The Game Players of Titan by Philip K. Dick
I’m not really sure where I stand on Philip K. Dick. Every book of his that I read is enjoyable enough, but not so enjoyable that I’ve ever really got why he’s so highly-rated. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, The Man In The High Castle and A Scanner Darkly are all somewhere in the range between good and great, but probably closer to good.
The Game Players of Titan sits nicely in that range as well. It’s set in a dystopian future (this is Philip K. Dick, of course it’s set in a dystopian future) where humanity is slowly dying out through massive reductions in human fertility. Property ownership is such that towns are owned by individuals (Bindmen), and these Bindmen gamble properties through games of Bluff. Any Bindman can play the Game, except those who are known to have psychic powers (because people can have psychic powers now).
Oh, and Earth appears to have been conquered by invaders from Titan (which I’m assuming refers to the moon of Saturn, but I guess it could just be a random planet – I don’t think that was ever made clear) known as “vugs”, who appear to be happy to mainly sit back and let humanity manage its own affairs. Although the vugs are all psychic, so maybe they know what’s going to happen anyway.
Our main setting is California, and our main character is Pete Garden, Bindman for a few towns in California. Game Players opens in the immediate aftermath of Pete losing his favourite property, Berkeley, and his wife, Freya (because husbands and wives are just more property now). The chap who won Berkeley off Garden quickly sells it to Jerome Luckman, a Bindman who owns most of the east coast, and has been trying to get a foothold into California for years.
The plot is pretty good. What’s set up as a fairly simple “little guys trying to hold off the big guy” quickly smashes well off track and ends up as something else entirely, and it all builds up to an actually very good finale. Given that the book is less than a couple of hundred pages long, that’s quite a feat. We flit between multiple points of view as well, all of which add a fairly decent range of perspectives to the action.
That being said, the quality rises and falls a bit as we go through it. Sometimes it feels like you can’t put it down, sometimes it feels like you just need to skip a few pages ahead to get through certain parts. That’s not uncommon with Philip K. Dick in my experience. I’ve think I’ve come up with quite an apt metaphor for Philip K. Dick books, based on the ones I’ve read: it’s like being out with a friend who is absolutely wasted (and Dick probably was when writing), and who is never satisfied with just enjoying where they are at the moment. So as soon as you get somewhere, you’ll leave for somewhere else, but because they’re wasted you’ll follow them (equal parts fascination and obligation), and you’ll end in some amazing places you didn’t have a clue even existed. But you’ll also end up in some places that are kind of shitty and you never want to visit again. That’s generally not a problem, because you’ll be leaving again before long.
The bad bits and pieces of Game Players are never truly bad. Part of that is that they are come and gone quickly enough that they don’t have time to bog the whole book down. But while they don’t really hurt it from a page-by-page perspective, once you’re looking back at the book they, to me anyway, become more apparent.
To be honest, I don’t have a great deal more to say about this one. It’s basically quintessential Dick: good, a bit mental, and worth reading, as long as you’re happy with reading something that’s going to get a bit weird at times. The characters aren’t quite as fun as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep, the setting isn’t as good as The Man In The High Castle, and the twists and turns aren’t as good as A Scanner Darkly, but all in all it’s a thoroughly decent book.
Read if you like: psychedelic drugs, future earth sci-fi.
Don’t read if you like: normality.
Next up: Blood Rites by Jim Butcher