Hic et ubique

Moon's far side: NASA Apollo 16
Moon’s far side: NASA Apollo 16

Philip K Dick: Ubik
Gollancz SF Masterworks 2000 (1969)

Caveat emptor!

My worry with Ubik was that, as with the metaphor of the onion from Peer Gynt, I would peel away its several layers to find either that there was nothing in the centre or, worse, that I’d discarded its essence along the way. Even after waiting some while, years in fact, after first reading it — to let its ideas marinate, as it were — I find I’m only a little closer to even a vague understanding of its subject matter.

The confusion partly arises from the way Dick places his characters in a complex plot governed by wandering timelines, resulting in altered realities and alternate pasts and futures. His characters are malleable too, so that while nondescript novels might offer us easily identifiable heroes and villains, Ubik‘s characters can present themselves as morally ambiguous.

One way to approach Dick’s conundrum is to consider his appropriation of Elizabethan texts, particularly Shakespeare, in novels such as Flow My Tears the Policeman Said and Time Out of Joint. Here the title Ubik hints at Hamlet referring to the ubiquity of the Ghost, his father: “Hic et ubique? ” he laughs, ‘here and everywhere’? Hamlet might well prove a possible entry to Dick’s textual labyrinth, but I glimpse other portals too.

Continue reading “Hic et ubique”

A simulacrum conceals

Robot from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927)

Philip K Dick
The Penultimate Truth 
Triad Panther 1978 (1964)

Written at the height of the Cold War, not long after the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, The Penultimate Truth is, in part, a reflection of general anxieties (in the West, at least) about the likelihood of nuclear war and whether human life would survive the devastating aftermath. The majority of the world’s population live underground, in fear of the continuing armageddon they are told is still raging above-ground and of the threat of radiation for anyone who emerges on the Earth’s surface. A Big Brother figure, Talbot Yancy, exhorts the multitudes to build more specialist robots to continue the fight above ground, though these are in truth designed to end up furnishing the requirements of an oligarchy which maintains the myth of a continuing war.

Many of Philip K Dick’s thematic obsessions emerge in this novel Continue reading “A simulacrum conceals”

The divide of otherness

Winter on the Preseli Hills, Pembrokeshire, Wales
Winter on the Preseli Hills, Pembrokeshire, Wales

Philip K Dick
Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?
Gollancz 2007 (1968)

andy sheepWhat can be said about this famous novel — ostensibly about a detective chasing dangerous androids — that hasn’t been said before, and better? Rather than a closely argued review, this overview will be about impressions, rather like the 2007 Gollancz cover picture which, to my chagrin, I didn’t immediately realise was a colour dot-matrix image of a sheep. A case, I suppose, of being too close to it in the first place. Anyway, I learnt my lesson, and waited a while before committing some thoughts to electronic page.

First, what this book isn’t. Continue reading “The divide of otherness”

Truth, terrible as death

aber tower

Philip K Dick The Man In The High Castle
Gollancz 2009 (1962)

Alternate history | given alternate history; | what’s true? What isn’t?

Authentic. Genuine. How often are these words used, and abused. Clothing stamped with ‘authentic’, meaning imitation US sports wear. Sweatshop items I remember seeing in the 60s labelled ‘genuine imitation leather’. Beguiling items sold right now for their ‘cosy faux fur’, as though faux was a kind of animal.

Authenticity is one of the big ideas residing at the heart of this haunting novel, one of Dick’s earliest and one for which he won a Hugo Award. Does authenticity reside in objects purporting to be historic relics or in the minds of humans who trade and purchase and use and treasure them? Who really won the last global conflict? What is the significance of the alternate history of the world written by the Man in the High Castle? Is there really a High Castle in the medieval sense? Indeed, are the characters we meet really who or what they say they are? Moreover, can writings such as the I Ching truly predict the future, or do they merely offer solace to the humans who use them? Continue reading “Truth, terrible as death”