Friday, August 28, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 25 (Philip K. Dick)


Ubik
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Dick, Philip K.
Ubik


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books about 5 years ago. Jonathan Skinner was still in town at the time and was teaching a course on Sci-Fi at UB. One afternoon I was wandering through the stacks of course books in the back of the store (a great way to find new and interesting things to read, btw), when I noticed the stack with Jonathan's name on it and decided to check it out.

Grad school was more or less over at that point and I was in the process of rediscovering one of the things I think often gets lost there: the pleasure of reading for its own sake. In graduate school, no matter how interested you are in what you are reading, it's always essentially homework. And homework is never pleasurable.

I had more or less stopped reading novels altogether for the better part of a decade, so the idea of reading genre fiction felt really naughty. I had already started reading a whole bunch of crime novels from the 30's, 40's and 50's, and reading science fiction seemed like a natural extension of that.

Of course, none of this prepared me for Philip K. Dick. It wasn't at all a guilty pleasure, but one of my more significant reading experiences in the past decade. Dick (along with Raymond Chandler, who I read around the same time) taught me for the second time (the first was when I was a child) the pleasure of reading a story for its own sake. Of becoming absorbed in narrative flow. Of identifying with the emotions of the characters. Of deferred expectation and surprise. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

I went on to read several more of his books in quick succession. Lori started reading them, too, and I think she ended up reading twice as many as I did. This was the first one either of us read, and it's definitely my favorite.

from Ubik

Friends, this is clean-up time and we're discounting all our silent, electric Ubiks by this much money. Yes, we're throwing away the bluebook. And remember: every Ubik on our lot has been used only as directed.

At three-thirty A.M. on the night of June 5, 1992, the top telepath in the Sol System fell off the map in the offices of Runciter Associates in New York City. That started vidphones ringing. The Runciter organization had lost track of too many of Hollis' psis during the last two months; this added disappearance wouldn't do.

"Mr. Runciter? Sorry to bother you." The technician in charge of the night shift at the map room coughed nervously as the massive, sloppy head of Glen Runciter swam up to fill the vidscreen. "We got this news from one of our inertials. Let me look." He fiddled with a disarranged stack of tapes from the recorder which monitored incoming messages. "Our Miss Dorn reported it; as you may recall she had followed him to Green River, Utah, where—"

Sleepily, Runciter grated, "Who? I can't keep in mind at all times which inertials are following what teep or precog." With his hand he smoothed down his ruffled gray mass of wirelike hair. "Skip the rest and tell me which of Hollis' people is missing now."

"S. Dole Melipone," the technician said.

"What? Melipone's gone? You kid me."

"I not kid you," the technician assured him. "Edie Dorn and two other inertials followed him to a motel named the Bonds of Erotic Polymorphic Experience, a sixty-unit subsurface structure catering to businessmen and their hookers who don't want to be entertained. Edie and her colleagues didn't think he was active, but just to be on the safe side we had one of our own telepaths, Mr. G. G. Ashwood, go in and read him. Ashwood found a scramble pattern surrounding Melipone's mind, so he couldn't do anything; he therefore went back to Topeka, Kansas, where he's currently scouting a new possibility."

Runciter, more awake now, had lit a cigarette; chin in hand, he sat propped up somberly, smoke drifting across the scanner of his end of the bichannel circuit. "You're sure the teep was Melipone? Nobody seems to know what he looks like; he must use a different physiognomic template every month. What about his field?"

"We asked Joe Chip to go in there and run tests on the magnitude and minitude of the field being generated there at the Bonds of Erotic Polymorphic Experience Motel. Chip says it registered, at its height, 68.2 blr units of telepathic aura, which only Melipone, among all the known telepaths, can produce." The technician finished, "So that's where we stuck Melipone's identflag on the map. And now he—it—is gone."

"Did you look on the floor? Behind the map?"

"It's gone electronically. The man it represents is no longer on Earth or, as far as we can make out, on a colony world either."

Runciter said, "I'll consult my dead wife."

"It's the middle of the night. The moratoriums are closed now."

"Not in Switzerland," Runciter said, with a grimacing smile, as if some repellent midnight fluid had crept up into his aged throat. "Goodeve." Runciter hung up.

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