We are in the year 1992, in the North American Confederation. People travel to the Moon and to the other colonies with space ships. And yet, doors ask for coins to be opened, and fridges do the same, the homeostatic mechanical slaves are here to make a penny. Joe Chip works for Glen Runciter, of Runciter Associates. He tests persons with peculiar talents, inertials as they are called. They block the psychic power of telepaths, precogs and other psis, who mostly work for Hollis, an anti-talent for each talent. As this is how the universe works, maintaining its balance in everything.
Hollis seems to keep a step ahead, his people mysteriously disappear from Earth one after the other, leading the Runciter Associates on the verge of bankruptcy. So then an opportunity arises on the Moon where Glen Runciter can bill most of his unused inertials and save his business, he jumps on it, taking with him Joe and a new recrue with an eerie talent to counter precogs in a way that has never been seen before. But nothing goes as expected.
“A random carton of cigarettes”, Joe said, “at a random store in a city picked at random. And we find a note directed at us from Glen Runciter. What do the other cartons have in them? The same note?” He lifted down a carton of L&Ms, shook it, then opened it. Ten packs of cigarettes, plus ten more below them; absolutly normal. Or is it? Al asked himself. He lifted out one of the packs from the middle of the stacks. “This one is full too.” He did not open it; instead, he reached for another. And then another. All had packs of cigarettes in them.The very fabric of reality is teared apart by opposing forces, with everyday objects around them devolving to previous stages, ships to planes, ’papes to antique TV sets, while manifestations of Runciter appear in strange places, on coins or graffitis. Dick’s classic themes are present here: religion, reality, and a general sense of the mad men being the true visionaries of what stands behind its veils.
And all crumbled into fragments between Al’s fingers.
“I wonder how he knew we’d come here,” Al said. “And how he knew we’d try that one particular carton.” It made no sense. And yet, here, too, the pair of opposing forces were at work. Decay versus Runciter, Al said to himself. Throughout the world. Perhaps throughout the universe. Maybe the sun will go out, Al conjectured, and Glen Runciter will place a substitute sun in its place.
Ubik (edition Thorndike Press, 2001, 279 pages), first edition 1969 by Doubleday, written by Philip K. Dick (December 16, 1928 – March 2, 1982), American novelist, and short story writer.