“I recently read Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle” and was a little disappointed with it. For me, that book lacked the wild speculative nature and imaginative concepts I’d come to expect from Dick’s stories. Thankfully, “Ubik” has both those things in spades.
“Ubik” exists in a world where there are a variety of psychic humans who can be hired (like the precogs that were central to Dick’s “Minority Report”) for nearly any psychic activity, including nefarious things like corporate espionage.
Ubik takes it a speculative step further, though, in that while whole companies of psychic individuals exist, there are also companies dedicated to countering (or blocking) psychic activities. So if you have a telepath reading your mind, you could hire an anti-telepath to block that reading. Interesting and unique idea.
Another interesting “Ubik” concept is “half-life”. This is the idea that some people, if they are caught soon enough after death, can be frozen and communicated with for many years after they otherwise would’ve died. The story opens, in fact, with one of the main characters communicating with his dead wife. She helps run his company!
The book is a real page-turner, and many times I found myself wondering where the author was going, only to find he was going someplace complete different than I expected. If I had any disappointment with “Ubik”, it is with the character arc of Pat Conley. She possesses a unique anti-psi ability, which never seemed to get the use that the buildup of her character suggested. So many things in Dick’s stories are mere diversions, though. He gets you watching one hand, only to sneak the ball into the other.
What shouldn’t be missed here, though, is the metaphor of the substance Ubik (Is it a salve? Is it a spray? Is it a pill?). Like nearly everything in the story, the real Ubik is more than you might originally suspect.
“Ubik” is worth every penny. Read it!