Solar Lottery — Philip K. Dick (1955)

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Publisher: Ace Books

Second Ace Edition, 1959

Cover Art: Ed Valigursky

Plot Synopsis (of cover): The first manned mission to the exoplanet Kepler 452B went very well—so well that the governments of Earth decided to commission a second, this time with the intent and capability of creating a long-term outpost on the planet’s surface. While not as green with vegetation as humanity generally found comfortable, 452B did have liquid water and, it was hoped, the capacity to support the newly-minted terraforming technology the 1000-man crew had schlepped 1,400 light-years from home. The crew themselves was comprised of a wide spectrum of scientific and service personnel, each one necessary to establish and maintain comfortable living conditions in an alien environment. For example, Dr. Pete Aronnax was a marine scientist tasked with exploring the strange, deep, crater-like pools of water that riddled the northern continent. Two days after the colony ship landed, Pete was introduced to his lab assistant, Shemp. It didn’t take long before the two of them were working diligently to unload their gear from the cargo hold. Holding an armful of glass beakers, Pete said to Shemp, “Okay, amigo. We’re just about set. Just grab the oxygen tanks from the Quartermaster.” Shemp agrees to do so, and heads back to the ship. “Hi, boss,” Shemp says to the QM, “I’m supposed to get Doc’s oxygen tanks from you.” The elderly man squints at his manifest and says, “Sure, Sonny. Hold on just a minute while I look up the crate. Gotcha! They’re in crate 32-C. Better use that anti-grav or you’ll hurt yourself!” “Gee, thanks, Mister!” Shemp said, as he ran to grab the crate. He had just ran out the door with it when the QM took a closer look at his manifest. “Oh, pooh!” he exclaimed, “That’s a G, not a C! Oh, well, I’m sure they’ll figure it out and send the nitrous oxide to Dental where it belongs.” An hour and an equipment text later, Shemp found himself dodging for his life as Dr. Arronax, replete in full muscle-enhancing scuba gear and an American football helmet, chucked huge rocks at his head. Shemp couldn’t hear what the doctor was screaming under his diving helmet—however, since he was broadcasting over the short-wave radio, the rest of the crew could. They were all awfully confused at the unintelligible rambling, interspersed with “Hut! Hut! Hut!”, giddy laughter, and the repeated declaration, “I’m the quarterback of Fish Town!”

Relatively Irrelevant Inside Text: We come to the end of the Dickathalon with Solar Lottery, PKD’s first published novel. It serves to illustrate very effectively how far the author develops in his decades of writing, but it also shows his dedication to some favorite themes—bizarre, corrupt political systems, the wonders and terrors of high technology, the nature of human consciousness, gnostic religious fuckery, sexy piss-ups… all good stuff. This one features a schizophrenic robot assassin who’s controlled by techno-psychic committee. Again, fun stuff. That’s the best way I can characterize this book. If you like the psychedelic stylings of the Phil K., you’re going to have fun here. If you’re unfamiliar with the author’s work, or perhaps are accustomed to more straightforward fare, this may not fall into that “fun” category for you. Also, that makes you a total lamewad loser with no friends and stinky breath. You aren’t invited to my birthday.

Rating: 9.8 Post-Mortem Mannequins

Questions for Critical Cover-Viewing:

  • Is the battery pack on my action figure rechargeable, or do I have to order new ones from Kitchy Spaceman Monthly?
  • Did somebody not get the memo about the inherent danger of wearing red shirts in pre-1987 outer-space?
  • Since “FIRST PRIZE [IS] THE EARTH ITSELF!”, is it possible that the astronaut here is simply adopting an aggressive method to deliver to the winner his first installment?

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