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Book Review: Solar Lottery by Philip K. Dick

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If you thought Celebrity Love Island was the ultimate low in reality television, give Philip K. Dick’s Solar Lottery a whirl. It makes CLI et al look as harmless and innocent as the children’s reality programme Evacuation.

In the year 2203 everyone in the solar system is allocated a card, giving them a one in six billion chance to become Quizmaster, to rule the universe. However, the Quizmaster is constantly faced with challenges, at times deadly, and if he fails, the bottle of destiny shakes again and a new ruler is named. The whole process is watched by the realm on television.

Ted Benteley, unhappy with his job, swears allegiance to the Quizmaster in the hope that the position given to him there would be more agreeable and morally sound than his former career. Unfortunately, the Quizmaster is about to change, and Benteley finds himself sucked into a job that is even more corrupt than the one he left. Indeed, his very life is in danger.

The outgoing Quizmaster of ten years, Reese Verrick, is determined to kill his successor, Leon Cartwright; and offers a substantial reward to whoever does so. Ironically, in a book published in the same year that ITV came into being, there was contest rigging to find the perfect assassin. The victor is a synthetic shell which can be controlled from Verrick’s headquarters by his staff, the randomness of their switch overs making it difficult for Cartwright’s loyalists to track him.

This story of deceit and treachery is set against a background of hi-tech gadgetry, space exploration, and a health spa on the Moon. While the discovery of a tenth planet in the solar system does not seem as incredible to us now as it did in the 1950s, Dick still made it feel like a magical, mystical myth; and makes you feel as though Sedna is still light-years away from discovery.

Yet while all this is impressive, it is almost amusing to note that even Philip K. Dick was unable to foresee the evolution of CDs and a prohibition on smoking within enclosed spaces.

Solar Lottery feels like a combination of Orwell’s Big Brother and an even more extreme version of Channel 4’s Big Brother – if that is possible.

The only question remaining is: when will C4 get the contract to turn this as a reality show?

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