In Ubik Dick took one of his own tropes, a group of people trapped unknowingly in a simulated or false reality (used previously in Eye in the Sky and later in A Maze of Death) and created one of his most entertaining novels.
In 1992 Glen Runciter’s anti-psionic prudence organization duels with Raymond Hollis’s group of telepaths and precogs. Runciter’s employees end up stuck in the simulated reality of half-life storage after Hollis lures them to the moon and attempts to kill them. The group is tormented by a powerful fifteen-year-old half-lifer, and Runciter, still alive on the outside, tries to help them as time inside half-life regresses into the past (similar to the drug-induced time travel in Now Wait for Last Year).
It sounds absurd in summary, but the book is stuffed with some of Dick’s funniest and best ideas while dealing with his prevalent theme of the nature of reality.
Cast of characters
Glen Runciter – owner of Runciter Associates, an anti-psi prudence organization
Ella Runciter – Glen’s twenty-year-old dead wife in half-life
Herbert Schoenheit von Vogelsang – owner of Beloved Brethren Moratorium
Jory Miller – a dead fifteen-year-old boy in half-life cold-pac storage
Raymond Hollis – employs telepaths. Runciter’s opposition
G. G. Ashwood – one of Runciter’s telepaths
Joe Chip – Runciter’s electrical tester
Pat Conley– an anti-precog
Stanton Mick – reclusive speculator and financier
Zoe Wirt – Stanton Mick’s assistant
Tippy Jackson, Edie Dorn, Al Hammond, John Ild, Francesca Spanish, Tito Apostos, Don Denny, Sammy Mundo, Wendy Wright, Fred Zafsky – Runciter’s inertials who travel to Luna
Dr. Futurity (not to be confused with the much better Dr. Bloodmoney) tells the story of Dr. Jim Parsons who is snatched away from 2012 and brought to the year 2405. The world of the future has no need for doctors as they have embraced death and eugenics. Their society is organized into tribes represented by animal totems. These tribes compete in contests to determine future generations as the winning tribes are able to contribute a greater number of zygotes to the Soul Cube. I feel stupid writing this down.
The Wolf Tribe has access to a time travel device, and they need the medical know-how of Parsons to save the life of Corith who was shot by an arrow in 1579 during a botched attempt to travel back in time to kill Sir Francis Drake. His plan was to erase the next 500 years of white supremacy by preventing England from taking North America from the Native Americans. Anyway… at least he wasn’t trying to stop Hitler.
The whole thing is full of plot holes, time travel and otherwise. Dick tries to explain away some of these issues, but the poorly-written story remains muddled and not very interesting.
Cast of characters
Dr. Jim Parsons – our protagonist
Wade and Icara – members of an illegal political group advocating women’s rights
Al Stenog – the Director of the Fountain
Loris – Mother superior of the Wolf Tribe
Helmar – Loris’s brother
Corith – Loris’s father. He travels back to 1579 in an attempt to kill Sir Francis Drake.
Jepthe – Loris’s mother
Nixina – mother of Jepthe and Corith
Other things to know
Shupos – delinquent children who work as government enforcers
Soul Cube – contains all the zygotes of the human race
The Fountain – government building where the Soul Cube is kept
Nova Albion – Northern California landing spot of Sir Francis Drake in 1579
Set in 2055… at least before the drug-induced time travel kicks in.
Once again we have an old man kept alive by artiforgs, although the description of 130-year-old Virgil Ackerman as a slight, hermaphroditic creature is almost the exact opposite of how Stanton Brose is described in The Penultimate Truth. Rich men like Ackerman build simulated worlds on Mars to recreate their childhoods down to the smallest detail. It doesn’t have much to do with the rest of the story, but it’s still hilarious as Dick calls them regressive babylands.
Dick is airing out some issues with women with this book. His scheming, mentally unbalanced Kathy Sweetscent is one of the most caustic depictions of a wife that I can recall in any of his novels. The whole thing is ultimately about whether our protagonist, the unfortunately named Eric Sweetscent, will stay with his wife or not, even though he knows she is destined for the psychiatric hospital.
At one point it seems we will have yet another simulacrum of an authority figure just like in The Penultimate Truth and The Simulacra, (in this case one of the UN Secretary General), but that turns out not to be the case.
Some unexpected twists and a well-rounded world leader in Gino Molinari make this one worth the read. I thought I had read most of Dick’s good books, but I’m still discovering some gems as I work through the ones I have left.
Cast of characters
Virgil Ackerman – founder of Tijuana Fur & Dye Corp
Dr. Eric Sweetscent – artiforg surgeon who works for Virgil Ackerman
Katherine Sweetscent – Eric’s wife who works for TF&D as an antique collector
Bruce Himmel – quality control inspector at TF&D
Jonas Ackerman – Virgil’s great-grandnephew
Phyllis Ackerman – Virgil’s great-grandniece. On TF&D’s board of directors
Gino Molinari – aka “the Mole”. Terra’s supreme elected leader and commander of its armed forces in the war against the reegs
Minister Freneksy – Prime Minister of Lilistar
Christian Plout – host of the JJ-180 drug party
Marm Hastings – a San Francisco Taoist
Harry Teagarden – chief of the Mole’s medical staff
Mary Reineke – the Mole’s eighteen-year-old mistress
Roger Corning – a ‘Starman
Don Festenburg – advisor/speechwriter for Molinari
Bert Hazeltine – representative of the Hazeltine corporation where JJ-180 is made
Other things to know
Lilistar – dominant military power in the galaxy. Terra is their ally in their war against the reegs
Reegs – creatures from Proxima at war with the ‘Starmen from Lilistar