Ubik by Philip K. Dick (1969) 224 p.
The first and last Philip K. Dick book I read was The Man in the High Castle, an alternate history in which the Axis powers won World War II, and which I disliked for its focus on trivial minutiae (especially jewelry design) rather than the more interesting concept of, say, a world in which the Axis powers won World War II. I think the only reason I bought Ubik is because it was on the list TIME made of the 100 best books of the 20th century, which I used to have blu-tacked to the side of my bookshelf in Perth.
Ubik takes place in the then-future of 1992, when mankind has colonies on the moon and Mars, and various ESP abilities are common in the population. Joe Chip works as a scout for a “prudence organisation” – a company which sells the services of psychics to act as counter-psychics for other businesses who are concerned about privacy, industrial espionage etc. Hired by a wealthy individual for a job on the moon, Chip, his boss Glen Runciter, and about a dozen of their poorly-introduced psychics travel to the moon only to be caught in a trap. The attempted assassination goes poorly, however – only Runciter is killed, and Chip and the others manage to escape the moon with his body. It’s only when they return to Earth that things start to behave strangely; milk is off, cigarettes are stale, and books and newspapers are out of date.
This was probably a fresh and creative novel back in the ‘60s, but for a modern reader the twist can be seen from over the horizon. You probably guessed it just reading my recap above. This is no fault of Dick’s, of course, and there are still quite a few passages which manage to be extremely creepy and instil a sense of dread.
Ubik is a very weird book, and I wouldn’t necessarily say I enjoyed it. But it was better than The Man in the High Castle, and I may read a few of his other novels.