#9: Ubik (1969), by Philip K. Dick

“It wasn’t like any dream I’ve ever had before. A great hand came down from the sky, like the arm and hand of God. Enormous, the size of a mountain. And I knew at the time how important it was; the hand was closed, made into a rocklike fist, and I knew it contained something of value so great that my life and the lives of everyone else on Earth depended on it. And I waited for the fist to open, and it did open. And I saw what it contained.”
“An aerosol spray can,” Don Denny said dryly.
“On the spray can,” Francesca Spanish continued, “there was one word, great golden letters, glittering; golden fire spelling out UBIK.”


What is Ubik?

I finished this book almost two weeks ago and, though I thought I read it closely, I still don’t have any real idea of what it means. I’m not so sure I’m supposed to. Ubik is a novel that practically demands a second read, but even if I gave it one, I suspect I wouldn’t get much closer to cracking the code. It’s a shape-shifting riddle that always keeps its true objective at arm’s length.

It is also a great example of why I chose to work through this particular list of books over certain others. I am not a science fiction aficionado (not by a long shot), so Ubik is a book that would never have been on my radar otherwise.* It seemed obvious that the Time 100 was aspiring to encapsulate as many different publishing movements from the last century as it could, so disregarding science fiction would have been criminal.** Whether Ubik really is one of the 100 best works written in English since 1923 remains to be seen, but I at least understand why it would have been included on this list.

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