quite shaky, he began taking out the forty-nine yarrow stalks. Whole situation confusing and anomalous, he decided. No human intelligence could decipher it; only five-thousand-year-old joint mind applicable.
These parallel worlds are a knotty problem, he realized. I wonder how many exist. Dozens? With a different human sub-species dominant on each? Weird idea. He shivered. God, how unpleasant . . . like concentric rings of hell, each with its own particular brand of torment.
Below lay the tomb world, the immutable cause-and-effect world of the demonic. At median extended the layer of the human, but at any instant a man could plunge—descend as if sinking—into the hell-layer beneath. Or: he could ascend to the ethereal world above, which constituted the third of the trinary layers. Always, in his middle level of the human, a man risked the sinking. And yet the possibility of ascent lay before him
Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later, her war, her taking on a symbol and a reality that outweighed her. Now my insurance rates will go up, she realized as she climbed from her car. In this world you pay for tilting with evil in cold, hard cash.
Ubik is easily one of my favorite PKD novels: less lauded but more tightly composed than VALIS, it too makes pervasive but subtle use of Gnostic themes throughout. In his self-exegetical notes, Dick paired Ubik with The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch as stories grounded in the mechanism of the Eucharist. (In Three Stigmata the Eucharist is averse or malign–a sort of interplanetary Black Mass.) The initial science-fictional concept in Ubik is that of the “moratorium,” a medico-funerary facility that arrests brain deterioration in fresh corpses, so that the “dead” can be milked for small amounts of further interaction with their survivors; all of which opens up the question of the subjective experience of such “death,” not to mention all death, and perhaps life as well.
The characters are unusually clear, lacking the amorphousness that Dick’s psychological approach often inflicts on his protagonists, and this feature may well have been a function of his onetime development of this story as a prospective film treatment. In my dream universe, David Cronenberg has already directed a production of Ubik!