The idea of an ominous lottery is no new concept – Shirley Jackson received horrified reactions after publishing a short story called “The Lottery” (1948), in which the “winner” gets stoned to death at the end of the piece. However, the concept has grown fiercely in popularity and made its way into some of the greatest works of science fiction.
On the surface, lotteries appear to be the perfect vehicle for equalization. Every single person has the exact same chances to win, giving the appearance of an egalitarian society. However, I the perceived equality is not always genuine. Instead, lotteries are often used as a mean of control. Philip K. Dick played with this idea in Solar Lottery (1955). The head of the world government, called the Quizmaster, is chosen through a computerized lottery where citizens’ power cards are picked at random. Since every citizen receives a power card at birth, the lottery appears to be equal. However, “P-cards” are often given to one of the five major corporations – or the five Hills – that run the planet’s industry as a sign of fealty, and thus the corporation heads hold the majority of the power cards, receiving a direct advantage. This basically mean that the corporations themselves have an imbalanced opportunity for control.
Some sci-fi novels depict lotteries used as a means for governmental genetic engineering. In Larry Niven’s Ringworld, an alien race called Pierson’s Puppeteers set up a program for breeding luck into human reproduction; luck is a trait the Puppeteers considered hereditary and, more importantly, vital to their expedition to Ringworld. In order to achieve their goal, they use the government’s control of overpopulation via strict fertility laws limiting families to only one offspring. Families who wanted more than one child enter the Birthright Lottery, which allowed the winners to have multiple children. Parents with better fortune were more likely to win and pass their hereditary good luck to their children. Teela Brown, one of the novel’s main characters and a crew member of the Puppeteers expedition, was the product of six generations of Birthright winners.
Speaking of genetic engineering, you may remember that I mentioned the movie The Island and its clones for my previous “I” post. In the film, the clones all live in a secluded underground compound where their daily lives are monitored and restricted by mysterious doctors. The one bright spot in their existence is the daily drawing, whereby they can win a chance to relocate to the idealistic “Island”. The scientists running the facility use this lottery, and the hope that it provides, to keep the clones from asking too many questions, or rising up against their oppressors and jeopardizing the entire operation. In other words, it’s control via hope.
Still, my favorite example of a lottery in science fiction comes from The Hunger Games series. Referred to as the Reaping, the lottery decides which children from the twelve districts will be forced to compete in the Games. The name of every child between the ages of twelve and eighteen gets put into the Reaping, with the option of entering additional times in exchange for extra food rations. The Hunger Games then acts not only as a form of punishment for the twelve districts' previous rebellion against the Capital, but, though the lottery, doubles as a tool for government monitoring. In essence it allows the Capitol to rule over a larger, and physically distant, subordinate populace.
This post is part of the Blogging A through Z Challenge 2012. My theme is (in case you didn’t already guess) science fiction. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you’d like to check in on the rest of the participants, simply click here.