The Game-players of Titan
(Voyager Classics, £7.99, 223 pages, paperback; first published 1963;
this edition 20 August 2001.)
Philip K. Dick published this novel in The Man in the High Castle, and
the excellent Martian Time-Slip. He was the archetypal erratic
writer, producing novels of variable quality (and often novels which
varied in quality from chapter to chapter, page to page, and paragraph
to paragraph--okay, even line to line, too) one after the other.
The Game-Players of Titan is not classic Dick.
between the Hugo Award-winning
The setting is a post-apocalyptic Earth, the Red Chinese having dosed
the planet, themselves included, with Hinkel Radiation. This has had
the effect of vastly reducing the Earth's population and rendering the
majority of the survivors infertile. Around the same time, the secret
of extended longevity was discovered, so that most of the characters
are in their mid-hundreds. Also, many humans have psi-talents, telepathy,
precognition, telekinesis. And there exist among the humans a privileged
minority called Bindmen, who own vast tracts of depopulated land. Added
to which, aliens now run the show: the vugs from Titan, slug-like creatures
addicted to gambling, who have imposed upon the Bindmen the game of
Bluff. Teams of Bindmen play the card game for stakes of land and sexual
partners. Ostensibly the vugs imposed the gaming upon the humans to
maximise the chances of permutating fertile couples, but, of course,
in the novels of Philip K. Dick, reality is never that straightforward.
This book has all the essential ingredients of a good Dick novel,
but falls a long way short of being even mediocre. The writing is perfunctory.
The characterisation is sketched: protagonist Pete Garden is neither
fully-realised nor sympathetic--unusual for a Dickian central character.
The plot suffers longueurs of inaction followed by spurts of under-realised
drama. The denouement is rushed and unsatisfactory. In short, this is
very minor Dick--but, coming as it did between two of the genre's classics,
perhaps he can be forgiven.
Harder to forgive is the publisher's cynical packaging of this novel.
It's presented in the Voyager Classic series, along with some genuinely
good books: Brave New World, The Martian Chronicles, The
Time Ships. The publication of this novel in this format commits
a triple disservice. It gives the reader new to Dick the impression
they're getting good Philip K. Dick; it gives the reader new to SF the
idea that they're getting good SF, and it tends to devalue the good
books put out under this imprint.
If you haven't read PKD before, try The Man in the High Castle,
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, and Flow my Tears the
Policeman Said, as a start.
The Game-Players of Titan is for completists only.
Review by Eric Brown.
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