More than 10,000 books and stories rated and reviewed! - About this site

Home A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W Y Z Pen names
reviews of books and stories by author's name
SF&F Timeline 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000-Now Best!
retrospective look at sf&f year-by-year
The Ultimate Guide to New SF&F Writers (from 1990 till now)

Mind-Shattering Novels of Philip K. Dick

Best space/time mind puzzles you're going to enjoy this side of eternity

Philip K. Dick was abducted by... his own mind, and wrote about it for as long as SF industry would publish it. Which is extremely lucky for millions of his fans, me included.

Unless you are a particle physicist (for whom nothing is as it seems anyway), you're not likely to meet as many convoluted and unpredictable ideas and storylines as in Philip K. Dick's science fiction (the requirement, of course, is that it all still has to make coherent sense, otherwise we could just switch on Douglas Adams' Improbability Drive and publish the outcome).

PKD was a one-man factory of apocalyptic "What-ifs?", staggering in their scope and suggested outcomes. His stories are often dark in tone, but intensely satisfying: crammed with concepts and ideas, tightly written and pretty much unforgettable.


Philip K. Dick
"UBIK" (nv)

(based on "What the Dead Men Say")
© Worlds of Tomorrow, Jun 1964
story: The Preserving Machine, 1969
novel: Doubleday, 1969
--all time sf novel : 1987 Locus /37
--sf novel : 1998 Locus /43 (tie)
--/ second place sf novel
--/ idea award
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award
--/ style award
--/ shock value

Review by author M. Christian
Philip K. Dick loved to play with reality: what it might be, what it could be, and how it could be twisted and warped. Ubik, which was published in 1969, is a perfect example of Dick at his most playful, wild, and enjoyable – all the while having an obvious blast playing his might be, could be, and twisted and warped reality games.

At first Ubik is a science fiction drama, with Dick’s signature surreal details and devices: a Machiavellian fight between two powerful organizations in a technologically advanced North America.

Then, as they say, things get weird – as weird as only Dick can make them. Escaping a bomb blast on the moon, the main characters soon begin to see the world -- their reality -- fracture and break. It takes them a while, but eventually they figure out that they are all in suspended animation, in half-life, and that they are being snuffed out one by one by a powerful being – and that the only thing that might save them is a weird, and ubiquitous, substance called UBIK.

But even though UBIK is a very strange book it still is immensely readable, which demonstrates Dick’s tremendous talent. All too often bizarre is simply an author’s excuse for chaos, where meaning and characterization gets tossed for cheap surreal details. But that’s never true for Dick and absolutely not true with UBIK: things get very bizarre in the book but never as the expense of the core principles of a great book: characters, story, description, and so forth.

Ubik is pure Dick, and a must-read: a wonderfully bizarre adventure that’ll make you stare at the wall for hours and wonder, as Dick surely did, about what’s really on the other side of it.

Artwork courtesy Tim Warnock


Want to read a novel that includes enough concepts and ideas for 4 or 5 science fiction novels in it? Here is your chance; don't swallow it all at once -


"Now Wait For Last Year" (nv)
© 1966, Doubleday Books
--/ third place sf novel
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award

(review by Avi Abrams)
"When his wife takes a strange new narcotic and then maliciously slips some into his drink, the main character finds himself slipping back and forth through time." Against the backdrop of a pointless war being waged between planets (as a reason for a certain government to control population - typically Dickian stand-in for the Cold War), the main character (while unable to control his place in time) tries to maintain the balance of power by keeping Earth's eccentric and ailing leader in good health, (remember Brezhnev?) Plus there is the disturbing relationship between the submissive main character and his destructive, manipulative wife" (wikipedia).

But wait, there is more: collecting rare artifacts from 1935 to furnish some tycoon's Mars-based recreation of his Washington childhood. A number of live copies of certain Government Leader - any, or none of which could be the real one. Small starship-controlling devices/creatures (mechanical hamsters?) manufactured by a large corporation become the centerpiece of an employee's secret obsession - to give them a kind of intelligence and send them scuttling off around the plant on tiny metal carts. A sort of "creation/ liberation" kick. Well, never mind - there are twelve different layers to this novel ("Nothing what you know is true") - in Dick's typical paranoid fashion.

At the end of the book, the multiple past-lines and clones of main personalities will spiral out of control in a barely cohesive plot, but then even the plot itself, like a crazed centipede, will trip over its hallucinogenic legs, curl up in despair and die, unable to resolve the complexities of its existence.

Artwork courtesy Tim Warnock


"The Penultimate Truth" (nv)
(exp. from "The Defenders")
(based on "Mold For Yancy")
© Galaxy, Jan 1953
novel: Belmont, 1964
--/ third place apocalyptic sf novel
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award
--/ emotion award

(review by Avi Abrams)
"The Penultimate Truth" is the ultimate Cold War nightmare with a quintessential paranoia premise: the world's population lives underground in small factories called 'Tanks'. They are making complex robots to fight World War III above, but get all information about the war... also from robots. So, almost predictably, it turns out that the war had been finished ten years ago and the ruling elite (with attendant robots) is enjoying country estates on the Earth's surface, in the meantime keeping humanity locked up "for its own good". The novel has a dark, brooding tone, somewhat similar to another creepy Cold War masterpiece, "Level 7" by Mordecai Roshwald.

The original story "The Defenders" starts with Philip K. Dick's patented "mundane breakfast and a strangely sinister dialog in the kitchen", and then quickly advances along paranoia scale into a sheer propaganda lunacy territory. Not everything is logical and believable in the plot, but for all of us "Dr. Strangelove" junkies, it does not need to be. All-too-trusting humans and over-the-top conspiracy plot are forgivable, being a vehicle for a strange apocalyptic environment and atmosphere - all too enjoyable in the capable PKD hands.


Also Read: PKD Short Stories Review ->

Read more reviews for this writer

Click to go to "Dark Roasted Blend" site



Anonymous Michael Scott said...

Excellent reviews of extraordinary writings of:

a. a demented mind
b. the last sane man on Earth
c. a secret conspiracy to enslave robots and free mankind
d. a secret conspiracy to enslave mankind and free robots
e. all of the above

As a longstanding PDK fan, I'm going with "e".

Thank you for bringing PDK to the attention of those who have never heard of him. He was a remarkable man possesed by a phenomenal mind.

10:50 AM  
Blogger Michael Grosberg said...

Umm, the description of "The Penultimate Truth" is plain wrong. In the novel, most of Earth's population is indeed underground, making robots. But above ground, it's not robots who control things. It's a human elite, the former leaders and top bureaucracy from both sides, who enjoy the depopulated earth and control large estates while their human brethren suffer underground. The robots made by the underground humans are simply used as servants. In Dick's world, robots are usually untrustworthy... but the establishment, the human political leadership and the captains of industry, are even worse.

3:48 AM  
Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Thank you Michael, you're right - I made it more clear. All this adds to "The Truman Show" dimension of this story...

10:19 AM  
Blogger Malene said...

Great reviews! Love the pictures by Tim Warnock!

11:32 AM  
Anonymous Matthew said...

The only PKD novel I read was Ubik. I thought it was pretty good but not revelatory. I was fascinated and impressed with some parts but not very much with the work as a whole. I read Gene Wolfe about the same time and I think he is a far more talented writer of bizarre science fiction.
One weakness of PKD is in my eye his language. His style is nothing notable. So are most of his visual descriptions. It seemed to me that his strategy of describing futuristic designs was to avoid describing their appearance but to concentrate on the functions and perhaps general measurements. For the man who is most famous for creating the original for the visual feast of a movie Blade Runner, which is often seen as heralding a new era of aesthetics in scifi (inspiring even William Gibson), this is pretty disappointing.
On the other hand, he has a strength of conveying a certain bodily feeling and things like tricks of the eye.

Reading Michael Moorcock's polemic criticism of PDK's characters in particular, I feel inclined to agree. They are rather types than original inventions. Now you may like his types, but the statement about the mediocre artistry remains. (At least I can agree with my experience of that one novel. Maybe I would change my mind with some other story of his.)

I think his existential themes and effects of philosophical confusion are very interesting, but other authors, such as Gene Wolfe, handle them with greater ease and mastership of style.

1:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch is not to be unread. Some of the best SciFi films in the last 30 years have been based on PKD's stories.

2:31 PM  
Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Thank you Matthew for this insight... Gene Wolfe is a must-read, but his writing is also uneven, alas.

7:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Best novel.... Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

5:31 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home


Collecting Pulp Magazines

Ephemera Interview with Avi Abrams

Enchanting Victorian Fairy Tale Art

"Then world behind and home ahead..."

Exceptional British Scifi Artwork from the 1950s

Space Pulp Art by Ron Turner and other British artists

Pulp Pleasures: Eando Binder

Great space adventure fiction from the 1930s
"Where Eternity Ends" and other rare gems

Epic Fantasy: the Start of the Journey

Part 2 of our "Best Classic Fantasy" series
incl. works by Henry Kuttner, Tolkien, etc.

Strange Shadows: Best Classic Fantasy

Fantasy "glitches in the matrix",
...lovely baroque magical lands, and more

Classic Cyberpunk SF Novels: Reviews

Neal Stephenson, William Gibson, K. W. Jeter, et al
(awesome must-reads)

10 Possible Sources of "Avatar" in Classic Science Fiction

Going beyond the obvious "Dances with Smurfs"...
(many stories worth reading)

"Steampunk" Anthology: Full Review

some truly crazed stories in there...
(plus artwork by John Coulthart)

"Dune", Plus Often-Neglected
Other Novels by Frank Herbert

"Dune", plus some overlooked gems:
"The Santaroga Barrier" and "The Green Brain"

Universe at Play:
Two Must-Read Novels of the Fantastic

"The Yiddish Policemen's Union" by Michael Chabon...
and David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas"

Two of the Most Entertaining SF Novels from the 1980s

"Vacuum Flowers" by Michael Swanwick...
and Tim Power's "The Anubis Gates", of course!

"The Body Snatchers" and Other Alien Pods

Fiction by Jack Finney, Vance, Simak and Bloch
mind impostors and emotion imitators

Exploring the Noir and the Grotesque

Jack O'Connell "The Resurrectionist"
and other newest examples of the bizarre

Overpopulation, Sex and Sensibility

Robert Silverberg's "The World Inside"
and other classic sf blasts

H. P. Lovecraft "At the Mountains of Madness"

and other masterpieces of terror
including original illustrations

"Constellations", edited by Peter Crowther

original anthology, 2005
full review: mind-bending stories

The Ultimate Guide to New Writers of SF&F

more than 2,000 writers, 1990-2009
Ratings, awards, web links

The Surreal Office

"The Situation", "The Cookie Monster"
Weird fiction by Jeff VanderMeer and Vernor Vinge

Mind-shattering Novels of Philip K. Dick

"UBIK", "Now Wait for Last Year", etc.

Theodore Sturgeon's "More Than Human"

There’s a problem with this new gestalt being: needs a conscience.

Jack Williamson's "Legion of Space" Series

Classic Space Opera
The ultimate weapon, controlled by a gorgeous woman

Astounding Stories, August 1934

Jack Williamson, Nat Schachner, "Doc" Smith
Epic space opera gems and horror surprises

Rare Pulp SF&F, Issue 3

Leigh Brackett, Fritz Leiber, Vic Phillips
Rediscovered gems of wonder & adventure

William Gibson's Novels

"Pattern Recognition", "Neuromancer"
A Fractured Delight...

Alfred Bester "The Computer Connection"

"Bester was the mountain, all the rest of us..."
Pyrokinetic writing in one neat package

Two Novels by Samuel R. Delany

"Nova" and "Babel-17"
New Wave Milestones, and then some.

Theodore Sturgeon's "The Cosmic Rape"

(and more reviews of his fiction)
Classic SF at its best and most humane

Travel Distant Worlds!

Vintage Space Travel Posters, and more.
Part 3 of Pulp Sf art series...

Alastair Reynolds' Epic Novels

"Chasm City" and "Revelation Space"
And it's only the beginning...

Rare Fantasy Gems by C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner

Hidden Gems of Pulp Fiction
When two star writers become husband and wife

Grand Old Times... in the Future

Overview of Pulp Art
A Loudly Lurid Universe of Sci-Fi Illustration

Exclusive: Interview with Nancy Kress

From High Fantasy to Hard Science Fiction
A Spectrum of Wonder

Jack Vance

"To Live Forever"
and other Vance extravaganzas

Alastair Reynolds

"Pushing Ice"
Cosmological "noir" chase across space

Charles Stross

"Missile Gap"
Mind-bending Cold War world-building

Hidden Gems of Pulp SF, Part 2

Rare stories from the "Age of Wonder"
incl. David Keller, Horace Gold etc.

Ultra-Rare Serials from "Fantasy Magazine"

"Cosmos" + "Challenge From Beyond"
incredible line-up of writers

Hidden Gems of Pulp SF, Part 1

Neat & Rare Stories
incl. the mad rally story "The Racer"

Astounding Stories, June 1935

Full Issue Review
incl. Gallun, Schachner, Campbell

Astounding Stories, May 1941

Full Issue Review
incl. Heinlein, Asimov, Eric Frank Russell

Horace Gold; P. Schuyler Miller

"Apocalyptic Blockbusters"
"Inflexure" and "Spawn": guilty pleasure

Interview with John C. Wright

Plus his advice to new writers
Adventures in Space & Magic

Frank Belknap Long

"The Horror from the Hills"
Great Lovecraftian Weird Novella

Interview with Jeff VanderMeer

Plus his Recommended Reading List
A Triumph of the Bizarre

Alastair Reynolds, Part 2

More "Galactic North" Stories
A Mixture of Hard Sf, James Bond & Jaws...

Alastair Reynolds Review

"Galactic North"
staring down infinity...

Most Shocking Article

"Holey Fools" by M. Christian
Warning: Gross Subject Matter

Alfred Bester Review

"The Stars My Destination"
"...nail it to the Retro Hugo voting board..."

Larry Niven Review

"Neutron Star"
"better get GP alien ship hull"

Poul Anderson Review

"Ensign Flandry"
"or how to start a sub-genre..."

Thomas M. Disch Review

"The Squirrel Cage"
"...seriously mind-bending stuff..."

Henry Kuttner Review

"Mimsy Were the Borogoves" (The Last Mimzy)
"...great storyline for a pretty average movie..."

Robert A. Heinlein Review

"The Moon is the Harsh Mistress"
" caused a tooth ache, and put my brain on freeze..."

Frank Herbert Review

"Destination: Void"
"...a layered cake of ideas and a scientific extrapolation on a genius level..."

Harlan Ellison Review

"The Abnormals"
"...editors slapped the most outrageous titles on his stories..."

James White Review

"All Judgement Fled"
"...the tension is palpable, soon to grow almost unbearable..."

Grand Adventure Strikes Again

Space Opera Article, by Avi Abrams
Based on Arthur Clarke's "Against the Fall of Night"

William Gibson Review

"Burning Chrome"
"...sheer pyrotechnics and exuberance of style..."

Ace Double: Murray Leinster

"The Pirates of Ersatz /The Mutant Weapon"
"...the characters might as well be cats or hamsters..."

Astounding Stories, May 1935

Pulp SF Magazine Review
with many original illustrations

Also read recent posts:
Author's Pen Names - Most Complete List Ever
The Wonder Timeline: SF&F Restrospective
Space Adventure Article



"SF&F Reading Experience" is part of "Dark Roasted Blend / Thrilling Wonder" family of sites. We try to highlight the most entertaining and rewarding science fiction and fantasy, with emphasis on memorable reader experience, not necessarily general acceptance by the critics. Have fun, and delve into our extensive ratings and reviews!

Most reviews are written by Avi Abrams, unless otherwise noted. Reviews also appear on our unique historical retrospective page Wonder Timeline of Science Fiction. Feel free to submit your own review, if a particular story is not listed here.

All major OFFICIAL AWARDS are highlighted in BLUE
("winner" has a letter "W" by it, otherwise it is a runner-up only)

Our PERSONAL AWARDS (ratings) are highlighted in RED and PURPLE:
--/ first place :
--/ second place :
--/ third place :

--/ fourth place :

--/ cool : (equal to fifth place)

These awards are given in the following categories:
- novel :
- series :
- novella :
- story :
- collection :

Also, there are our personal STYLE / GENRE SPECIFIC AWARDS. These reflect the story's content and the lasting impression on the reader:

--/ wonder award
sense-of-wonder, "visual intensity" and inventiveness

--/ idea award
originality of idea / concept

--/ adventure award
exhilarating plot, excitement / action

--/ style award
outstanding literary qualities, inimitable style

--/ romance award
intense and beautiful love / relationships

--/ humour award
funny and cool

--/ emotion award
touching, lasting impression, sensitivity

--/ shock value
altogether wild

--/ awesome scale
mind-boggling; further enhances sense-of-wonder

--/ rare find
very hard to locate, mostly from old pulps, never reprinted, etc.

Again, please feel free to leave your own review or comment under every writer's entry; also recommend us other stories you liked.