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Worlds Without End Blog

Philip K. Dickathon: Solar Lottery Posted at 6:33 AM by Charles Dee Mitchell


Guest Blogger and WWEnd Member, Charles Dee Mitchell, has contributed a great many book reviews to WWEnd and we’ve invited him to contribute to our blog. This is the first in Dee’s series of Philip K. Dick reviews that he started on his blog We’ll be posting one every week until he runs out of reviews or gets tired of Philip K. Dick books.

Solar LotteryI have decided that 2011 will be the Year of Philip K. Dick. (Early 2010 was the Year of J G. Ballard.) I have laid in a supply of novels, non-fiction writings, a biography, a French intellectual’s analysis of the work, and four, over-priced volumes of his letters. I am set to go.

I like to start at the beginning. Solar Lottery is the first novel, published in 1955, by which time he was already cranking out short stores for a variety of sf pulp magazines. I suspect I will fall back on the phrase "cranking out" fairly often when writing about Dick’s output, but I do not mean it derogatorily. Dick wrote fast. He also rewrote fast, and as someone who has done only journalism I am appalled at how many times a 5000 word short story, for which he is maybe getting paid pennies a word, goes back and forth between the editor and author. But he was lucky to have Anthony Boucher as an early editor. I don’t think Boucher’s influence on the shape of the early stories has been fully investigated.

Solar Lottery takes place in what will become the prototypical Dickian world — an illogical totalitarian state, where the population scrambles to maintain their "ratings" by working in the Hills, international conglomerates spaced around the earth, the capital of which is now Batavia, Indonesia. Society is controlled by the twitches of what is called "The Bottle," a lottery device for which the populace hangs on to their P-cards that promise them a one in six million chance to become quizmaster, an enviable top spot that also involves an army of telepaths to protect the winner from constant and legally sanctioned assassination attempts. Anyone with any sense wears good luck charms.

Our hero, Ted Benteley, has been laid off from his Hill. He is an 8-8 classified Biochemist and flies to Batavia in an attempt to get a job with the current quizmaster, Reese Verrick. What he doesn’t know is that he is joining the team of a man who has just been replaced, after ten years, by a twitch of the bottle that has transferred the role to Leon Cartwritght, an unclassified leader of a the Prestonites, a scraggly religious cult based on the teachings of one John Preston. Preston disappeared over a century before into the world beyond the nine planet system in search of the flaming disk.

But wait, I am falling into the thankless task of attempting to summarize a Philip K. Dick novel. The pleasures of the novel, which he wrote when he was twenty-five years old, lie in Dick’s ability to immerse you in this future world, where, as a reader, it is best to not ask questions and just enjoy the ride. Events race along, but overall they make sense and follow the logic of Dick’s 23rd century Earth. Dick seldom defines much of his invented nomenclature, but most is easy to follow. "Teeps" are the telepathic corpsmen protecting the quizmaster. When Varrick looses that role, he’s been "quacked." "Unks" are the unclassified masses. The bubble-like resort on the moon is protected from the atmosphere-free exterior by "exit sphincters." And as in all the Dick novels I have ever read, he proves to be quite the tit man. Standard female 23rd century dress tends to leave the breasts exposed, and Dick seldom fails to comment on those of each major female character.

The most obvious "first-novel" elements in Solar Lottery come towards the end, when Benteley does some of the type of soul searching that was in the Berkeley air at the time Dick wrote it. For example:

"I played the game for years," Cartwright said. "Most people go on playing the game all their lives. Then I began to realize the rules were set up so I couldn’t win. Who wants to play that kind of game? We’re betting against the house, and the house always wins."

"That’s true," Bentely agreed. After a time he said, "There’s no point in playing a rigged game. But what’s your answer?"

"You do what I did. You draw up new rules and play by them. Rules in which all the players have the same odds."

Good luck with that.

Dick will write better novels in the decades that follow, as he becomes more cynical but unfortunately also more delusional and paranoid. There is quite a cult surrounding Dick, which I am by no means a part of. I have not read enough of the work to know how I feel about it. That’s the purpose of the current project.


Dave Post   |   30 Aug 2011 @ 13:31

This is an interesting look at a lesser-known PKD novel. I’m looking forward to hearing about more of his early works. Usually when people talk about PKD it’s his later books and those that have made it to the big screen that they talk about.

Emil   |   31 Aug 2011 @ 07:44

Thanks for taking on this ambitious project @Charles. I enjoy reading your reviews, even the "non-review" of 1984 *smiley*. You do need to read a lot of PKD to cultivate some appreciation for his genius. I hope you get to do so. Thanks for sharing the journey.

Charles Dee Mitchell   |   31 Aug 2011 @ 08:23

Thanks, Emil.Many of these reviews were done for Potato Weather under the heading "Not a Stunt." In the original posting I mentioned running out of blog ideas, but not wanting to do some stunt like reading the Oxford English Dictionary. I had come across the Pringle list, and thought it might be a good way to get back into science fiction. As a result, many of the longer reviews tend to be largely non-responsive to the book under review. I just go on about something more personal.

Mattastrophic   |   31 Aug 2011 @ 21:54

A neat project. Thanks for sharing. I was particularly struck by the end of your review when you talk about the Cult of PKD and the necessity to read more of his stuff to make an informed evaluation. I’m kind of in the same place right now. Much of my interaction with him has come from the films derived from his stories, which encouraged me to read those stories, but I feel like a better understanding of how those stories fit into his overall career and influence would help me understand just how and why he continues to be a point of interest for popular and even academic cultures as well as SF and geek culture.

JeffB   |   05 Sep 2011 @ 19:50

2011 the year of Philip K Dick? Yeah absolutely. Especially in this economy which seems to be the Future itself, ready or not. I liked Solar Lottery. For me the wildest element was the android assassan Keith Pellig, and the way several of the characters, including Ted Benteley, get to inhabit him. I look forward to more of your takes on Dick’s books. There are a lot of them!

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