In 1992 humans have colonized the Moon and telepathy is reality
(at the same time, people still watch television, not the Internet,
and use coins to pay, not even credit cards, let alone phones, and
there are still telephone books for coin-operated land telephones).
Each chapter is introduced by a commercial advertising an Ubik product.
Glen Runciter runs a corporation that sells "inertials". Inertials are
people who can neutralize telepaths and "precogs". Precogs are people
who can see the possible futures and choose one.
Raymond Hollis runs a rival corporation that specializes in telepaths
and his top telepath is Dole Melipone.
One day Glen's technician Joe Chip tells him that they lost track of
Dole Melipone: he has disappeared from their radars.
It is not the first Hollis telepath that disappears from their radars.
Glen panicks and decides to consult his wife
Ella, who died at the age of 20 but has been preserved in a state ("half-life" state) that can
be resuscitated any time.
Ella cannot help him because her field of consciousness is getting weak, overrun by a neighbor called Jory who desperately wants to talk to someone.
The doctor in charge of the moratorium, Herbert Vogelsang promises to move her to
a better insulated room.
Glen's talent scout Ashwood shows up with a new talent: a sexy 16-year-old
girl, Pat, whose parents work for Hollis. Pat neutralizes precogs: she can
force them to choose a specific future, and she can do it even retroactively.
She demonstrates her power on Joe himself by changing something that he just
did. Joe scribbles something on a paper and tells Pat that it means the
corporation should hire her immediately. In reality, it means that she is
a threat to the corporation.
A new client shows up, Zoe Wirt, who works for a corporation that prefers
to remain secret. This corporation is being attacked by telepaths so it
would like to hire the best antitelepaths that Runciter can offer.
Glen activates his resident telepath, Nina Freede, to figure out which is
the mysterious corporation: it is Stanton Mick's corporation, one of the
most powerful, and it is based on the Moon.
This corporation has developed a new system to travel close to the speed
of light, which would allow many more people to travel around the universe.
Glen understands that the attack must come from all the telepaths that
Hollis has removed from his territory.
Glen summons eleven of his psychics who are currently unemployed, including
Pat. Pat demonstrates her power by abruptly sending him into a different
time track where Glen has retired after a heart attack and Joe has married
Pat who has made him rich with her supernatural powers. In that time track
Glen lost the Moon contract to a competitor. Pat admits that she's done all
of this and restores the old time track. Glen meets with the eleven, including
Wendy Wright, Joe's personal obsession. One of the eleven, Francisca, has
received the information that they have all been moved to another world
and then back into this one. Glen, Joe, Zoe and the eleven psychics take
off on a spaceship for the Moon.
The mission is a disaster. Joe measures the psychic field and finds that
no telepaths is there.
It turns out that Glen has fallen into a trap by
the Hollis organization: instead of Stanton Mick, they are welcome by a floating bomb. Luckily, the bomb only kills one of them: Glen.
Joe takes over command, leads everybody back to the spaceship (amazed that
the assassins don't try to stop them), and flies to the moratorium hoping to
store Glen in half-life the same way Ella is stored.
Somehow Joe didn't think of using Pat's powers to undo the bombing.
And Joe feels that something is not right: all the objects in his possession
are much older than they can rationally be, including his coins, that are
accepted by neither machine nor people because they are no longer in use.
Meanwhile, Pat tells Wendy that she, Pat, is Joe's wife and she pays his bills.
Joe spends the night at a hotel near the moratorium and hears Glen's voice
in the telephone, but Herbert comes to tell you that he has been unable to
resuscitate Glen. Herbert mentions that a girl spent the night with Joe
there, but Joe doesn't even remember which girl. They find Wendy in a closet,
reduced to a decomposed corpse, as if she died years earlier. Joe fears
that her death was caused by the radiation from the bomb and that all of
them will die the same way. Meanwhile, back at headquarters the team
is puzzled by more unexplained facts. For example, they read an ad that
talks about Glen being frozen in half-life, but the ad was printed one
week before the Moon expedition. They also find coins in their pockets
with Glen's face on them. Joe flies back to headquarters and discusses
the situation with the team: it looks like there are two processes
at work, one that moves backwards in time and one that moves forward in time.
In a supermarket where an old lady is complaining that they sold her a
newspaper of the previous year, Joe picks up a pack of cigarettes and finds
inside a note written by Glen that warns him of danger. It sounds improbable
that Glen Runciter left a note in exactly that pack of cigarette in exactly that
supermarket. Joe tries to have a tape recorder repaired but an expert
tells him that it is forty years old: time reversal is accelerating.
The manual of the tape recorder says that it was made by... Runciter.
One of Joe's inertials, Al, finds a graffiti by Glen in the bathroom,
telling them that he's alive and they are dead. Joe recognizes it as Glen's
handwriting and begins to think that they all died of the explosion
and they are now in half-life. Al is next to die of a rapid decomposition.
Finally, Joe hears on television the news of Glen's death, killed in a
terrorist attack on the Moon. He will be buried in his hometown, in Iowa.
The screen then changes to Glen's face. Glen advertises a product called
Ubik (the same one mentioned at the beginning of each chapter), a product
that can reverse the time reversal. Then Glen adds that he knew his killing
was going to happen and recorded the commercial 12 days before the
fateful day of his death. And he's addressing directly Joe through the
TV set. Glen also promised a free sample of Ubik, which gets delivered
to Joe's home.
This message contradicts the graffiti, according to which Glen is alive.
The other members of Joe's team are already in Iowa for Glen's funeral.
Joe decides to travel there but, having regressed so much in time,
has to take an old airplane.
On one hand he believes that they are all dead and in half-life state
except for Glen,
but on the other hand he believes that Glen is being buried in Iowa.
When he arrives it is 1939 and World War II has just started.
Joe finds that the Ubik has reverted too: it is now just a
liver and kidney balm. The label on the bottle has changed too and now
bears a note from Glen not to give up. Joe finally regroups with the eight
surviving members and with Pat, who was his wife but she's undone that.
Francisca tells him of a recurring dream: an aerosol can marked Ubik.
Glen lies in state, but Joe realizes that his body has already decomposed
as if he died decades earlier: the same process that disintegrated Wendy
and Al has worked on Glen. But Joe tells them that the opposite is true:
that Glen told him that they all died in the blast. Another one of them
dies of the same rapid death and decomposition, Edie. At this point the
group starts suspecting Pat, who has never used her talent to undo any
of these tragic events. Pat claims that her power stopped working on the
Moon. Later Joe is stopped by a cop for a traffic violation and is given
a citation: Joe reads on it a new warning by Glen, that Pat is lying.
Directed by Glen to buy Ubik in a pharmacy that closed ten years earlier,
Joe finds more explanations on its label: Glen needs time to come up with
a new strategy now that Pat has been revealed as a liar. Joe confronts
Pat after showing her the citation with her name on it. Pat insists that
she lost her power to undo events. Joe accuses her of working for Hollis
to sabotage, and actually destroy, Runciter's business.
Joe starts feeling tired, just like the others who died before him.
Pat takes him to a hotel room. Climbing slowly the stairs Joe accuses her
of working for Hollis, of having been paid to infiltrate the Runciter
organization; and Pat agrees. Joe finds a guest in the room: Glen himself.
Glen has a spray can of Ubik that uses to stop Joe's decomposition.
Glen confirms that Joe and all the other inertials have been killed
on the Moon, including Pat. They are all in half-life in the moratorium
and he, Glen, is talking to them via Herbert Vogelsang's devices.
The world knows that Glen's inertials have been killed by that bomb on the Moon.
Glen is trying to save them in half-life like his wife Ella is.
Pat is in half-life too. Glen tells Joe that
everybody in half-life experiences that kind of regression, so what
has happened to them doesn't require Pat's time-reversal magic.
But Joe quickly realizes that Glen himself doesn't know what has happened and
why. Glen doesn't even know how he found out that Joe would take that
specific room in that hotel. Glen doesn't even know what Ubik is and why it
Joe knows that Glen's cadaver is lying in a coffin nearby, vastly decomposed.
Joe reasons that there are two forces at work: one that is trying to destry
them and one that is trying to rescue them. Joe begins to suspect that the
mystery has to do with the only inertial who was not killed by the blast:
Sammy, a young boy who has been in a coma since then.
Glen needs to rest and hangs up. His lawyer calls because he is eager to
file a lawsuit against Hollis, but Glen is too tired after spending the
day trying to communicate with Joe.
Joe is alone with Don, who seems to be the last surviving inertial.
Suddenly, Don transforms into a teenage boy, the very Jory who has been
annoying Ella in half-life. Jory candidaly admits that he is the one who
has killed all the others: they were all in half-life (as Glen correctly
told Joe) and Jory was eating them in order to stay alive. Jory feeds on
half-lives. And Joe will be next, as soon as the effect of the Ubik fades.
Joe knows he is going to succumb soon but first wants to find a woman.
He takes a cab and spots a woman walking alone. He invites her into the
cab and she gives him a certificate for a lifetime supply of Ubik: she is
Ella, Glen's wife in half-life, who has been fighting Jory all this time.
Now Joe knows who are the two forces: Jory is trying to destroy them
while Ella is trying to save them.
She has a plan to be reborn and wants Joe to take over in half-time.
Joe enters a drugstore to get some Ubik using the certificate but realizes
that all reality is created by Jory and Jory can make sure that every
drugstore will not have any Ubik left. Joe's mental efforts though manage
to materialize a representative of the company that manufactures Ubik,
coming straight from 1992 (in fact, coming from the TV commercial),
and she gives him plenty of Ubik. She then reveals that Ubik was invented
by... Ella. The back of the can has a message, presumably from Glen,
that gives him her name and address (she's an attractive woman and that's
what Joe was looking for).
Glen at the moratorium is trying to talk with Ella. He has to pay something
to the staff and pulls out a coin but it's a weird coin: it has Joe's face
on it... And this last chapter doesn't have an Ubik advert but instead
an Ubik pronouncement that he is the god who created the whole universe
and his universe is not Ubik.