Movies based on Philip K. Dick books and stories
Blade Runner (1982) was based on the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Total Recall (1990) was based on the story "We Can Remember it for you Wholesale"
Confessions d'un Barjo (1992, Canada) was based on the mainstream novel Confessions of a Crap Artist
Screamers (1995) was based on the short story "Second Variety"
Imposter (2002) was based on story "Imposter"
Minority Report (2002) was based on the short story of the same name
Paycheck (2003) was based on a short story
A Scanner Darkly (2005) animated film based on the novel of the same name

Philip K. Dick story collections
At the beginning of his career, Philip K. Dick wrote numerous short stories.  They are collected in a variety of books, including A Handful of Darkness (1955), The Variable Man and Other Stories (1957), The Preserving Machine (1969), The Book of Philip K. Dick (1973), The Best of Philip K. Dick (1977), The Golden Man (1980), The Dark Haired Girl (essays, poems, letters, a speech, and a short story, 1988), I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon, The Philip K. Dick Reader, and the five-volume Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick.

The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick
all collections published in 1987
Volume 1: Beyond Lies the Wub -- 25 stories, written 1947 to 1952
Volume 2: Second Variety -- 27 stories, written 1952-1953
Volume 3: The Father Thing -- 23 stories, written 1953-1954
Volume 4: The Days of Perky Pat -- 18 stories, written 1954-1964
Volume 5: The Little Black Box -- 25 stories, written 1964-1981

Reprints, The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, with some stories interchanged:
Volume 1: The Short Happy Life of the Brown Oxford (1990)
Volume 2: We Can Remember It for You Wholesale (1990)
Volume 3: Second Variety (1991)
Volume 4: The Minority Report (1991)
Volume 5: The Eye of the Sibyl (1992)

Philip K. Dick books
Some notable PKD books are The Man in the High Castle (1962) in which Germany and Japan won WWII, Martian Time Slip (1964) set in a schizophrenic world; Dr Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb (1965) set in a post holocaust USA; The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965) which features strange new drugs; Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968); A Maze of Death (1970); and Valis (1981) a search for meaning.

His first novels include Solar Lottery (1955), The World Jones Made (1956), The Man Who Japed (1956), The Cosmic Puppets (1957), Eye in the Sky (1957), Dr. Futurity (1959), Time Out of Joint (1959) and Vulcan's Hammer (1960).

In the 1960s he wrote We Can Build You (1972), The Game-Players of Titan (1963), The Simulacra (1964), Now Wait for Last Year (1966), Clans of the Aphane Moon (1964), The Crack in Space (1966), The Zap Gun (1967), The Penultimate Truth (1964), The Unteleported Man (1966, alternate title Lies, Inc.), the Counter-Clock World (1967), The Ganymede Takeover (1967, with Ray Nelson) and Ubik (1969).

Later books, many influenced by his theology, include Galactic Pot-Healer (1969), Our Friends from Frolix 8 (1970), Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said (1974), Deus Irae (with Roger Zelazny, fixup 1976), A Scanner Darkly (written 1973, 1977), Radio Free Albemuth (written 1976, 1985), The Divine Invasion (1981), and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1982).

Nick and the Glimmung (written 1966, 1988) is young adult SF.

Dick also wrote a number of mainstream novels, most of which were published posthumously: Mary and the Giant, The Broken Bubble, Puttering About in a Small Land, In Milton Lumky Territory, Confessions of a Crap Artist, The Man Whose Teeth were All Exactly Alike, and Humpty Dumpty in Oakland.  These were written 1953-1960, and published 1975-1988.

Our book club's page for The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
Our book club's page for Blade Runner by Philip K. Dick
Arrastra SF: Philip K. Dick - The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
Arrastra SF: Philip K. Dick - Martian Time Slip - web site devoted to sci-fi author / philosopher Philip K. Dick
Philip K. Dick Bibliography - features book cover art
MobyGames - UBIK: Info on game based on the book
Review: UBIK by Philip K. Dick
Big Bill's Philip K Dick (PKD) Stuff

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This page was last updated October 16, 2008