Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Book report: Philip K. Dick/Ubik

France is a lovely country and the most unfortunate part of my trip has been that my train ride from Paris to Provence is taking place in the absolute black of night. It seems like a slightly missed opportunity to have seen basically the whole of France from north to south. Next time I'll plan accordingly. I'll admit that part of my lack of interest at the time of booking in the time of day for the journey was a lack of concrete knowledge about where exactly Provence was (or Paris, for that matter) or what exactly France looked like. Proud to be an American.

Anyway the positive aspect of a long journey in the dark with nothing to look at is one gets a great deal of reading done, despite the fact that one is on holiday. My friend Susanne left Ubik with me at the youth hostel so I decided to give it a go. I realized that Philip K. Dick is an [interesting and memorable] name that I am familiar with and yet that I hadn't read anything by him (nor was I really aware of what he stood for). Yes, I am a disgrace in the eyes of self-respecting sci-fi readers everywhere. Thank goodness my father's not reading this. I hope. For multiple reasons.

Anyway, Ubik is Dick's delightful probe into the future and what life will be like as the world turns toward consumerism and mechanization. Ok, by "future" I meant "1990s" and by "delightful" I meant "ridiculously unrealistic, poorly written, and thinly charactered" but I'm sure that you followed right along.

I think Mr. Dick's biggest problem here was one that many a sci-fi writer has fallen victim to before. He got so caught up in his conceptual architecture that he abandoned some of the tiresome conventions of old-fashioned writing...like event coherency or believable characters. I don't want to give away too much of the book, since it's not an unentertaining read, but I will say that it is too bad Mr. Dick (I like referring to him that way; get used to it) bowed to the sci-fi trend of cramming too many high-concept ideas into too short a space. For example, Mr. Dick's envisioning of this now-past future involved a whole caste of people who are able to use telepathic powers to interfere in corporate and government affairs, not to mention a whole other caste of people whose talents are "anti-psi" (that is, they are telepathically talented at stopping all the telepaths). But this whole complex scheme isn't even what the story is about; nor is the story about the communization of the world or the new global and space communities that have arisen. No. Instead, this book is about a different and utterly unrelated concept--cryogenically preserving dead bodies in a half life that allows them to be revived periodically to communicate mentally with their beloved(s). All this in a slim volume of 182 pages. Plus a plot (although minus any respect for chronology) and a cast of 18 main characters.

Hey. At least Robert Jordan takes 24,500 pages (roughly) to develop each of his worlds. (And that doesn't really include the prequels or fan fic.) Sorry, sci-fi. This is why I'm a fantasy loyalist. It's just easier for me to believe in dragons.

1 comment:

Andrew Kozma said...

Dick was following A. E. van Vogt's style, which involved adding something new every 800 words or so. I'm sure I don't have the number right (and I imagine you've heard this by now, this post being four years old), but the idea was to keep the world dizzily evolving and, I suppose, thereby hold the reader's interest.

In van Vogt's case, his novels deteriorated into glorious messes. PKD was more reserved, though it still made for chaos (but chaos I admit to loving).