Solar Lottery is Dick’s first science fiction novel. In the early ‘50s he had some success with short stories and had previously written a couple of unpublished mainstream books (Gather Yourselves Together and Voices from the Street), but this was his first full-length novel to be published when it came out as one half of an ACE Double in 1955.
In 2203 a Quizmaster, chosen randomly from over six billion people, rules the solar system. This Quizmaster has to fend off assassins, and even with the protection of a telepathic corps, it’s rare for a Quizmaster to stay in power very long. Reese Verrick though manages to hold onto the position for ten years until lowly electronics repairman Leon Cartwright figures out how to game the system.
The main story is entertaining in the pulpy style of the 50s even if it does get bogged down in a lot of jargon (bottle twitching, Minimax M-game theory) that isn’t very well explained. It has one too many things going on with a side story about a mythical tenth planet, supposedly discovered by some crackpot, whose followers travel to the far reaches of the solar system to try to find it.
Dick said that he borrowed from the other sci-fi greats of the era when writing this one, like A.E. Van Vogt (I assume that’s where the wooden characterization comes from) and Alfred Bester whose The Demolished Man directly inspires the telepathic corps that protects the Quizmaster. The speechifying Ted Benteley has a lot in common with the angry and idealistic Stuart Hadley from Voices From the Street which Dick wrote just before writing Solar Lottery.
Cast of characters
Ted Benteley – pledges allegiance to Verrick without knowing Cartwright is the new Quizmaster
Reese Verrick – the former Quizmaster
Eleanor Stevens – Verrick’s secretary. A former telepath who gives up her ability to stay on with Verrick
Peter Wakeman – one of the Quizmaster’s teeps
Leon Cartwright – the new Quizmaster
John Preston – deceased figurehead of the Prestonites. Preached of a undiscovered tenth planet called the Flame Disc
Rita O’neill – a Prestonite. Cartwright’s niece
Major Shaeffer – part of the Quizmaster’s teep Corps
Herbert Moore – a biochemist working for Verrick
Al and Laura Davis – Ted Benteley’s longtime friends
Keith Pellig – the assassin chosen by the Convention
Bill Konklin & Mary Uzich – Prestonites on board the ship to the Flame Disc
Captain Groves – the pilot of the ship on the way to the Flame Disc
Judge Waring – the judge who decides whether Benteley broke his oath to Verrick
The logic of this ‘counter-clock world’ is so goofy I’m tempted to say this is Dick’s worst book (but on the other hand see Dr. Futurity).
Due to a reversal of time called the Hobart Phase, things move backwards. The dead come back to life. The living Benjamin Button their way to infancy and then eventually migrate into a nearby womb, although not necessarily that of their mother. People do some things in reverse, like regurgitate their food instead of eating it and puff smoke back into cigarette butts. They don’t walk backwards though, or talk backwards other than saying ‘bye’ as a greeting and ‘hello’ when they leave. They also say ‘food’ when they curse instead of saying ‘shit.’ It really is as idiotic as it sounds.
When the dead come back to life they call out feebly from their graves under the ground, and if someone happens to be around to hear them then a vitarium is contacted to dig the person up before they run out of air (and die again? and come back to life again?). Seems like there would be a better way to handle this bringing back of the dead.
A religious cult called the Udi, currently led by Raymond Roberts, has to contend with their old leader, the Anarch Thomas Peak, coming back to life. The timing is right for him to rise from the grave, but they don’t know where he was buried. That particular piece of information has been eradicated by the Erads at the library. They are the real villains, since their job is to destroy all books… you know, since things are going in reverse.
Sebastian Hermes, owner of a local vitarium, stumbles on the Anarch’s grave while freeing another deader. Sebastian takes it upon himself to keep the Anarch safe from the Udi, who most certainly want him dead again (although it turns out they don’t). But the Library does want him dead again, since they just got done eradicating all of the Anarch’s writing, and if he’s alive he might start teaching everything they just destroyed, especially now that he’s seen the afterlife.
I disliked this one when I first read it. I also hated rereading it, but now there are some notes…
Cast of characters
Sebastian Hermes – owner of the Flask of Hermes Vitarium
Lotta Hermes – Sebastian’s young wife
Father Faine – Sebastian’s employee
Dr. Sign – the doctor employed by Sebastian
Bob Lindy – Sebastian’s engineer
R.C. Buckley – Sebastian’s salesman
Cheryl Vale – Sebastian’s secretary
Joseph Tinbane – a police officer who gets involved with Lotta
Anarch Peak – the leader of the Udi cult before his death
Raymond Roberts – current leader of the Udi cult
Douglas Appleford – a library employee
Mavis McGuire – chief librarian at the People’s Topical Library
Carl Gantrix – Raymond Robert’s attorney
Ann Fisher – McGuire’s daughter sent to seduce Sebastian
Tony Giacometti – represents a third party from Rome also interested in the Anarch
Other things to know
The Hobart Phase – a time reversal that started in 1986 named after Alex Hobart who predicted it
The Erads – they work in the library eradicating all existing books. The main antagonist when we find out the Udi don’t intend to harm the Anarch
I prefer Radio Free Albemuth over VALIS, which I’m only making that comparison because they cover a similar story… I prefer a lot of Dick’s books over VALIS.
He wrote this one first in 1976, and when his publisher wanted to make some changes Dick instead rewrote it as an entirely new book which was published as VALIS in 1981. Radio Free Albemuth itself wasn’t published until 1985 several years after he died. The story from Radio Free Albemuth shows up in VALIS briefly, altered and in a much more tripped-out fashion, as a movie that Dick and his friends go see.
The book starts out narrated by Dick himself before switching to the point of view of his friend Nicholas Brady and then switching back to Dick’s POV at the end. It implies Dick and Nicholas are one and the same, just like Dick and Horselover Fat in VALIS, although that’s never revealed to be the case here. Rather Brady serves as a what if? version of Dick if he had left Berkeley sooner and had a different career. Some autobiographical details, like the burglary of Dick’s house (which he was convinced was orchestrated by the police or FBI) make their way into the story, but Brady inherits many of the other events from Dick’s life, such as being alerted to his son’s undiagnosed hernia by VALIS’s pink light.
The overall plot involves the effort of Brady, guided by VALIS, to stand up to the tyrannical rule of the U.S. president Ferris F. Fremont. Brady plans to sneak subliminal messages about Fremont’s ties to the Communist party into an album released by his record company, although I’m not sure how that would topple a totalitarian government that kills and imprisons with impunity. The middle section of the book told from Brady’s POV is the least interesting as it deals with the long-winded theology about VALIS which is a satellite that is also God… I think. One day I will read Dick’s 1000-page Exegesis and his VALIS theories may all make sense.
In the end Brady and Sadassa Silvia (who had also been contacted by VALIS) are both killed by Ferris F. Fremont’s stooges. After the U.S. destroys the VALIS satellite the opposition doesn’t stand much of a chance. The government lets Dick live imprisoned in a labor camp, and in a clever turn of events, at least from a meta point of view, they release agitprop books they’ve written under his name.
The low-budget 2010 movie, with some really low-budget special effects, most likely would only appeal to fans of the book. It’s very faithful, including all the elements that were probably silly even by the standards of the 1970s, although I do like Shea Whigham’s low-key portrayal of PKD.
Cast of characters
Nicholas Brady – an aimless resident of Berkeley turned record executive in Southern California
Rachel – Nicholas’s wife
Phil Dick – the part-time narrator as himself
Ferris F. Fremont – the president. A Nixon stand-in, although in this case Fremont is a sleeper for the Communist party
Vivian Kaplan – a young FAPer (Friends of the American People) Dick gets involved with
Sadassa Silvia – a young woman also contacted by VALIS who works with Nicholas to put subliminal messages in the albums put out by Progressive Records. Played by Alanis Morissette in the movie.