You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Monday, February 28, 2011


Grim TalesGrim Tales by Norman Lock
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Brothers Grimm get a nod in the first of Norman Lock's Grim Tales.

Each morning when he woke, he found that his papers had been worked on during the night. His affairs were being put in order -- no matter how hard he tried to resist it.

It's the Shoemaker and the Elves. But by the end of the paragraph -- Lock's grim tales range from a paragraph to a single sentence in length -- the protagonist commits suicide rather than allow his life to be taken over by his unseen helpers. This sets the tone for the 150 tales that follow.

I have read two other books by Norman Lock, and this is my least favorite. Perhaps I did not know how to read it. It is only sixty-eight pages long, and my first thought was to spend a couple of hours with it one afternoon. That didn't work. I got burnt out by the suicides, murders, and disappearances that average two per page. I read it over three days, but the notion grew that perhaps one should read a tale per night just before bedtime.

What happens in these tales? People disappear up staircases or more often into the earth and those left behind can hear their screams. Murders occur regularly and spouses are especially lethal. A sooty cloud drifts down from the sky and erases the part of town it lights on. In one story a man dreams each night that he must deflect a comet headed for earth. The last sentence of his story encapsulates much of Lock's vision

So that he would no suffer this most mortal dream, he took an overdose of sleeping pills and died without waking,

Everything there is to admire about Lock's prose is here, unfortunately mentioning them makes all those admirable traits sound like cliches -- it's merciless, lapidary, he wields syntax like a scalpel. The ideal way to encounter this book, like the protagonist in the first tale, would be to find a story or two somewhere in your home each morning when you first got out of bed.

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Saturday, February 26, 2011


Log of the S.S. the Mrs. UnguentineLog of the S.S. the Mrs. Unguentine by Stanley Crawford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A drunken Mr. Unguentine falls from the railing of the barge, thus ending a forty year marriage that began with a night of love on a catamaran and was consecrated via Transatlantic cable. He and Mrs. Unguentine, who narrates the story,  have lived on their married life on the barge, sailing the seas to avoid extreme seasons, and after the first few years never touching land.  Mr. Unguentine takes charge of navigation while Mrs. Unguentine tends to their world where the composting garbage provides the basis for a Garden of Eden with fruit trees and Mrs. Uguentine's livestock. Early on they make contact with other ships and even become a sort of seafaring tourist attraction. All that fades and they spend their time speaking little and tending their domed garden. Mrs. Unguentine sums up their existence nicely not quite halfway through the short novel. "All I know," she writes, "it had been a long and exhausting decade."

As the comedy becomes bleaker and veers into nightmare, it is the density of Mrs. Unguentine's voice that keeps you on the barge. The barge provides the Unguentine's with whatever they need, although where supplies come from is not clear. She tells us early on that she would dance strip tease for the custom officials while her husband dealt in contraband elsewhere on the barge. But decades pass, all contact with the outside world vanishes, and yet building supplies and food are never in demand. They live their lives in a complete and miserable world of their own making.

Describing The Log of the SS The Mrs. Unguentine as the story of a bad marriage does it little justice. It is a literary construction as complex and fantastic as the glass dome with sailing mechanisms Mr. Unguentine buids to power the voayge. When that structure crashes down, Crawford propels his characters into an even more fantastic realm than that he has created for their forty year marriage.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: THEY LIVE, by Jonathan Lethem

They Live (Deep Focus)They Live by Jonathan Lethem
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Does the world need a book-length study by Jonathan Lethem of John Carpenter's 1988 alien invasion film They Live?

My answer to that will have to be an unequivocal, Yes.

This book is among the first offerings from Deep Focus, a new series from Soft Skull Press that invites literary types to write in depth on popular cinema. (The other volume currently in print is Christopher Sorrentino on Death Wish.) My only disappointment here is that I now know that I am not the only person in the world, outside of some geeky, hormonal adolescents watching it repeatedly somewhere in the midwest, who loves this film. Turns out Slavoj Zizek and Greil Marcus are also fans. But that veneer of respectability does not intimidate Lethem when it comes to discussing Carpenter's taste-defying ninety minutes of cheesy action, bad dialogue, minimal special effects, and the occasional moment of art-house mise en scene--I figure if Lethem can use diegesis, I can use "mise en scene."

I won't rehearse the plot. I will only say that reading about They Live sent me straight to the video store for the well restored DVD. Book and movie movie are both a pleasure from beginning to end.

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Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The setting is the village of Warickshire around the turn of the century. When the novel opens, there has been a flood. The ground floor of the Willoweed home has filled with water and ducks swim through the windows. For the Willoweed children the house and grounds have become an aquatic playground, although the bloated dead animals strike a melancholy note. Their father finds the flood another ordeal to be endured.  For their grandmother, in whose house they live, the flood is an inconvenience that is delaying lunch.

On one level. Comyn's novel is parody of the English novel of village life, filled with eccentric characters and their rustic doings. Her characters are eccentric, but also, in the case of the matriarch, somewhat psychotic. The villagers have more pathologies than charm. Reader's know something bad is going to happen, and it's not surprising to read about halfway through the book

Within a few weeks funerals were to become a common occurrence in that village; but at this time they were rather scarce and looked forward to eagerly.

When I worked around used books, Barbara Comyns was one of those writers published as a Virago Classic whose novels sat unsold next to other remaindered Virago Classics by Christina Stead, Molly Keane, and Elizabeth Taylor. (How often did we have to say, "No, it's not the Elizabeth Taylor.") I had never looked at one and only remember the name because I remember lots of names. This book has shown up on several reader's lists with enthusiastic reviews, and I decided to take a look. Everything everyone else says is true. It is peculiar, delightful, dark, al those things. It is a perfect, preferably rainy afternoon read.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011


The World Jones MadeThe World Jones Made by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dick published this one in 1956 and didn't give "life as we know it" much time. A devastating world war breaks out in the 1970's, but humankind proves remarkably resilient. By the mid 1990's, when the story begins, we are already zipping around town in airborne taxis and traveling cross country in the matter of an hour or so. You may live in Detroit but you party in San Francisco. "Relativity" is the accepted philosophy of the day, and I found it one of Dick's vaguer concepts. People can not only do most anything they want, but they must let others do so as well, and they cannot, under any circumstances, express a belief in anything. This live and let live code must be enforced by an elaborate security police force, and Cussick, the central character, is on the force.

Jones threatens this world because he is a prophet, able to see into the future for up to one year. This means that the future is known, it is a sure thing, and so the Relativity world will fall apart. The mob longs for Jones's message and forms a devoted following that transforms into a worldwide movement. He can't be stopped because he already knows every move that will be made against him. Cussick's gorgeous Scandinavian wife aligns herself with the Jones movement and becomes a senior officer in the organization. There is a subplot concerning human mutants specially bred to survive on Venus, and an inconvenient but not very dangerous invasion of giant space amoebas that the Jones followers raucously destroy.

All of this does not make into a very coherent novel, and, for as nutty as much of it is, The World Jones Made is little downbeat for Dick. The characters, other than Jones, are exhausted and justifiably pessimistic, caught up in defending an world order they know is doomed and which they no longer really believe in. No wonder they go to night clubs and make concoctions of heroin and marijuana their first drink of the night.

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Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual RenegadeSecret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade by Justin Spring
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 1926, when he was 17 years old, Samuel Steward learned that Rudolph Valentino was checked into a downtown Columbus, Ohio, hotel under his real name, Rudolph Guglielmi. Already an avid autograph hound, Steward went to Valentino's hotel room, knocked on the door, got the autograph, gave the silent film star a blow job, and took home a snippet of his pubic hair. He kept the hair all his life in a monstrance bought at an antique store. That object now resides in a private collection in Rome.

Not many people could have that kind of story nor the DNA evidence to back it up -- nor the carefully maintained "Stud File" that chronicled some sixty years of sexual encounters. Steward was an academic and young man of promise who became close friends of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, wrote one light-weight novel, spent two decades teaching English at de Paul University in Chicago, finally left that position to become a full-time tattoo artists, and in the 1970's wrote gay porno novels under the name Phil Andros.  Throughout his life he pursued sexual encounters with hustlers, sailors, and working class men, sometimes staging group sex parties in his apartment and venturing further and further into the world of bondage and S/M. He was a significant contributor to Alfred Kinsey's Institute for Sex Research, sending them updates on his sex life and once performing in a film depicting an master/slave training session. His published memoir of Stein and Toklas did not sell well, but it was the event that eventually brought all his identities together as he became the subject, late in his life, of interviews and articles in gay publications. He died of heart failure in 1993 and was quickly more or less forgotten.

For this biography Justin Spring worked with Steward's extensive private papers that had  been stored in a Berkeley attic since his death, letters held by the Yale and University of California, Berkeley, libraries, and whatever material the Kinsey Institute was willing to open to researchers. As the author points out in his afterwards, Steward lived through every major change in American gay life except for the internet. His friends came from the arts and from the street, and  his life story, at times unbelievable, was carefully documented by himself and Alfred Kinsey. Secret Historian is consistently entertaining but does not shy away from the sadder and darker aspects of Steward's life. It is a compulsively readable and possibly important American biography.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011


There is nothing so beautiful and legitimate as to play the man well and properly, no knowledge so hard to acquire as the knowledge of how to live this life well and naturally; and the most barbarous of our maladies is to despise our own being.

Michel de Montaigne

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


I was going to say that The Man Who Japed was for Philip K. Dick completists only, but then I read that in the mid 60's he considered it the best thing he had written to date. And this was after Man in the High Castle had won the Hugo Award. 

I don't know why he was so fond of it. The Man Who Japed was originally half of an Ace Double, so it could pass as a novella. It is also just one of about five book-length works Dick wrote or put under copyright in 1956. Familiar PKD elements are all in place: a postwar dystopian future, a lone hero going against the code, incredibly fast pacing, digs at psychiatry, a brief trip to another planet. This is a moral world where the morality is enforced by neighborhood watch societies headed by middle-aged women in floral print dresses. (Such beings seem to be a particular horror to PKD. They show up in Eye in the Sky as well,) The ladies get their information from "the juveniles," two-foot-long mechanical centipedes charged with keeping a watch on things. Alan Purcell is part of this system. He works in a form of advertising that broadcasts campaigns with moral lessons that are good for the populace. During the course of the book he falls very afoul of the system and plots to overthrow it. 

Satire and action here are good, but Dick's most prescient insights here have to do with real estate. In the 22nd century people with tiny apartments close to the center of town live in fear of code violations that will exile them to the what I suppose are tenements or something unpleasant further out.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Now go and brag of thy present happiness, whosoever thou art, brag of thy temperature, of thy good parts, insult, triumph, and boast: thou seest in what a brittle state thy art, how soon thou mayest be dejected, how many several ways, by bad diet, by bad air, a small loss or a little sorrow, or discontent, an ague, etc., how many sudden accidents may procure thy ruin; what a small tenure of happiness thou hast in this life, how weak and silly a creature thou art...Thou dost not flourish and have goods of body, mind, and fortune, thou knowest not what storms and tempests the late evening may bring with it. Be not secure then, "be sober and watch," be not puffed up by thy good fortune, if fortunate and rich; if sick and poor, moderate thyself. I have spoken.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: NOX by Anne Carson

NoxNox by Anne Carson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Poet and classicist Anne Carson has created a beautiful thing here. And this is a remarkable achievement. I am going to sound snobby, but most often when poets produce an art piece, they more often than not get the art part wrong. So often, no matter the quality of the verse, the art that accompanies it looks either dated or intrusive, the work of an artist friend of middling talent who produces work that on its on is unlikely to ever receive serious attention. Even very good artists seem to flounder when brought into this kind of project. I know there are countless exceptions to this, but we've all seen this stuff.

Nox reproduces in accordion folds a commemorative book that Carson made after the death of her brother, Michael. It comes handsomely boxed, and the reproductions of the original pages capture the subtlest line of pasted white on white paper, the wrinkling that has comes from either water or too much Elmer's glue, the stains and marks that come from incised letters on the preceding page. There are both typed and handwritten texts, collage elements, and family photographs that appear to be from the 1950's.

The first page has a typed copy of a Latin poem, titled or possibly labeled  "CI." Other pages contain what promise to be a painstaking, dictionary definition of each word in the poem. These are possibly from an extant Latin dictionary, but the more one reads, the language is at times too rich, the definitions to apposite to Carson's project not to expect she has worked on them herself. Other pages reflect on the beginnings of history with Herodotus, and photographs and stories introduce the theme of Michael's disappearance to avoid prosecution for dealing drugs. That was in 1978. Although he is heard from only a handful of times, the family knows he travels through Europe and India. He dies in Copenhagen in 2000, years after both his parents have died. Carson goes to meet his widow.

The Latin poem is Catullus 101, and elegy on the death of his brother. Carson says that she has had trouble translating the poem, but she does offer a translation a little more than halfway through the book.

I have recently heard the word "closure" a great deal, as though that is always what all of us are seeking. This is not a work of closure, it's a work of context, of enriching that context so that the reader of this intensely private material feels not so much comfortable in it, but at least free to move around.

Towards the end there are two more quotes from Herodotus.

So much for what is said by the Egyptians: Let anyone who finds such things credible make use of them.    (2.123.1)

I have to say what is said. I don't have to believe it myself.  (7.152.3)

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The Wake of ForgivenessThe Wake of Forgiveness by Bruce Machart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

All the elements and then some of the Texas Family Saga novel are here -- except for the oil. But there is the land, cotton, cattle,horse racing, adultery, lots of drinking, taciturn men with passive wives, a couple of rubes for comic relief, and parricide. Maybe two parricides, depending on how you count.

There is enough material here to fill a 600 page novel about Czech immigrants in Central Texas at the turn of the century, but Machart's approach is elliptical, roving across the years 1895, 1910, and 1924, choosing key incidents that will tell his story, even if at times it seems to leave certain of his characters cyphers. Then again, maybe we don't need to know  more than that the Sklava boys strain under the control of their wealthy Mexican father-in-law. Perhaps that's what you get when you win your wives by losing a horse race. And then there are the Knedlik twins, one with a crazy mean streak that today would be called psychotic. I liked the little I learned about Elizka Novotny, who spent three years at the University of Texas, Austin, during World War I, but has returned to run her father's store. She will never be happy in this one-horse town.

Machart passes quickly through a quarter century of events, but  his real strength is when he stops to describe incidents  in what is probably more detail than some readers will want. The novel opens with the bloody birth of Karel, the youngest  of the Slaka brothers who will always be known as the baby that killed their mother. As a grown man, Karel has to tie up a dead cow and her only partially delivered dead calf and haul them from the corral to the pasture. A moment like this is awkward in the novel only because it hints at being a "symbol" of something, but it is brilliant as a description of just one of those things you have to do on a ranch.

This is Machart's first novel and it has been popular with readers and critics. It could be argued that what Texas writing needs right now are more adventuresome writers who will toss out traditional forms and push Texas literature in some new direction. But meanwhile, there is no denying the pleasures of the traditional Texas myths well told.

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  About Bruce Machart


How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an AnswerHow to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bakewell's book follows three threads. She does offer a life of Montaigne, but she focuses on the highlights with only whatever background is needed to sketch in the world he inhabited -- as an aristocrat, a public official, and as a writer reflecting unashamedly on himself.  He invented the term essay as it is used still today. I assume there are six-hundred page biographies out there, none of which I have ever read, but I felt Bakewell gave me just enough to move me quickly and intelligently  through her book.

Then there is Montainge's philosophy, if that is what you can really call it. Today we think of philosophies are complex programs interrogating the essence of being-in- the - world in language that makes liberal use of both  hyphens and slash marks, and place parentheses  around the first part of too many words per (sen)tence. Montaigne, writing in the 16th century, was an Hellenisticc philosopher, influenced by Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Skepticism,  Greek schools of thought that arose around the third century BCE. Their common goal was "happiness" and "human flourishing", achieved by living well in every sense. They advocated "imperturbability" and "freedom from anxiety." Those last qualities could be carried to outrageous ends as when the Stoic Seneca admonished a friend for grieving over a wife and child lost to a fire. A milder, theoretical formulation, was put forth by Epectetus:

Do not seek to have everything that happens happen as you wish, but wish for everything to happen as it actually does happen, and your life will be serene.

From Skepticism Montainge learned to question everything. "But then again..." "But what if..." It was this seemingly admirable trait that clouded his career for centuries.

The third thread of Blakewell's book concerns Montaigne's reputation not only during his lifetime but to the present day. For me he has always been an unassailable classic whose 1200 page complete essays sits gathering dust on the shelf. During his life he was alternately loved and reviled, at times considered too wishy-washy in his politics as the religious wars between Protestants and Catholics raged through the region of which he was mayor. And yet his essays went through man editions and constant revisions during his lifetime.  (That is why so many copies you find today are littered it (A), (B), and (C) emendations to let you know what was added when.)

The Vatican finally got around to noticing that all Montaigne's essays never concerned themselves with an afterlife or other canonical matters, and in 1663 they listed The Essays on the Index of Proscribed Books.(They stayed there until 1854.) This did not prevent a steady flow of the books from England, where his reputation never suffered the upheavels it did in France. Rene Descartes and Blaise Pascal, the leading philosophers of the time whom Backewell describes as two the the great horror writers of the 17th century,  had no fondness for one another but joined in their hatred of the not-too-recently deceased Montaigne. Both their philosophies relied on certainties to which Montaigne's skepticism seem a direct assault. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Romantics tried to take him up, but Montaigne frustrated them with his indifference to the sublime. His journal of a trip through Italy ignored the breathtaking landscapes that called into questions man's place in creation, focussing instead on the local cuisines and his gall stones.

Bakewell's book introduces a man you want to spend more time with. I have only on quibble with her admirably accessible style. She tends to end her chapters with the type of semi-cliffhanger we have learned to expect from commercial breaks on the History Channel.


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Friday, February 4, 2011


...they have their best education, good institution, sole qualification from us, and when they have done well their honor and immortality from us; we are the living tombs, registers, and as so many trumpets of their fame: What was Achilles without Homer?Alexander without Arian and Curtius. Who had known the Caesars but for Suetonius and Dion?

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Eye in the SkyEye in the Sky by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dick wrote this novel in 1957 and set it in 1959. That's not much of a leap as things go in sf novels, but it allows Dick to keep the society he describes, that of Northern California with its combinations of defense contractors and university types,  contemporary. When I read the novel, I thought the slight time alteration also allowed him to create the fanciful Bevatron, some sort of particle accelerator whose malfunction propels the plot. But it turns out UC Berkeley did have a genuine Bevatron on hand, an early precursor of the CERN projects currently attempting to capture anti-matter along the Franco-Swiss border. The one in Belmont featured in the novel is fictional.

I doubt, however, that the real Bevatron could ever have caused the situation that arises in Eye in the Sky. Dick's novel is a kind of Bridge of San Luis Rey in reverse. Instead of learning the past of those characters who die in the collapse of a bridge in Peru, we enter the dreamworld of the victims of the Bevatron's misfire, which has left them unconscious on the floor of the contraption. Initially they are all pleased to find they have come through the event relatively unscathed, but something has changed. They live in a theocratic society and a geocentric universe where the the sun is a low-burning star rotating close to the earth, the moon is a tiny lump of matter, and when two characters ascend into the heavens by holding onto the handle of large black umbrella -- don't ask for details here -- they see the fires of Hell burning below the earth and float over the walls of heaven where the great unblinking eye of God glares up at them.

The main action of the novel involves the characters' efforts to extricate themselves from one world only to find themselves in another: the saccharine, sexually neuter land dominated by the whims of a prissy, middle-aged woman; the monster-filled world imagined by a paranoid old maid; and a fantasy of America as depicted in Communist propaganda.

The Communist angle figures large here. In the opening scene, Hamilton, our main character, loses his job at the missile plant when his wife comes under investigation for her possible left-wing sympathies. Dick and his wife were briefly investigated in Berkeley about the time he wrote this novel, but that could not have been all that uncommon an event in 1950's Berkeley. In fact, Mr. and Mrs. Dick seemed to have got on well with their investigators. One of them taught Philip to drive, and his wife cooked for them. The relationship soured when the Dick's turned down an opportunity to relocate to Mexico as spies.

The book is dated by other attitudes and behaviors. Everyone smokes like chimney, although that is probably true of most 1950's fiction. The central character's liberal attitude toward the "Negro situation" can be awkward, although Laws, the black character, is given one good chance to let loose on Hamilton. The ugliest aspects of the novel are Dick's relish in describing the ugliness of two female characters, one obese and the other the uptight old maid who fills the world with monsters. Hamilton's wife, on the other hand, is perfect in every respect. Silky is the only other female character. She is a bar waitress/prostitute who appears in each of the worlds, and her ever-changing breasts receive DIck's usual level of scrupulous attention.

Going from dreamworld to dreamworld threatens to become boring, but the device Dick employs to cut things short is a cop out. The "normal" characters with a firm grasp on reality will not be creating any dystopias. The one twist at the end is not worthy of the dynamic Dick has put into play. Of course, nothing can live up to that umbrella ride to heaven that takes place so early on in the book.

The denouement is another charming period detail. Hamilton and Laws leave the defense industry to start producing state-of-the-art hi fi equipment. This will usher in a new world of racial harmony and high-end electronics


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Solar LotterySolar Lottery by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have decided that 2011 will be the Year of Philip K. Dick. (Early 2010 was the Year of J G. Ballard) I have laid in a supply of novels, non-fiction writings, a biography, a french intellectual's analysis of the work, and four, over-priced volumes of his letters. I am set to go.

I like to start at the beginning. Volume One of the Collected Short Stories proves a chore to get through, but Vol. 1 of letters contain a the truest voice of Dick anyone is likely to find. Solar Lottery is the first novel, published in 1955, by which time he as already cranking out short stores for a variety of sf pulp magazines. (I suspect I will fall back on the phrase "cranking out" fairly often when writing about Dick;'s output, but I do jot mean it deargatorialy. Dick wrote fast. He also rewrote fast, and as someone who has done only journalism I am appalled at how many times a 5000 word short story, for which he is maybe getting paid a dime a word, goes back and forth between the editor and author. But he was lucking to have Anthony Boucher as an early editor. I don't think Boucher's influence on the shape of the early stories has been fully investigated.

Solar Lottery takes place in what will become the prototypical Dicksian wold -- an illogical totalitiarn state, where the population scrambles to maintain their "ratings" by working in the HIlls, which seem to be form of international conglomerates spaced around the earth, the capital of which is now Batavia, Indonesia. The whole society is controlled by the twitches what is called "The Bottle," a lottery device for which the populace hangs on to their P-cards that promise them a one in six million chance to become quizmaster, an enviable top spot that also involves an army of telepaths to protect the winner from constant, and legally sanctioned assassination attempts. As the song says, "Paranoia runs deep,." Everyone with any sense wears good luck charms.

Our hero, Ted Benteley, has been laid off from his Hill. He is an 8 -8 classified Biochemist and flies to Batavia in an attempt to get a job with the current quizmaster, Reese Verrick. What he doesn't know is that he is joining the team of a man who has just been replaced, after ten years, by a twitch of the bottle that has transferred the role to Leon Cartwritght, an unclassified leader of a the Prestonites, a scraggly religious cult based on the teachings of one John Preston, who disappeared over a century before into the world beyond the nine planet system in search of the flaming disk.

But wait, I am falling into the thankless task of attempting to summarize a Philip K. Dick novel. The pleasures of the novel, which he wrote when he was twenty-five years old, lies in Dick's ability to immerse you in this future world, where, as a reader, it is best to not ask any questions and just enjoy the ride. Events race along, but overall they make sense and follow the logic of 23rd century Earth. Dick seldom defines much of his invented nomenclature, but most is easy to follow. "Teeps" are the telepathic corpsmen protecting the quizmaster, When Varrick looses that role, he's been  "quacked." "Unks" are the unclassified masses. The bubble-like resort on the moon is protected from the atmosphere-free exterior by "exit sphincters." And as in all the Dick novels I ever read, he proves to be quite the tit man. Standard female 23rd century dress tends to leave the breasts exposed, and Dick seldom fails to comment on those of each major female character.

The most obvious "first-novel" elements in The Solar Lottery come towards the end, when Benteley does some of the type of soul seaching that was in the Berkeley air at the time Dick wrote it. For example:

"I played the game for years," Cartwright said. "Most people go on playing the game all their lives. Then I began to realize the rules were set up so I couldn't win. Who wants to play that kind of game? We're betting against the house, and the house always wins."

"That's true," Bentely agreed. After a time he said, "There's no point in playing a rigged game. But what's your answer?"

"You do what I did. You draw up new rules and play by them. Rules in which all the players have the same odds."

Good luck with that.

Dick will write better novels in the decades that follow, as he becomes more cynical but unfortunately also more delusional and paranoid. There is quite a cult surrounding Dick, which I am by no means a part of. I have not read enough of the work to know how I feel about it. That's the purpose of the current project.

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