Novels

Solar Lottery

Solar Lottery
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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 In the early ‘50s he had some success with short stories and had previously written a couple of unpublished mainstream books (Gather Yourselves Together and Voices from the Street), but this was his first full-length novel to be published when it came out as one half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

Counter-Clock World

Counter-Clock World
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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
  • F.N.M. – the Free Negro Municipality

Radio Free Albemuth

Radio Free Ablemuth
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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.

A Maze of Death

A Maze of Death
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In A Maze of Death a group of strangers all receive job transfers to a remote planet and await instructions as to the purpose of their colony. We have a mystery on our hands when those instructions don’t arrive, and the members of the group are murdered one by one.

The LSD-inspired plot that follows has a great ending when we find out the colonists have been in a simulated reality all along. They are actually crew members of a ship stranded with no hope of rescue, and so they enter these computer-created artificial worlds again and again, with an amnesia of their actual plight, in order to pass the time before their inevitable death in space.

The religion they all follow in their invented world was generated by the ship’s computer. It resembles Christianity, although with a logic based on the existence of a physical God.

Cast of characters

  • Ben Tallchief – Delmak-O’s naturalist
  • Seth Morley – Delmak-O’s marine biologist
  • Mary Morley – Seth’s wife
  • Betty Jo Berm – Delmak-O’s linguist
  • Bert Kosler – Delmak-O’s custodian
  • Maggie Walsh – Delmak-O’s theologian
  • Ignatz Thugg – Delmak-O’s thermoplastics expert
  • Milton Babble – Delmak-O’s doctor
  • Tony Dunkelwelt – Delmak-O’s photographer and soil-sample expert
  • Glen Belsnor – Delmak-O’s electronics specialist and the group’s leader
  • Roberta Rockingham – Delmak-O’s sociologist
  • Susie Smart – Delmak-O’s clerk
  • Wade Frazer – Delmak-O’s psychologist
  • Ned Russell – Delmak-O’s economist

Other things to know

  • How I Rose From the Dead in My Spare Time and So Can You – their religion’s holy book written by Communist theologian A. J. Specktowsky
  • The Intercessor – a Christ-like manifestation of the deity
  • The Mentufacturer – the God-like manifestation of the deity
  • Walker-on-Earth – the ‘Holy ghost’ manifestation that completes the deity’s trinity
  • Form Destroyer – the yin to the deity’s yang

The Divine Invasion

The Divine Invasion
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The Divine Invasion has a funny set up. We find out Herb Asher was killed in an accident but is in cryonic suspension awaiting an organ transplant that will revive him. The Cry-Labs warehouse is close to an FM radio tower, and so as Asher dreams and relives the events leading up to the accident he also hears a faint muzak version of Fiddler on the Roof that no one else can hear. This gag comes up again late in the book during a farcical encounter with a cop when Asher isn’t sure what reality he is in.

Other than these brief moments The Divine Invasion is a mostly humorless story about a woman on a faraway colony planet who is impregnated by Yahweh who was driven there from Earth in 73 A.D. She travels back to Earth along with the Joseph stand-in Herb Asher and a reincarnated Elijah so that her soon-to-be-born son Emmanuel can overthrow Earth’s ruling powers and save mankind… or something along those lines.

It gets better in the second half when Zina transports them all to an alternate reality and there is some mystery about who/what Zina really is (Wisdom? A fairy queen? VALIS? Satan? Christ himself… which would make Emmanuel what?), but it still remains my least favorite book of the VALIS Trilogy.

Cast of characters

  • Emmanuel – the reborn savior
  • Elias Tate – Elijah reincarnated. Emmanuel’s guardian after Herb and Rybys die
  • Herb Asher – Emmanuel’s ‘father’
  • Rybys Rommey – Emmanuel’s mother
  • Zina – the young girl who is Emmanuel’s friend
  • Cardinal Fulton Statler Harms – Chief Prelate of the Christian-Islamic Church. Trying to use Big Noodle to verify St. Anselm’s Ontological Proof for the existence of God
  • Nicholas Bulkowsky – Procurator Maximus of the Scientific Legate
  • Linda Fox – intergalactic pop superstar, at least in the book’s beginning reality

Other things to know

  • Christian-Islamic Church – formerly the Catholic Church
  • Scientific Legate – formerly the Communist Party. One of the two ruling parties of Earth along with the C.I.C.
  • Big Noodle – Earth’s great Artificial Intelligence

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said
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Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said breaks from the formula Dick had used in a lot of his earlier books. Instead of a down-on-his-luck everyman, Jason Taverner (blessed with strength, smarts and good looks due to a secret genetic experiment) is the host of a popular television show. After his mistress attempts to kill him, he wakes up in a world where he is no longer famous and evidently doesn’t even exist.

The mystery of how Jason ended up in a parallel universe with no identity doesn’t have a particularly satisfying conclusion, but Dick seems more concerned in this one with exploring ideas of love and grief. Ruth Rae has a long discussion with Jason about the importance of love for pets in spite of their short lives, and in a memorable sequence, the police general Felix Buckman has a nervous breakdown near the end of the book as he processes the death of Alys, who was not only his sister but also his incestuous lover.

Cast of characters

  • Jason Taverner – host of the Jason Taverner Show
  • Heather Hart – Jason’s girlfriend
  • Marilyn Mason – Jason’s mistress who tries to kill him
  • Kathy Nelson – the young girl who forges Jason’s documents
  • Inspector McNulty – Kathy’s police contact
  • Felix Buckman – Los Angeles police general
  • Alys Buckman – Buckman’s twin sister
  • Herb Maime – Buckman’s chief of staff
  • Ruth Rae – Jason’s former mistress who he meets in Las Vegas
  • Mary Anne Dominic – a potter. She helps Jason escape from the Buckman house