Cover of first edition (paperback)
|Author||Philip K. Dick|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
Solar Lottery is a 1955 science fiction novel by American writer Philip K. Dick. It was his first published novel and contains many of the themes present in his later work. It was also published in altered form in the UK as World of Chance. The main story is about a man named Ted Benteley who lives in a strange world. The world is dominated by percentages and lottery. These lotteries choose the next leader and a new assassin whose job is to try to kill the leader or "quizmaster". This makes it the case that everybody in society has the opportunity to be selected as a leader or assassin. Benteley unexpectedly gets chosen to be a part of the committee trying to assassinate the new Quizmaster and he must decide what he is going to do.
Solar Lottery takes place in a world dominated by logic and numbers. Loosely based on a numerical military strategy employed by U.S. and Soviet intelligence called minimax (part of game theory), the Quizmaster, head of world government, is chosen through a sophisticated, computerized lottery. This element of randomization in the society serves as a form of social control since nobody, in theory at least, has any more of an advantage over anybody else in becoming the next Quizmaster.
Society is further entertained by a televised selection process in which an assassin is also allegedly chosen at random. By countering and putting down these threats to his life (using telepathic bodyguards as defense), the leader gains the respect of the people. If he loses his life, a new Quizmaster, as well as another assassin, are again randomly selected. Quizmasters have historically held office for timespans ranging from a few minutes to several years. The average life expectancy is therefore on the order of a couple of weeks.
The plot follows the story of Ted Benteley, an idealistic young worker unhappy with his position in life. Benteley attempts to get a job in the prestigious office of Quizmaster Reese Verrick. Reese has just been forced out of office, however, and Benteley gets tricked into swearing an unbreakable oath of personal fealty to the once and former world leader. Verrick then makes it clear that his organization's mission is to assassinate the new Quizmaster, Leon Cartwright, in the world's most anticipated "competition".
In order to defeat the telepathic security web protecting Cartwright, Verrick and his team invent an android named Keith Pellig into which different volunteers' minds are alternately embedded for the purpose of breaking any kind of steady telepathic lock on the assassin. Cartwright ultimately kills Verrick, and Benteley, much to his own astonishment, becomes the next Quizmaster.
A second plotline concerns a team of Leon Cartwright's followers travelling to the far reaches of the solar system in search of a mysterious cult figure named John Preston, who, 150 years after his disappearance, is thought to somehow still be alive on the legendary tenth planet known as the "Flame Disc".
Dick originally completed the manuscript of Solar Lottery in March 1954; in December he completed a second draft at the request of Ace Books Editor Donald Wollheim, cutting six passages totalling as much as ten thousand words and adding perhaps seven thousand. In the meantime, however, the book was sold to a publisher in the UK, where it appeared as World of Chance; this version of the novel includes the cut passages. However, the entire text of this version was severely copy-edited, with wholesale eliminations of adjectives.
When Solar Lottery was first published as a novel by Ace Books as one half of Ace Double D-103 in May 1955, it was bound dos-à-dos with The Big Jump by Leigh Brackett. The Ace Double edition ran 131 pages. Ace published a standard-format edition of the novel in 1959, running 188 pages; its 1968 reissue, also running 188 pages, was labelled "Complete & Unabridged."
Reviewing the Ace Double release, Anthony Boucher praised the novel as "built up with the detail of a Heinlein and the satire of a Kornbluth. Declaring that Dick had created "a strange and highly convincing and self-consistent future society," he faulted Solar Lottery only for "a tendency, in both its nicely contrasted plots, to dwindle away at the end."
- Disch, Thomas, "Towards the Transcendent: An Introduction to Solar Lottery and other works", Philip K. Dick, eds. Olander and Greenberg, New York: Taplinger, 1983, pp. 13–24.
- Gallo, Domenico. “La lotteria del sistema solare”, in Trasmigrazioni: I mondi di Philip K. Dick, a c. di V.M. De Angelis e U. Rossi. Firenze, Le Monnier, 2006, pp. 115–22.
- "What the Quizmaster Took: Solar Lottery and World of Chance: A Comparison", by Gregg Rickman, in The Philip K. Dick Society Newsletter, issues 19-22
- "Recommended Reading," F&SF, August 1955, p.94.
- "Books," Cosmos, September 1977, p.39.