Philip K Dick – Solar Lottery

For me this book was 188 pages of pure sci-fi joy. Solar Lottery is Dick’s debut novel first published in 1955 and containing everything you would expect from the prolific author. He hits the ground running and there is no need to make excuses because it is his first novel – his strong ideas crawl growling from the loins of their birthing android mother as fully formed adults ready to compete with their rivals in the gladiatorial genre of science fiction like the founders of a new Rome (in which his Forum would eventually contain forty or so novels.)

The premise of the book is that the ruler of the world in 2203, known as the Quizmaster, is decided by random selection and as soon as this figurehead has been appointed they are the subject of one attempted assassination after another. This is a televised game in which everyone supposedly has a chance to become ruler or become assassin by virtue of being entered into the lottery. However the recently deposed Quizmaster and industrial leader Verrick wants his job back and goes to elaborate means to ensure an assassination is successful. The newly appointed ruler Cartwright has seen off fellow members of a cult aboard a spaceship destined to the mysterious tenth planet known as the Flaming Disc originally discovered by a mysterious quasi-religious figure called Preston.

The amount of unusual ideas crammed into this small book is breath-taking. The nature of the assassin in the story could on its own provide the centre piece for a blockbuster Hollywood movie and then Dick throws in the voyage into the outer limits of the solar system as a sub-plot, along with all the familiar paraphernalia we take for granted after its realisation on screen in such films as Bladerunner and Total Recall – flying cars, robot piloted taxis, advanced weaponry, telepaths, androids indistinguishable from humans and so on.

Also within the pages Dick shows a philosophical leaning which would come out more in later novels in scenes where his characters discuss political models, religion, death, morality and what it means to be human.

The only thing that I can find to criticise in this book is Dick’s bad attitude towards women, which even in this novel like so many of his works seems to infect the pages – the female characters are portrayed in turns as sex objects, superficial, conniving or weak. While not as misogynistic as Ian Fleming’s, this attitude does grate with the modern reader and it seems a blind spot of Dick’s future-predicting vision that he could not foresee a time when women were treated equally in society.

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