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The Solar Lottery by Philip K Dick (1954)


"The Solar Lottery" (1954) is Philip K. Dick's first novel, and although it has his voice, it's less like his later work, tending more toward mainstream science fiction of the fifties.  In a distant future, society is structured so that people become serfs to corporations or government offices.  An elaborate mechanism, based on the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, randomly assigns the leader of the government, the Quizmaster, by selecting a citizen’s card.  If your number is chosen, then whoever owns your power card becomes president. If you happen to own your own card, then you become Quizmaster.  After the selection the former president has a chance to assassinate the new Quizmaster, and if it's successful then old president stays in power.  During this time, the new Quizmaster must learn to use the resources of the government and their corps of telepathic secret service agents, or else die.


The novel is set just as a "twitch of the bottle" chooses a new Quizmaster-- Leon Cartwright -- who belongs to a fringe organization that believes in a tenth planet - the Flame Disk.  The sitting Quizmaster, Reese Verrick initiates an assassination, only this time he has constructed the perfect assassin: an android, remotely driven by multiple people working for Reese.  

Much is made in the foreword and the blurbs on the cover about Dick’s interest in game theory, but not much information regarding game theory comes through in the book.  In the context of Dick’s other books, this is an outlier. Some elements, such as the colony on the moon, and the promised colony on the Flame Disk, foreshadow Dick’s later obsession with satellites and colonies.  Also, he obviously uses androids again in works like “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” (aka "Blade Runner").  But, for the most part, the focus is on action, and I could see this book adapted to a modern sci-fi thriller starring Matt Damon without a lot of editing.

The back of the Ace 1967 edition has an excerpt from a review from the New York Herald Tribune. I like the reference to "vintage Van Vogt", which is especially dated nowadays.

"Solar Lottery,” a first novel by one of the most striking young magazine writers, creates a strange and fascinating civilization for the year 2203, a culture based upon Heisenberg’s ideas of randomness and Von Neumann’s Games Theory, with such logical developments as public office by lottery and formal overt assassination.
Against this background two plots develop, one of intricately deadly and suspenseful palace politics, one of an ambitious effort to rediscover our sun’s once-glimpsed tenth planet...The body of the book is as elaborately exciting as vintage Van Vogt -- with an added touch of C. M. Kornbluth’s social satire.
 
 

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