Philip K. Dick is deeply weird, but the Ace Double packaging (the other side is Leigh Brackett’s The Big Jump) lulled me into expecting something more like traditional fifties-sixties-seventies genre writing: weird, but not super duper wacky, Philip K. Dick weird.
There is a little bit of genre writing in here, by which I mean bad sex writing.
…bodies steaming moistly with fulfilled love.
The rest… a strange dystopia involving elaborate lotteries governing all of society, a reigning figure known as a Quizmaster, chosen by the random twitches of a bottle or by the success of a publicly chosen assassin (chosen in a “Challenge Convention”). An unlivable hero evil somewhere in his soul has figured out that this is all not right. Cosmological cults. Tenth planets (this before Pluto got demoted). A journey by spaceship using charts gleaned from the prophetic ravings of an Erich Von Daniken-esque clown (but with more genius and less colonized racism).
The primary plot, at least I think it’s the primary plot, is this weird, baroque plot to control the known world(s) by becoming Quizmaster. The subplot, which is only barely related to the rest, is a cultish effort to find the living remnants of a lost prophet on an undiscovered planet known as the Flame Disc, which is actually a buoy (Dick’s term) planted by, I guess, aliens.