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The Game Players Of Titan
Philip K. Dick
Voyager Classics paperback £7.99

review by Mike Philbin

Synopsis: (from
Poor Pete Garden has just lost Berkeley. He's also lost his wife, but he'll get a new one as soon as he rolls a three. It's all part of the rules of Bluff, the game that's become a blinding obsession for the last inhabitants of the planet Earth. But the rules are about to change - drastically and terminally - because Pete Garden will be playing his next game against an opponent who isn't even human, for stakes that are a lot higher than Berkeley.

In the future there's nothing more important the board game 'Bluff'. A great war with the Vugs, an alien race from the planet Titan, has seriously decimated the human race. Mankind finds a way to win a decisive victory against the Vugs, but at the cost of infertility throughout the majority of those few humans who survive the conflict. There really are no more than a few thousand Americans left on the planet. They spend most of their time playing Bluff, those that have no psi-ability - psis are banned from playing Bluff for obvious reasons. If the Vug-Human police alliance finds any psi'c playing Bluff, they're banned for life. But that's not the basis for the story.

The political backdrop is the truly alien part of the book. The Vugs haven't really lost; they've just allowed mankind to continue on. They are the true rulers of the planet. They control the space around planet Earth. They control what makes the remaining populace tick. Bluff is the drug they use to control mankind.

Dick was a true innovator and seer of the future. He foresaw how control of a basically-addictive populace could be achieved in a number of ways; in his book A Scanner Darkly, it's substance D; in Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, it's Mercerism; here it's a simple board game.

But why ban the psychics from the game? Isn't it obvious? The game's a Monopoly/ poker hybrid. Very simple rule set. Try to cheat, that's the best way to victory. Bluff by name, Bluff by nature. In common-or-garden Monopoly you roll your dice, you move your piece. Bluff's poker-like overlay ensures that your opponent never knows whether the move you've made is a true move or a fake move to increase your score. Call your opponent's bluff at your peril - they could be leading you down a debt-painted garden path.

In true Dick fashion, the world is treated like a parallel world. Written in 1963, the book harkens back to a time not unlike the end of the Second World War. Or maybe that's just the particular twist my mind put on it whilst reading. It felt like the 1950s, of course all domestic appliances have Rushmore effects that allow you to communicate with them, of course the cars fly; of course they have heat-needles (lasers). It felt like a place of hope. If only we could see the 'big picture'. But Dick only shows us that late in the novel, though hints at the true intentions of the Vugs are there for the astute PKD fan to at least guess at early on.
Game Players of Titan

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The Game Players of Titan

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