Ubik and the alternative scenarios
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Ubik and the alternative scenarios

The action of the novel takes place in the North American Federation, in the futuristic version of 1992, where the technology is so advanced that it allows civilians to fly to the moon, and psionic abilities are widely believed to be real. The protagonist, Joe Chip, works for the Glen Runciter corporation, which employs people with the ability to block certain paranormal powers (e.g., anti-telepaths, which can stop a telepath from reading a client’s mind). Despite a high salary and a good position in the company (decides about hiring new inertia), he is indebted and unhappy. Runciter runs the corporation with his late wife Ella, kept in a half-life, allowing for limited communication with the world.

When business magnate Stanton Mick hires Runciter’s company to protect his facilities on the moon from psionics from Ray Hollis’ largest agency in the world, Runciter assigns all available staff to the job, including Joe Pat Conley, newly hired, a mysterious young woman with a remarkable ability to change the past.

When Runciter and Chip reach Mick’s lunar base with the inertia, they realize the contract is a trap, possibly set by Hollis. Runciter is killed in the blast. The group hurries back to Earth to be placed in a moratorium (facility that stores half-alive people). The group begins to experience strange changes in the way time passes: things like milk and cigarettes break down very quickly, technical products take on old forms (the modern car becomes a 1920s auto). Runciter’s face appears on coins and on the television. The messages he sends suggest that Runciter survived, and that the rest of the group are on the moratorium. Those who disconnect are found dead, almost completely decayed. The reality that surrounds the characters gradually moves back in time until 1939.

Joe receives a package anonymously with Ubik – a measure to prevent going back in time. Eventually, Joe Chip learns that Runciter is the only survivor of the lunar explosion, and his messages are the result of attempts to connect with half-dead workers. The receding world they find themselves in is the product of Jory Miller, a half-alive who takes the life force of others to extend his own existence (half-life is limited). Among the heroes, only Joe Chip, thanks to the help of Ella Runciter and the Ubik she sent, remains half-alive. Ella, who is soon reincarnating, asks him to take her place as Glen’s advisor and protector of the other half-alive. Glen Runciter finds some coins with Joe Chip’s face on it and concludes that this is “just the beginning”.

The surname Joe Chip has the same initials as Jesus Christ. Parallels can be drawn to the figure of Jesus (who temporarily dies and then rises again), Runcitera can be seen as a reference to God the Father, and Ubika to the Holy Spirit. However, these and other allusions to Christianity are by no means direct, and it is better to explore Ubik’s religious metaphors in the context of Dick’s more important spiritual and metaphysical view of the world than to treat the novel as an easily explainable religious story.

The Ubik is defined at the beginning of the last chapter of the book as follows:

I am Ubik. Before the world was, I am. I made the sun. I have created worlds. I have created living beings and the places that they inhabit; I put them here and there. They go where I tell them, do what I tell them. I am the word and my name is never spoken – a name no one knows. They call me Ubik, but that’s not my name. I am. I will always be.

Dick constructed the world of Ubik in a Platonic system: Theory of Knowledge, Theory of Forms, and the Conception of the Tripartite Soul. 

By the end of the novel, Joe Chip uses Socrates method of dialectics to see the difference between empirical reality and absolute Forms. He becomes the logistikan (logic), Ella represents spirit, and Jory represents appetite. Once wisdom (logic) overcomes the body’s appetites, then logic/spirit/appetite align as one and they transcend–becoming the Total Man. The coin represents their transcendence and becoming One with God/the Immanent Mind/the Immovable Creator/the Univeral Being/whatever-you-want-to-call-IT. Ubik is a cosmological explanation for Dick’s schizophrenic hallucinations and visions. The coin implies the nature of reality is cyclical and the direction of movement is circular depth, not linear.