Tuesday, June 20, 2017

PKD: It's not you, it's me.

No wait. Actually, I think it's you. 

You'd think after reading The Man in the High Castle and Do Android's Dream of Electric Sheep? and announcing in the former's review I'd come to the conclusion that PKD really isn't the science fiction author for me that I would have learned. But J. G. at Hotchpot Cafe dangled the Birth Year Challenge in front of me and in the quest to find books from 1969 that I hadn't already read for the previous versions of the challenge (and such 1969 books as were readily available to me), I discovered that Philip K. Dick had written a little Science Fiction novel by the name of Ubik. Also, it made the list of 100 Best SF Books of all time. So I ordered it up from the library. And, Philip, it's really you.

Once again, Dick manages to come up with an unique idea and the story just doesn't hold me the way Ellison and Zelazny do. For me, he just can't manage to build a new and interesting world, throw out thought-provoking ideas, and tell a spectacular story all in one go. This time he produces a world with psychic spies where companies (and individuals) will hire anti-psi techs to block the telepaths who might be reading their minds and discovering their secrets. It's also a world where people don't really die...they just fade away through "half-lives." You can keep your dearly departed safely stored in cold storage for decades. And go visit them for little chats and advice whenever you want. It could have examined the topics of life and death and psychic privacy in interesting ways...oh what could have been.

Glen Runciter owns and runs one of the anti-psychic corporations. And is doing quite nicely by it, too. Until he and a group of his top team members are ambushed by a rival. Runciter is gravely injured and stuffed into cold storage while his team tries to take countermeasures. But then the team members begin experiencing strange temporal phenomena and everything seems to be moving backward in time--food spoils and money changes time periods faster than they can keep up with. And then team members begin dying as well. The team leader Joe Chip begins to suspect that there is a malevolent person behind this; not just a rival, but someone with more primitive reasons. But then Chip discovers that reality may not be quite what he thought it was after all...and his very existence may depend on a substance called Ubik.

Psychic warfare and spycraft could have made a really cool story line. Could have. Or the temporal shifts--that could have been good. Or following up the idea of the half-life which strikes me as a sort of purgatory where you don't really earn escape through good deeds, but you get to affect those you leave behind through conversations and consultations. Any of that could have been quite interesting (and apparently is for a large number of people), but it wasn't for me. It started off strong. I was very interested to see where Runciter, Chip, and the team were headed when they set off to track down some unknown psychics--but then it all dissolved into what pretty much amounts to a teenage temper tantrum. Teen angst meets psychic abilities meets half-life la-la land. Yeah...it made about as much sense as I bet that does to those of you who haven't read the book. I realized at the half-way point who was behind all this and found I didn't much care what happened to any of the characters after that. ★★


J.G. said...

This sounds like a goopy mess that still somehow left out a lot of things. You can honestly say that you tried and he's just not for you. No harm in that!

Anonymous said...

I think you put it very well - in many cases I find only the ideas interesting but narrative momentum is lacking and (admittedly, often intentionally) deflating by the conclusion while the characters are too often mere cyphers (again, often on purpose). MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE is certainly far superior in these areas.

Bev Hankins said...

Sergio...I didn't much care for Man in the High Castle either. Androids is my favorite of what I've read. But I can't even say that I'm a big fan of that one.