Philip K. Dick; Dr Bloodmoney (1965) and Ubik (1969)


Here are two books from Philip K. Dick that are included in his Library Of America collection, Dr Bloodmoney and Ubik .

Firstly I read Dr Bloodmoney from 1965. It presents a hopeful vision of a post-WW3 society emerging on the West Coast, with a successful barter economy and life going on much as before. Doctors, teachers, councilors, tobacconists, and their wives live among mutants in this admirably fleshed out world, some of the inhabitants having magic powers of the mind. The way PKD weaves all of these interesting people in and out of the story while giving us an insight into their thoughts can be very entertaining. There are too many to mention, but I’ll point out the motorised psycho-telekinetic flipper-man who is the town fixer, the little girl with a talking twin in her abdomen (who can talk to the dead), talking dog, intelligent rats, and the astronaut who is stuck in orbit and broadcasting radio to the world below. I mentioned there being a story, but it’s fair to say that there is no central plot, and that the story is a nebulous one involving the playing out of the arcs and interactions of several different people in one place.

This is one of his longer novels, but it reads buoyantly throughout, with many quirky moments, surprises, and a satisfying ending. Dr Bloodmoney is justifiably included in the Library Of America collection for the way it weaves the author’s typical themes and motifs of mental instability, contagious minds, double identities, and interesting assortment of vivid and quirky minor characters.  5/5

Some months later I read PKD’s Ubik (1969), where a group of anti-telepaths find themselves in a tenuous world that is under the influence of their apparently deceased boss. This book is more highly regarded than his previous Dr Bloodmoney. However, while I believe Ubik is an entertaining book, it is also a flawed one, not as charming as Dr Bloodmoney, and definitely below the literary quality of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? and Martian Time Slip. I think this is because I figured out the plot early on, and also due to there being too many unremarkable minor characters who serve little narrative purpose, and who go from merely adding local colour and quirkiness, towards feeling like aberrant and unnecessary distractions for the reader; something which feels emphasized by their garish and peculiar fashions. Dick handled many diverse characters a lot better in his earlier Dr Bloodmoney, where the townsfolk are more vividly fleshed out, with a sense of their lives outside of the plot – unlike the near dozen ‘inertials’ who accompany the protagonist in Ubik, who are thin characters indeed.

However, Ubik is at least as good a treatment of illusory realities as something like The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch, and it fulfills many reader expectations by its treatment of double identities, wry comments on future capitalism, religious subtexts, and its chief theme of decay against regeneration. In this way, its occasionally meandering plotting and paper thin characters is redeemed partially by many typical PKD moments, as well as by its fast readability.  3.5/5


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