A Game of Unchance

The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Amazing Stories July 1964

In A Game of Unchance Dick imagines colonists on Mars as small-town rubes being played for fools by a ring of traveling alien carnivals.

After being swindled by one of these carnivals and losing most of their crops, members of a Martian settlement vow to get back at the next carnival that drops in. When another traveling sideshow visits they put their plan into action. A boy with psychokinetic powers cheats to help them snag a big prize, but the tiny figurines they win turn out to be an army of robots that soon take over their land like a plague.

The UN assumes the robots were meant for something else and that the Martian colonists thwarted some grand nefarious carny plan by winning that game. But then the next traveling carnival arrives with more rigged games, including one with a prize of homeostatic traps that would capture the robots previously let loose, and Fred and the others just can’t seem to grasp the cycle of loss they are caught up in.

Cast of characters

  • Bob Turk – member of the Martian settlement
  • Hoagland Rae – the Martian settlement’s leader
  • Fred Costner – a young boy from the Martian settlement with psychokinetic abilities
  • Tony Costner – Fred’s dad
  • General Mozart, General Wolff  – UN officers