The Game Players of Titan by P.K. Dick

cover image

Voyager, 2008.
(Age 15+)Unfortunately, the late P.K. Dick is probably best known for movies made from his stories rather than the books themselves. As the man behind such iconic movies as Bladerunner and the Arnie cult classic, Total Recall and more recently Speilberg's Minority Report, it's sometimes easy to forget just how great a writer Dick really was. Although not his most well known work, and certainly not his best, The Game Players of Titan explores many of Dick's trademark themes; the nature of reality, artificial intelligence, psychic powers and drug (or otherwise) induced hallucination.
The story, set in a post apocalyptic America, centres around one of Dick's typically neurotic protagonists, Pete Garden, who we are told has just gambled away his wife and half of California. Devastated by war with an alien species and wracked by radiation, the Earth has cooked up a way for the virtually sterile population to rebuild itself; a privileged group of people gamble vast swathes of property and spouses in the hope that ultimately they will have 'luck' and produce offspring. The concept is weird, even for Dick, but it makes for an interesting plot. The story begins with Pete trying to find a way of re-winning his beloved Berkley, at the same time warding off his suicidal tendencies. However, the story quickly develops into a thriller in which nothing and no one is quite what they appear to be.
Although not a masterpiece like The man in the High Castle or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, The Game Players Of Titan still manages to entertain and perplex in true Dick style. Dick is always asking us what it really means to be human and that's what really sets him apart from most other sci-fi novelists. His characters are painfully human and their fallibility makes them, and his books, all the more likeable.
Michael Pledger