Solar Lottery (1955/2003) Philip K Dick, Gollancz, £6.99, pbk, 188pp, ISBN 0-575-07455-8
This 2003 reprint of Dick's first published novel (1955) in which the Quizmaster, effectively the ruler of the world, is chosen by the random twitchings of a magnetic bottle. Earth is more or less run by five large industrial corporations. When the leader of an obscure cult is chosen the Big Five, not to mention the outgoing Quizmaster, are disturbed to say the least. But the position carries with it the risk of assassination, itself a televised event watched by billions. The Quizmaster is protected by an elite corps of psychics, but they also have their own loyalties. The cult is trying to leave Earth for a planet supposed to be beyond the edge of the solar system. The figure the cult follows some say is already there, though his corpse is supposed to be a part of his own memorial. Will the new Quizmaster survive long enough to ensure the cult's success, or will the excumbent and the Big Five find the perfect assassin to circumvent the protection of the psychics?
From the first Dick wrote affecting stories of real people, his SF being governed less by technological change and more by the effects of an alienating (and sometimes false) world on 'small' protagonists. Solar Lottery is less overt than Dick's later work when it comes to exploring the concepts of multiple realities, but the tone and feel of these works is evident even in this first novel. Gollancz has also recently reprinted Dick's 1959 novel Time Out of Joint as volume 55 of their SF Masterworks series (pbk, 220pp, ISBN 0-575-07458-2), by which time his obsession(s) with 'reality' are already fully developed. In this Ragle Gumm, a celebrity for continuously winning a newspaper's competition, begins to suspect that his 'universe' is not all it seems. In fact his precognitive talents are being exploited by a war torn society who have created his reality for him. This novel is just four years after Solar Lottery, it is Dick's seventh novel, and the rapidity of his development is astonishing and one small indicator of why Dick is held in such respect and awe. Both highly recommended.
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