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The Game-Players of Titan
Philip K. Dick
HarperCollins Voyager, 223 pages

The Game-Players of Titan
Philip K. Dick
Philip K. Dick was born in Chicago in 1928. While attending UC at Berkeley, he dropped out rather than take ROTC training. He went on to write some 36 novels and 5 short story collections. He won the 1962 Hugo for The Man in the High Castle and the 1974 John W. Campbell Award for Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said. He died of heart failure caused by a stroke in 1982.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Minority Report
SF Site Review: Now Wait For Last Year
SF Site Review: Dr. Bloodmoney
SF Site Review: Beyond Lies the Wub and The Father-Thing
SF Site Review: Second Variety
SF Site Review: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Martian Time-Slip and A Scanner Darkly
SF Site Reading List: Philip K. Dick

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

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British SF classic re-release series seem to be proliferating -- a nice thing. The latest example I have seen is called Voyager Classics, and the sample in front of me is a new large-sized paperback edition of Philip K. Dick's 1963 novel The Game-Players of Titan. The book is attractively packaged, with a simple dark blue cover, complete with flaps, though internally the paper quality and typography are rather indifferent. But it remains nice to see worthwhile SF books back in print, at a decent price to boot. This is part of a series of 36 reprints -- the entire list is printed inside the book. To my taste, the collection, taken as a whole, is a bit odd. There is a mix of unquestioned SF and Fantasy classics such as Isaac Asimov's Foundation, Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy; with more recent books that deserve consideration such as William Gibson's Neuromancer; with still more recent books that, good as they may be, hardly seem ready just yet for "classic" reprint status, such as Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy and Michael Marshall Smith's Only Forward. Not to mention a few choices at which my eyebrows were raised.

But my duty is merely to review the book at hand. The Game-Players of Titan is not one of Dick's better-known works. It comes from a somewhat transitional period for him, when he was just beginning to produce his most impressive novels. This novel follows the brilliant Hugo winner The Man in the High Castle, and precedes the excellent The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, but the novel it most reminded me of is a third novel from the early to mid 60s, Clans of the Alphane Moon. Like that novel it is awash in concerns with marriage, mental health, and drug use; and like that novel it features overtly science-fictional elements such as silicon-based alien life forms to tell a story that, at its base, seems mostly about suburban life in the 60s.

The main character of this book is Pete Garden. Pete is part of a circle of California residents in a depopulated future world who own large swathes of property, and who regularly play a board game called simply the Game, at which they stake their property, and their marriages, and even their status as eligible game players. (Property owners are called Bindmen, and if you lose all your property, you are no longer a Bindman, and cannot play.) The Game is administered in part by the amorphous aliens from Titan, the vugs, who apparently put much stock in gambling. In addition, the wife-swapping encouraged by the game is intended to promote what is called luck: actually, interfertility. The human race is dwindling because a weapon developed during the last war made people largely sterile.

The book opens with Pete stumbling home after a binge -- it seems that he has lost his favourite property, Berkeley, and in so doing has also lost his wife Freya. But his personal concerns seem less important after he discovers that the man who won Berkeley from him sold it to a front for a notorious Bindman from the East Coast. Pete is also worried because he liked Freya, and he fears that his prospective new wife, on loan from another Game-playing group, will be less congenial. Moreover, he finds himself greatly attracted to a mysteriously fertile woman living in his remaining property, and also to her 18-year-old daughter.

Dick continues to throw idea upon idea, and to alter the direction the book seems to be taking. Some of the characters are PSIs (telepathy, precognition, and telekinesis figure prominently), and they resent the fact that they are not allowed in the Game (because they could use their powers to cheat). Then a murder happens, and Pete is implicated, along with several other members of his Game-playing group. And Pete becomes convinced that vugs have infiltrated the Earth. Then it turns out that there are multiple factions among the vugs... As you can see, there is a sense of kitchen-sinkery to this book, a sense that the author may have made it all up as he went along. Similar problems underlie the character relationships, which alter chapter by chapter. (I may have missed something, but I'm pretty sure one character is a vug some of the time, and a human at other times, not on purpose.) I don't think things really cohere.

Despite those problems, the book is readable and interesting. There are a number of nice minor touches, such as the artificially intelligent cars with attitude. And the character of Pete Garden, a fairly typical Dick protagonist, neurotic to the point of suicide attempts but basically decent, is nicely enough portrayed. It is by no means among Dick's best novels, but Dick is a sufficiently interesting writer that even his minor works are worth reading.

Copyright © 2001 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.


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