Tuesday, June 12, 2012

#54 - 'Ubik' by Philip K. Dick

I'm not the world's biggest science-fiction fan.  It isn't that I dislike the genre, I just don't get too excited about reading it.  So, when I come across one of the few sci-fi novels on the list, like #54, Ubik by Philip K. Dick, it isn't a burden, but nor is it one I look forward to that much; it's just another entry on the list.

Ubik  is the story of Joe Chip, a technician with the prudence organization, Runciter and Associates, who enforce privacy by blocking psychic powers.  Set in the future, in 1992, Joe and his team head to Luna for a mission when things go horribly wrong; their employer and friend, Glen Runciter is killed in an explosion.  But after returning to Earth, things begin to change for the survivors, as everything around them regresses to earlier times.  Food goes stale, buildings morph into run-down, derelict shacks, and cars cease to hover.  Soon they realize that perhaps it Glen Runciter was the only survivor and they the casualties, suspended in 'half-life.'

All in all, Ubik was a good, short read, with an engaging story and interesting characters.  The protagonist, Joe Chip reminds me of Harry Angstrom from Rabbit, Run. I don't really care for him as a person, but I'm intrigued by his flaws and interested in his future (or maybe in this case his past).  The story throws quite a few curve balls as well, and left me a little puzzled as to what actually happened.  Not in the sense that it was confusing, but in the sense that it leaves the reader, like the characters, unsure of what is reality and what isn't.
Reading this book started me thinking about re-thinking the sci-fi genre.  What makes this book 'sci-fi?'  My first thought when thinking about sci-fi is Star Trek or Star Wars; basically stories set in space.  This book has a scene set in space, but space isn't really the focus of the novel, so I'm hesitant to say this would be sci-fi for that reason.  The other thing I think of with sci-fi is the future, as being set in the future.  This book was written in 1969 and set in 1992, so I suppose this is where the label comes from.

When I look back at Ubik however, I don't think of it as a sci-fi novel, rather merely as a novel set in the future.  This may sound like me trying to avoid labelling a book 'sci-fi' because of the genre's often unwarranted reputation as being lesser writing, but really, I'm just trying to avoid labelling it altogether.  I look at a novel like Slaughterhouse-Five, which to me, would meet much of the criteria to be classified as sci-fi; there's time travel and aliens, but I doubt any ever would consider it that.  And perhaps this is why some novels, as great as they may be, never receive the critical acclaim they might deserve; because they have been unnecessarily classified as a certain type of book.  And this has made me realize that I need to stop thinking of books as 'sci-fi' or 'fantasy' and look at them for what they are; well-written, entertaining reads like Ubik.

I've started #55, Money by Martin Amis.  I don't really know much about this book, other than Martin is the son of Kingsley Amis, author of Lucky Jim, my 16th read from the list, and one of my favorites as well.  I'm hoping to get through it pretty quick, continuing my game of catch-up following The Recognitions.

No comments:

Post a Comment