1963 Science Fiction novel by Philip K. Dick. * * * 1/2

Face it, the world is a mess. World War III rendered most of the human race sterile. A later war killed many of the survivors and left the "vug"s, protoplasmic aliens from Titan, in control.

And now, 130 years later, there are only a few tens of thousands of people left. It is considered incredible luck for a woman to become pregnant. The vugs have set up a peculiar political system on Earth: A few people, or Bindmen, are entitled to own property, and to have a medical treatment that makes them immortal. On regular occasions, Bindman get together and play "Bluff", a game in which the stakes are money, land, husbands, wives. A bad run of luck could leave a Bindman out of the game, having to live on someone else's Bind, like everyone else, hoping to have the luck to get back in.

The story starts after a particularly bad night for Pete Garden, Bindman over much of the North Bay area. He has lost his favorite Bind, Berkeley, to his rival Walt, and his wife Freya to Clem Gaines. What's worse, his Walt immediately sold Berkeley to Jerome "Lucky" Luckman, an East Coast Bindman who seems to have such a knack for Bluff that he'll soon own all California, if he's not stopped.

Dick's novels are always about the nature of reality. Each invariably shatters its characters' picture of reality, showing it to be self-delusion. The Game-Players of Titan is no exception to this: Pete Garden's bad night sets off a chain of events that will uncover the real forces that make Earthwhat it is, and that maintain Pete Garden and his friends in their privileged, if precarious, position.

What are those nasty vugs up to after all? Why, if I had my vug-stick...

Do not try to compare this novel to The Player of Games (excellent); it shares some superficial plot elements but works to a completely different end. The latterday title ripoff, The Gameplayers of Zan, does not bear mention.