Saturday, March 31, 2018

Book Review: Solar Lottery by Philip K. Dick

Solar Lottery by Philip K. Dick

paperback, 200 pages

Published June 10th 2003 by Vintage

I have long resisted the idea of doing a podcast because there are a zaillion of them. I didn't want to do it unless there was an idea for one that was needed. Not just a show where we rambled. There had to be something missing, a topic that needed to be done. So when my writing partner Anthony mentioned that there is no podcast devoted to the works of Philip K. Dick. Dickheads was born.

Here is the idea we are going to read all of Philip K. Dick's novel length works in order of publication, once a month, so you can read along if you like. We will post a episode breaking down the novel, talk about science fiction and writing craft. Various other dick related stuff. So first up is the Solar Lottery. I will still post the reviews here on the blog, but wait until the pod is up, and will include a link to the episode. If you have not read the book, but want to learn about the pod can serve as PKD cliff notes.

So my review is written but I will add it back to this post with the episode of Dickheads when it is released. In the mean time listen to this preview or read along with us!

And now the full episode and review:

The Solar Lottery is the first released novel by PKD and as such it is a genius first novel that shows glimpses of what makes him one of the greatest science fiction writers ever. That said, this is his first novel and most of the amazing elements that make Dick special are not fully formed at this point. As a work of political sci-fi it is amazingly forward thinking, I can't imagine that many of of the readers in 1955 who bought the Ace double for the latest Leigh Brackett novel fully got the levels of message that PKD was laying down.

The novel takes place in the year 2203, and human society has slowly started to spread to the stars. To avoid the chaos that can come by letting voters decide who becomes president the ruler of humanity is chosen by a computer over seen by someone called the quizmaster. The idea is everyone submits a profile and the computer chooses the person most likely to do a good job. The story follows Ted Bentley who is just starting to work for the Quizmaster. Once he starts the job the computer suddenly decides to start a new quiz and everyonbe is shocked when a man named Leon Cartwright is chosen to take over.

This is where the Dick streak for the the paranoia shows up. Part of the job is that a reality show style game is started. An assassin is sent to kill Cartwright as a part of televised event. Normally it is set up to make the new leader look like a hero, he has a force of psychic police that protect him. Normally that would work except this assassin is a robot shell used as an avatar by a team of 24 rotating minds that control it remotely. By far the coolest concept of the book.

As a Dickhead it makes you wonder if that pink lazer beam that Dick claimed showed him the secrets of the universe didn't show him the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Certainly this book is a statement on leadership, but it goes deeper. Written in 1954/55 this was a time of nuclear attack drills. There is a throw-away reference the book to Minimax strategy. That is the worse case strategy that leaders in the nuclear arms race were dealing with. Certainly it was easy to think that no one who got the vote deserved to control buttons that could end civilization. That is the window that Solar Lottery is peaking out of.

Compared to later Dick books the concepts are simple and not nearly as mind bending, but compared to the space opera of the day and even the traditional works of the greats publishing at the time this book was staggeringly original.

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