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SOLAR LOTTERY: Four Essays
by Lord RC


Ours Not To Reason Why

Why did Philip K. Dick write SOLAR LOTTERY? Many influences can be abstracted from the ambience of PKD in the early 1950s. We can mention the work of his contemporaries in the science fiction field; in particular A.E.Van Vogt (The World Of Null-A), Alfred Bester (The Demolished Man), and Kurt Vonnegut (Player Piano), as well as the intellectual effect of living in Berkeley on our young author's mind. But the two factors which bear most directly on Dick's deciding to write an sf novel are his own dissatisfaction with the quality of his short stories and a dawning awareness of the economics of the sf field: short stories, no matter how many he cranked out, just didn't pay enough. Couple this all togther with his sense if finding "something mysterious" in science fiction and we have pretty much the whoe story. PKD tells it in his 1968 Self Portrait:

"In 1953 I sold stories to fifteen different magazines; in one month, June, I had stories in seven magazines on the stands at once. I turned out story after story, and they all were bought. And yet -- with only a few exceptions, my magazine-length stories were second rate. Standards were low in the early 50s. I didn not know many technical skills in writing which are essential ... the viewpoint problem, for example. Yet, I was selling; I was making a good living, and at the 1954 Science Fiction World Convention I was very readily recognised and singled out...I recall someone taking a photograph of A.E. Van Vogt and me and someone saying, "The old and the new." But what a miserable excuse for the "new"! And how much the field was losing by Van Vogt's leaving it! I knew that I was in serious trouble. For example, Van Vogt in such works as The World Of Null-A, wrote novels; I did not. Maybe that was it; maybe I should try an sf novel. For months I prepared carefully. I assembled characters and plots, several plots all woven together, and then wrote everything into the book that I could think of. It was bought by Don Wollheim at ACE Books and titled SOLAR LOTTERY... Standing there at that point I did some deep thinking. It seemed to me that magazine-length writing was going downhill -- and not paying very much. You might get $20 for a story and $4000 for a novel. So I decided to bet everything on the novel..."

This passage, taken from (PKDS-2 12), besides telling the main story, also brings up a sometime habit of PKD's: the telling of his personal history in a way that makes the best story. This sometimes results in a little bendig of what actually happened. In this case, his attributing the decision to write a science fiction novel to his meeting with A.E.Van Vogt at the 1954 World Con in San Francisco. But as both Paul Williams and Lawrence Sutin point out, Dick had written SOLAR LOTTERY before he attended the 1954 World Con in San Francisco: as evidenced by the files of the Scott Meredith Literary Agency in New York which lists the manuscript for SOLAR LOTTERY as having arrived in March 1954 while the Worldcon was held in August. This is an important point -- one that's caused me no end of trouble anyhow -- for it makes one wonder exactly how the widely-remarked influence of Van Vogt motivated Dick to write SOLAR LOTTERY. Is it all in hindsight only? Did PKD's meeting with Van Vogt at the World Con retroactively drag him into the scene? What is the extent of Van Vogt's influence on PKD?

PKD himself has this to say in conversation with Greg Rickman:

"When I wrote SOLAR LOTTERY I modelled it on A.E.Van Vogt, and I modelled it deliberately on Van Vogt, and I have no shame, because he was my hero as a writer and as a person. I wrote a Van Vogtian novel. i was not an original writer at that time. I was a very derivative type of writer. I had heroes and I tried to write like they wrote. He was my idee fixe as far as a writer. So it does resemble a Van Vogt novel, which Damon Knight pointed out. When you read it now -- when Tom Disch did the Gregg Press novel, he really couldn't see anything good in this novel. But Tom is forgetting the time in which it was writen... 1954. Well, shit! There was nothing good then. There was one novel, one science fiction novel that had been written that was good. And that was Bester's The Demolished Man (1952). And I cribbed from that, the Telepathic Corps." (IHOW 112)

Which seems clear enough, as well as introducing another influence on SOLAR LOTTERY.

So then, we have seen that Van Vogt was a major influence on Dick's deciding to write a sf novel. But in what way? Dick says he wrote "a Van Vogtian novel", but what does that mean? Commonly it is understood as referring to the convoluted plotting of The World Of Null-A. John Huntington in his essay, "Philip K. Dick: Authenticity and Insincerity" (ONPKD 170ff), while noting that there is no direct acknowledgement by PKD of his use of Van Vogt's idea -- borrowed from John Gallishaw's book The Only Two Ways To Write A Short Story -- of "writing a story in scenes of about 800 words, and each scene has five steps in it. If all those steps aren't there in their proper way, then there's something wrong with that scene. First, you let the reader know where this is taking place. Then you establish the purpose of the main character or the purpose of that scene. Then you have the interaction of his trying to accomplish that purpose. The fourth step is, make it clear: did he or did he not accomplish that purpose? Then the fifth step is that , in all the early scenes, no matter whether he achieves that purpose or not, things are going to get worse." (TDM 134) Nevertheless, Huntington goes on to assume the application of this 800-word rule in Dick's work, notably DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?, THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH, UBIK and VALIS. He makes interesting use of this assumption when discussing Dick's writings, we might even agree that it is valid but, without direct acknowledgement by PKD to VAn Vogt's 800-word rule or a complete mechanical analysis of these novels, we can only say that SOLAR LOTTERY does reflect this intricacy. Our opinion -- in agreement with Huntington -- is that Dick was influenced by the effects of Van Vogt's method without realising its mechanical nature. Yet there is more to it that that. Something else.

Dick to Charles Platt:

"A point came when I began to feel that science fiction was very important. Van Vogt's The World Of Null-A -- there was something about that which absolutely fascinated me. It had a mysterious quality, it alluded to things unseen, there were puzzles presented which were never adequately explained. I found in it a numinous quality; I began to get an idea of a mysterious quality in the universe which could be dealt with in science fiction. I realise now that what I was sensing was a kind of metaphysical world, an invisible realm of things half seen, essentially what medieval people sensed as the transcendent world, the next world." (TDM 147)

Now, whether this is the normal amazed bafflement felt by any reader of The World of Null-A remains to be seen. For, surely, we must look to find this "numinous quality" in The World Of Null-A that sparked Dick's interest. What could it be?

Gilbert Gosseyn, the never-say-die hero of The World Of Null-A, and the subsequent Null-A books, has many charms that might have caught Dick's attention. For starters, he doesn't know who he is or where he's going, and then pretty soon he's dead. And then he's alive again in a different body that is no different from the previous one. Now this might seem like a good deal to us but for Gosseyn its driving him nuts. He is completely baffled, driven by his desire to find out -- what? I don't know, and I'm not sure Gosseyn does either. No doubt something mysterious, nunminous.

Well, we shan't dissmiss The World of Null-A so quickly. In a sense this novel was the first PhilDickian sf novel in that it was the first one to effectively open up questions in the reaers minds that were never adequately answered in the text. The reader reads on, caught in the tale, driven as is Gosseyn toward some vast inevitable but unknown revelation that has to come. But when it does we're not sure if we missed it or not. The result: Befuddlement. I think a prime Van Vogtian influence on PKD. Why? Because the reader doesn't actually mind that s/he can't figure it out. For these questions, they're the kind we like to figure out for ourselves. The joy of reading a Van Vogt novel -- or a Dick novel -- for many, lies in the mind-expanding, revelatory nature of the story as it unfolds in our imagination. Sure we like answers and its the novelist's job to give them to us but its not necessary that a good story makes sense. It's enough that it holds us enthralled for however long it takes to read it.

Perhaps what we're dealing with, to some extent, is the quality of the reader's imagination.Some people cannot appreciate Dick or Van Vogt, to them it's all garbage; their minds, one might speculate, are attuned to a different level, a dogmatic level where in an Aristotelian universe B necessarily follows A. But Van Vogt fails to deliver this logicality in his The World Of Null-A, instead he leaves his protagonist and the reader in confusion. The only thing we can return to, to make sense of the novel is this idea of non-Aristotelian logic, this theory of General Semantics by that vaguely heard-of semantician, Alfred Korzybski that Van Vogt props his story on. Maybe in light of that theory it makes sense or, rather, non-sense, in a non-Aristotelian sense, of course.

And what we gather from the novel is that this non-A logic has distinct possibilities for a radical chane in thinking that, though unclear, leads to -- what? Immortality? Psi powers? At the very least Van Vogt's premising his novel on this vague system of non-A logic leaves the reader wanting to know more about it. And the more imaginitive the reader the more the connotations of an alternate way of thinking feed that imagination. Perhaps this is what Dick saw as the mysterious quality in The World Of Null-A

So, on the transcendental level, we can see the influence of Van Vogt here. We have above mentioned how Van Vogt's 'complex plotting' influenced how SOLAR LOTTERY was written. But, as we might have guessed, it wasn't the sole influence. We have already noted Dick's remarks on The Demolished Man and will now note also that he said of Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano that it was a "masterpiece." Rickman notes the influence of this novel on SOLAR LOTTERY (TTHC 286). All this being prefatory to the fact that on two occasions at least Dick denied that Van Vogt was his model for SOLAR LOTTERY, saying instead,

"what I really based it on was the French realistic novels I was reading, and Maupassant, the short stories, and not on sf at all." (TTHC 286)

And again

"I wasn't writing novels when I started out. I was writing stories. But the second I switched to novels, this inner templae based on the French realistic novels just turned on like a circuit board. You can see that SOLAR LOTTERY, my first novel, is literally like the French novels in that respect: all manner of people in all walks of life... portrayed as best I could." (PKDS-5 6)

Which of course countermands his 1968 Self Portrait quoted earlier. I think a blend of the two occured. Van Vogt supplying the plot line and the realists the scope and manifod characterology that enlivens the structure -- all thise people running around at all levels of society: Verrick and his cronies on the Hills; Benteley and the technicians; Cartwright and the seekers after the Flame Disk, the ever-present unks. I see this as a successful influence for SOLAR LOTTERY with its realistic portrayal of a complete society is well drawn. Coherent. We can see how Dick pulls this off with a masterful economy in connection with the unks.

In the first chapter Dick mentions the "unclassified masses" and, later, "people hurried everywhere. The air buzzed with a constant murmur of excitement... hurrying throngs... tight-packed crowd... the rows of waiting people..." Everywhere in the early part of this book there are crowds of people, they press everywhere, they cannot be avoided. Having set this busy ambience Dick, in chapter 2, defines it with the brilliant neologism "unks." Who can forget that startling word? It underpins the whole tale. For ever afterward the unks are there, ever present.

This example shows for me how Dick was influenced by the realists. He wanted to create a complete world but for him that doesn't mean a concentration on circumstantial detail, such as is found in Balzac, but a more sophisticated realism: a realism by suggestion, by the telling stroke, the encompassign neologisms that are henceforth a significant characteristic of his writing. In effect Dick connects with the lives of his readers through the evocation of a daily life that parallels their own. His writing is an advancement on realism. Influenced by his reading of Balzac, Flaubert, Maupassant, Doystoyevsky, Turgenev ans all the realist writers of the past one hundred years, Dick smelts it all down into an essential ingot of reality: the pure metal of shared existence which, when struck by the flint of his imagination, sparks into quick flame in the minds of his reders. i can only sit here and marbel at it all; at the numinous quality Dick himself brings to science fiction. In SOLAR LOTERY it takes arealist form resulting in a world so familiar yet so fantastically real that we take it for granted, forgetting the skill involved in its creation. Only in the later novels when Dick adds a metaphysical dimension to his realities, do we really notice what is going on. But by then Dick is so far ahead of us we don't understand and are left, as am I with SOLAR LOTTERY, with a sense of wonder and excitement that sets our minds on fire.


2. A Rose By Any Other Name

Philip K. Dick's first science fiction novel has a complicated publishing history, appearing in two versions; one called SOLAR LOTTERY in the United States and one called WORLD OF CHANCE in the United Kingdom. Originally Dick had named the novel QUIZMASTER TAKE ALL but this was changed by ACE. Well, let's trace the history out.

The manuscript of QUIZMASTER TAKE ALL reached the Scott Meredith Literary Agency on March 23, 1954. An employee of SMLA wrote on the Agency's record card that "I had the author do some rewriting to give it depth." (PKD-21 4) The original manuscript, at 63,000 words, was then revised by Dick: "...I had about 45 characters in the original version. My agent made me throw most of them out." (TTHC 286ff) On its return to SMLA the revised manuscript was sent to Ballantine Books, the top-of-the-line sf paperback publishing house, where it was rejected, as it was at two other publishers befoe the Agency sent it to ACE Books. Don Wollheim, editor at ACE, liked it. But he wanted some changes and sent it back to Dick for what PKD called "major revisions." Dick told Rickman that "ACE Doubles were very, very precise as to how long these books were ... It had to be exactly 6,000 lines long. That was a marketing thing and I understood that." (TTHC 289) But, in the same passage in which this quote was found in To The High Castle, Wollheim says to that: "Bullshit! Baloney. That was never true of us. We had a certain page-range -- 320 pages to begin with. You knew lengths by rule of thumb." (TTHC 289)

According to SMLA's file the revision that was sent to ACE in December 1954 was "cut to 60,000 words." But whether this revision was the first one requested by the Agency employee or that by Wollheim is not clear. Wollheim himself doesn't remember asking for a rewrite. (TTHC 290) Nevertheless, ACE published the newly retitled SOLAR LOTTERY in May 1955 as one half of an ACE Double. Presumably the decision to change the title from Dick's original QUIZMASTER TAKE ALL was made sometime after Jan 10, 1955 when the Oakland Tribune noted that PKD had a "forthcoming pocket book novel, QUIZMASTER TAKE ALL, readied for Fall, U.S. publication." (PKDS-2 6)

The decision to chane the title was made by A.A.Wyn, publisher of ACE Books. Wollheim: "Wyn insisted on doing the titling. He had a pulp mind, so I gave him a whole long list of titles and he picked that one (SOLAR LOTTERY)." (TTHC 290) Wolheim says he himself wrote "most all" of ACE's ad copy. 'First Prize Was Earth Itself!' was the line used for SOLAR LOTTERY (TTHC 291) He also instructed the art director in the matter of cover art: "The covers are definitely supposed to illustrate the book. Wyn personally supervised them." (TTHC 291)

Dick was promptly paid by ACE, Wollheim: "We paid $1500 for a Double, split in half. The author got $750 and half of the royalties.." (TTHC 291) Dick was grateful for this, crediting Wollheim with his continuing as a sf novelist after Wollheim's acceptance of SOLAR LOTTERY:

"Don was the only editor who risked buying SOLAR LOTTERY; no one else would take it, and if Don hadn't, you wouldn't have been able to identify me as a novelist at all. Had SOLAR LOTTERY not sold, I would have abandoned attempts to write novels, and would have gone back to the stories." (TTHC 289)

And now this publishing saga gets even more complicated. During the SMLA's dealings with Ballantine, the other publisher's and ACE, a copy of the original manuscript was sent to England where it was picked up by Rich & Cowan, a hardcover sf publisher. Dick had worked with Rich & Cowan before when they published his first anthology, A HANDFULL OF DARKNESS. But before Rich & Cowan were ready to publish it they wrote to SMLA asking for a rewrite. But Dick, having gone over the manuscript twice already and not wanting to do it again, wrote to Scott Meredith on May 16, 1955 that "they can have a copy of the ACE edition, which will be out in a day or so. They can print from that." (PKDS-21 5)(TTHC 191) Apparantly though, from Rickman's research, they didn't. Rickman believes that they edited down the original first manuscript of QUIZMASTER TAKE ALL themselves, butchering it in the process. (PKDS-21 5) But this may not be correct. In an interview with Richard Lupoff Dick says,

They bought SOLAR LOTTERY, my first novel, and brought it out as WORLD OF CHANCE. But they brought it out in a truncated form. They insisted that a great deal be deleted from it. I did, in fact, make a different version of SOLAR LOTTERY for them. It's quite different from the U.S. version." (SF EYE 48)

So anyway you look at it we cannot be sure at the moment which draft was used for WORLD OF CHANCE and who, if anyone other than Dick, did the butchering. As to exactly how this was done we must refer the reader to PKDS-21: "What The Quizmaster Took," by Gregg Rickman. In this special issue of the Philip K. Dick Society Newsletter Rickman does an involved study of teh differences between the British WORLD OF CHANCE -- for such did Rich & Cowan title it on its publication in 1956 -- and the ACE SOLAR LOTERY. These differences are sometimes extensive as well as significant.


3. The Marxist Bent

Thomas M. Disch in his Introduction to the Gregg Press edition of 1977 considered SOLAR LOTTERY as somehow Marxist: "SOLAR LOTTERY, along with most of its successors... may be read as self-consistnt social allegories of a more-or-less Marxist bent." (TTHC 297) To which assessment PKD agreed:

"Glanced over SOLAR LOTTERY & Tom Disch's intro; he's right. I was/am the sole Marxist S-F writer. I may not have been/am CP, but the basic Marxist sociological view of capitalism -- negative -- is there. Good. But after glancing at it I feel the old fear -- like c. 1971/73. When the blow fell. Glancing at SOLAR LOTTERY I can see that it had to, eventually & that I knew it. If I just hadn't passed over into the dope stuff I'd have ceased to be relevant, & been safe but nooo. I got caught up in the 60s, & stayed on to 74 and TEARS." (c.1978) (IPOV 175)

Dick was to return to this suposed Marxist bent in his work while discussing his novel THE MAN WHO JAPED:

"Anyone who understands ... MAN WHO JAPED would never make the error of thinking I was a Communist or Marxist. Because this is a very,very sincere attempt to show the very dangerous trends in Communism, the communist state." (TTHC 297)

And in another conversation with Rickman he says,

"In many ways I was an anti-capitalist, but that doesn't make me a Marxist. I was very, very suspicious, terribly suspicious of totalitarian states, whether right or left wing. I would say the real enemy, the enemy which to me is the paradigm of evil, is the totalitarian state... My real stance was opposing authority. And I opposed the Communist authorities as much as I opposed the American authorities." (IHOW 121)

It's an argument that can go on. But I prefer to see in these two early novels more the sense of a blossoming metaphysical realisation on Dick's part, sparked by A.E.Van Vogt's The World Of Null-A as I've noted above. What's interesting for me is to see how Dick built the worlds that present his metaphysical speculations. SOLAR LOTTERY is a good place to start.


see Excited Newsmachines for continuation.


 


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