infobox Book |
name = Ubik
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = Cover of first edition (hardcover)
author = Philip K. Dick
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
series =
genre = Science fiction novel
publisher = Doubleday
release_date = 1969
english_release_date =
media_type = Print (Hardcover & Paperback)
pages = 202 pp
isbn = NA
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"Ubik" (pronounced "yoo-bik" [Mike Hodel, "A Talk With Philip K. Dick", [http://www.philipkdickfans.com/frank/hour25.htm philipkdickfans.com] , June 26, 1976.] ) is a 1969 science fiction novel by Philip K. Dick. In 2005, "Time Magazine" named it one of the one hundred greatest English-language novels published since 1923. [ [http://www.time.com/time/2005/100books/0,24459,ubik,00.html Ubik - ALL-TIME 100 Novels - TIME ] ]

Plot synopsis

The novel takes place in the 'North American Confederation' in an alternate version of 1992, wherein technology has advanced to the extent of permitting civilians to reach the Moon and psi phenomena are widely accepted as real. The protagonist is Joe Chip, a debt-ridden technician for Glen Runciter's "prudence organization", which employs people with the ability to block certain psychic powers (as in the case of an anti-telepath, who can prevent a telepath from reading a client's mind) to enforce privacy by request. Runciter runs the company with the assistance of his deceased wife Ella, who is kept in a state of "half-life", a form of cryonic suspension that gives the deceased person limited consciousness and communication ability.

The company’s main adversary is Ray Hollis, who leads an organization of psychics. Hollis appears only briefly in the novel.

When business magnate Stanton Mick hires Runciter’s company to secure his Lunar facilities from telepaths, Runciter assembles a dozen agents for this task. The group includes Pat Conley, a mysterious young woman who has an unprecedented parapsychological ability to undo events by changing the past. Joe Chip is shown at several points to have sexual feelings for the defiant Pat Conley, who once gives the impression of reciprocating them.

When Runciter, Chip, and the others reach Mick’s moon base, they discover that the assignment is a trap, presumably set by Hollis. A bomb explosion apparently kills Runciter without significantly harming the others. They rush back to Earth to place him in half-life.

Afterwards, the group begins to experience strange shifts in reality. Consumables, such as milk and cigarettes, begin to expire prematurely. Also, the group sees Runciter's face on coins and receives strange messages from him in writing and on television. Most of these messages imply that Runciter is in fact alive, while the others are in half-life, or "cold-pac" as it is informally called. Group members who separate from the group are found dead, in a gruesome state of decomposition.

The reality gradually shifts backward in time until the group finds itself in a world resembling the United States in 1939. They try throughout to deduce what is causing these strange occurrences, prevent each other from dying, and find a mysterious product called Ubik, which is advertised in every time period they enter. Messages from Runciter indicate that Ubik may be their only hope of survival.

Ultimately, Joe Chip learns that Runciter, in fact, was the sole survivor of the explosion on Luna, and that his messages to the group are the result of his attempts to communicate with them while they are in half-life. The regressing world in which they find themselves is discovered to be the product of Jory Miller, another half-lifer whom Runciter encounters earlier in the story while communicating with Ella. It is revealed that Jory devours the life force of other people who are in suspended animation to prolong his own present existence. Of the group of anti-psychics and technicians, only Joe Chip eludes him, aided by the substance called Ubik. This substance, whose name is derived from the word "ubiquity", has the property of preserving people who are in half-life. Joe Chip is instructed in its use by Ella Runciter, who is "en route" to a reincarnation.

In the living world, Glen Runciter encounters several coins showing Joe Chip's face. He suspects that this is "just the beginning".


Whereas the confusion between real and unreal, obscured by the perception of the main character(s), is common in Dick's work, in "Ubik" this confusion occurs in more than one way. Given the premise of half-life (the term is related to radioactive half-lives in that the partially dead person continues to slowly die and eventually is completely dead), one puzzle lies in resolving the false reality of the deceased with the real perceptions of those who are still alive. This is further complicated by Pat Conley, whose ability to change the past (and thus the present) may be causing the reality changes. The interference of psychics causes further confusion. The story presents unsettling shifts between realities and timelines, so that the reader is never certain what is real and what is illusion.

Another theme is the opposition between the twin forces of decay (the regression experienced by the characters) and restoration (Ubik, which reverses that decay). There's also an examination of what decomposition actually means and whether ideas are immune.

"Ubik" features several character types common to Dick's fiction: Chip as the downtrodden, working class protagonist; Conley as the dark-haired, alluring, unattainable, possibly insane, sadistic, and by some means empowered woman; Runciter as a cynical but fatherly old man; and (most characteristically) with a position of great power on the top of the society's climax (as Leo Bulero in "The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch" and Felix Buckman in "Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said"). These character types are nearly universal to his work and tend to follow similar roles: the downtrodden protagonist finds himself at odds with a large and complicated plot, not specifically against him, but in which he becomes inadvertently entangled. He is then alternately aided by, confused by, or maliciously harmed by the dark-haired woman, is helped indirectly by the fatherly old man (whose warnings are often unheeded or too late), and faces the spokesman of the evil conspiracy, who is mysterious, powerful, well-informed, and more or less undeniable, leaving the downtrodden hero with little or bittersweet success. Generally, multiple explanations for the nature of the events, the outcome of the story, and the nature and identity of the evil spokesman are available, especially if drug use or other psychic complications blur the lines of reality. Generally speaking, the narrator participates in the perspective of the characters, so the revelation of whether the experience is a drug-induced delusion or a "bona fide" event is left vague for the reader. Ultimately, the reader is left to wonder what actually happened in the "real world" of the story and is left few clues, much as a person rehabilitated from extended drug use might look back at the recent months of life and wonder what was real, what was misinterpreted, and what was false.

Literary allusions

The term Ubik comes from the Latin word "ubique", which means "everywhere" and is the source of the English language word "ubiquitous", which means being or seeming to be everywhere at the same time. This may be considered ironic, considering that Ubik is much sought-after and rare in the novel, but it may also indicate that Ubik is a life-force of sorts.

"Ubik" also references Plato’s idea of Forms, great universals that define the essence of all matter. When the world begins to seemingly regress in time and all objects in it (such as television sets, refrigerators and automobiles) become that time period’s version of that object, Chip remarks that each is coming closer to barest, simplest Form.

The name "Joe Chip" has the same initials as "Jesus Christ". Parallels can be drawn between Chip as a Christ figure (who suffers a temporary death or near-death and subsequent resurrection), Runciter as God-the-father, and Ubik as the Holy Spirit. However, these and other possible allusions to Christianity are by no means straightforward, and it is much more useful to examine the religious metaphors of "Ubik" in the context of Dick's larger spiritual and metaphysical worldview rather than as a readily explicable religious tale.



In 1998, Cryo Interactive Entertainment released "Philip K. Dick’s Ubik", a tactical action/strategy videogame very loosely based on the book. The game allowed players to act as Joe Chip and train combat squads into missions against the Hollis Corporation. The game was available for Sony PlayStation and for Microsoft Windows and was not a significant commercial success.

Attempts to produce a "Ubik" film

In 1974, French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin commissioned Dick to write a screenplay for a "Ubik" film. Dick completed the screenplay, turning it in within a month, but Gorin never filmed the project. The screenplay was published in 1985 as "Ubik: The Screenplay" (ISBN-13: 978-0911169065).

Tommy Pallotta, who produced the film adaptation of Dick's "A Scanner Darkly", said in a July 2006 interview that he "still [has] the option for "Ubik" and will be looking to make a live action feature from it." [ [http://www.greencine.com/article?action=view&articleID=314 GreenCine | article ] ] According to Dick's daughter Isa Dick Hackett, the film adaptation of "Ubik" is in advanced negotiation. [http://www.calendarlive.com/books/cl-et-dick15sep15,0,5604716.story?coll=cl-books-features]

As of May 2008, the film has now been optioned by Celluloid Dreams. The film will be produced by Hengameh Panahi of Celluloid Dreams and Isa Dick Hackett, the author's daughter, of Electric Shepherd Productions. It is slated to go into production in early 2009. [http://www.scifi.com/scifiwire/index.php?category=1&id=54511&type=0]


Secret Chiefs 3 created an auditory adaptation on their "The Electromagnetic Azoth - "Ubik" / Ishraqiyun - "Balance of the 19" 7" record. The "Ubik" track features musicians Trey Spruance and Bill Horist.

References in popular culture

*Though the connection (if any) is unknown, some specific elements in "Ubik" have appeared in subsequent motion pictures. The frozen starship captain in John Carpenter's "Dark Star" is in a state similar to half-life, as is the hero of Alejandro Amenábar's "Abre los Ojos" ("Open Your Eyes") and its American remake, "Vanilla Sky" [ [http://www.themodernword.com/SCRIPTorium/dick.html SCRIPTorium - Philip K. Dick] , SCRIPTorium] . Further films show a similar confusion between reality and dreams, again caused by an unreliable narrative viewpoint. Additionally, the tug of temporal tides moving backward and forward experienced by Joe Chip outside of Archer's drugstore is reminiscent of the time tides of Dan Simmon's "Hyperion Cantos".
*The novel "Revelation Space" by Alastair Reynolds uses a variation of the concept of half-life. In the book, a space ship captain resides in a permanently frozen state ('reefer-sleep'), but can be slightly thawed a fraction of a Kelvin (a fraction of a degree Celsius above absolute zero). When the captain is thawed, it enables some degree of communication, but also accelerates decay and progression towards death.
*The concept of Ubik was also used in a French role-playing game, "Rétrofutur", to represent an unstable source of psychic power as in the novel, similar to mana.
*Ubik is also the name of a French role-playing game publisher. [ [http://www.editions-ubik.com UBIK www.editions-ubik.com - jeux de roles, jeux de cartes, jeux de plateaux, figurines ] ]
*An influential industrial-techno group in Britain called Ubik was active in the early 1990s.
*In the manga "Berserk" by Kentaro Miura, one of the God's Hands is named Ubik.
*One of the soldiers in the game "Cannon Fodder" is called Ubik.
*The database replication protocol used by the Andrew File System is called Ubik.
*There is a track on Timo Maas' album "Loud", named "Ubik The Breakz".
*There is also a track on The Alpha Conspiracy's album "Cipher" named "Ubik".
*There is also a track on Alex Otaola's album "FRACTALES" titled "Ubik".
*The NCR UK Development Engineering database engine was called Ubik.
*In the 1997 "Blade Runner" computer game by Westwood Studios, player action begins at Runciter's Animals, a pet store owned by one Mr. Runciter.
*Ubik is also the name of an Italian franchise chain of bookshops. [ [http://www.ubiklibri.it/ : Ub!k Io libraio : ] ]
*Ubik is the name of a French television show highlighting music and the arts, on the France 5 network.
*The plot of one episode of the second season of "The Outer Limits", "The Refuge," uses the concept of cryogenic suspension. One of the persons in stasis has taken over the dreams of all the others and forces them to live in a secluded house in the middle of a never-ending snow storm. He also has the power to rearrange this 'group dream' at will.
*A music software company named "Uhbik" makes what it describes as "post-retro fx" with the tagline "uhbik, used as directed, is absolutely safe!"

ee also

*Closet screenplay
*Simulated reality


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