Friday, July 15, 2016

Review: Ubik

Ubik Ubik by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wanted to like this one more than I did. Philip K. Dick’s work seems intriguing at a distance. I gather he had a sense of some of what it would feel like to live in virtual reality before virtual reality existed, and I gather he had a critical eye toward it. Who would we be in a future where we could invent so much of the world we experienced?

And this book really is a virtual reality experience. I don’t want to give away too much, but most of it takes place within a construct that one of the characters discovers himself inside. There is an inside and an outside to the experience, and it’s tantalizingly confusing to tell one from the other. And the very end suggests a wrinkle that serves as a potentially fascinating coda to the whole.

Knowing all that, I’d have been psyched to read this. I like what it’s asking, and I like the way it refuses to take the easy path and explain everything we go through. Much weaker authors could turn this material into something three times as long, and they’d weaken the strangeness at its core.

That said, though, this just didn’t quite grab me. Too many of the rules of the universe get demonstrated and then undermined. Details that matter early end up not mattering at all. There is a showdown in place, but it’s not the one we’ve been led to believe for most of the book. Dick shows his cleverness throughout this, and that cleverness acts as an antidote to the antiseptic sci-fi concepts that undergird it, but I found myself playing catch-up so often that I never quite caught the joy of it.

To be fair, I read this as an audiobook, and I think the narrator was likely ill-suited to the material. There’s an air of cynicism here; if it isn’t quite a noir experience, it certainly isn’t the bright, suburban-toned reader I had.

So, I’ll look for another PKD one of these years, holding out hope that Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep or some other of his best-known work will get through to me. For now, though, I don’t quite get the program, and I’m willing to accept that it may be more my shortcomings than Dick himself.

View all my reviews

No comments:

Post a Comment