Luke Rhinehart is the pen name of the author George Cockcroft. Or should that be that George is the legal name of the diceperson Luke? Whoever he is, he's written some fine works of fiction, each of which give tantalising glimpses of a philosophy known among his followers as 'the dicelife'.
Luke's writing style for his dice-based books is as ingenious as it is twisted. Whereas most books are written from a single static perspective, Luke switches between a first and third person view, and intersperses that narrative flow with excerpts from journals, minutes of meetings, and many others - which really gives the impression that this is a huge story, of which just a glimpse is being seen. Especially clever is his habit of quoting from other books, both real, fictional, and in one case, yet to be written.
Similarly, the moods of the book change rapidly too. A single book might have sections of porn, thriller, comedy, psychology, romance, philosophy, and detective in it - not mixed together, but standing side by side with only a chapter number, if that, between them. Some find that this makes the books drag, but no two people agree on what sections should be cut.
The best parts of the stories from a casual reader's perspective are the sections of sheer hilarity, which come in brief ten page bursts. Luke is a master of carefully timed comic relief, just when you thought the story was starting to become serious. Whether it's a sex scene in the middle of a river, the dice parties, the beating down of authority, the hallucinogenic tomato plant, or some of the dice games, there will be moments when you have to tear your eyes from the text to control your laughter.
On the other hand, Long Voyage Back, and Matari show that he is entirely comfortable writing somewhat more traditional fiction, and Book of Est shows he's perfectly capable of writing wholly factual accounts too.
Whichever book he writes, he tends to focus strongly on just a few characters, perhaps five that are important. Other protagonists come and go, but are generally shallow characters that Luke uses to bounce concepts off. Through that, the books get to be compelling, and hard to put down.
The Dice Man
Luke's first book, The Dice Man was published in 1971 with the confidant subheader, 'This book can change your life'. It quickly became a cult classic, as people read it and passed it around. Some in authority saw it as subversive, reflecting the mood of the early 1970s in permissiveness, and anti-psychiatry sentiment, and it was banned in several countries.
It went through a number of republishings - in the USA it got the even more confident subheader 'Few novels can change your life. This one will', but was cut somewhat from the original. Perhaps because of this, and despite the author and the character both being American, it was slightly less successful than in the UK and Scandinavia.
The book tells the story (there is a persistent rumour that the book is based on a true story) of a psychologist named Luke who, feeling bored and unfulfilled in life, starts making decisions about what to do based on a roll of a dice. Along the way, there is sex, rape, murder, 'dice parties', breakouts by psychiatric patients, and various corporate and governmental machines being put into a spin. There is also a description of the cult that starts to develop around the man, and the psychological research he initiates, such as the 'F**k without Fear for Fun and Profit' programme.
Published in 1975, this novel is currently out-of-print and very hard to find. The story is set in 18th Century Japan, and features a conflict between four very different characters - Oboko, a poet of the wind and Buddhist monk; Izzi, court poet and extrovert; Lord Arishi, samurai, and lord of the realm; and finally Matari, beautiful, intelligent, and on the run for her life.
The story might be described as a love story - all three of the men are, in their own way, in love with Matari. Yet they each have their own outlook on life, and their own sense of honour and morality - while individually we might applaud them as good men and true, the meeting of the three results in tragedy.
This is a classic work of fiction; the story runs in a linear fashion, and the plot is such as you might find in any other book. Rhinehart uses his knowledge of Zen well, though, and the book gives an insight into the thinking of both Buddhist and Samurai thinking that feels full and well-rounded - unlike the superficial treatment of these topics in a lot of Western writing.
The Book of Est
There is no doubt that Est is potent medicine. If transcendental meditation is the marijuana of the human potential movement-abundant and tranquilizing, then Est is the LSD-explosive and potentially life-transforming.
Erhard Seminars Training, or Est, described itself as a psychological and philosophical tool, supposedly based on the works of the philosopher Heidegger, and was started by Werner Erhard, a former Scientologist, who left to start Est. The idea of Est is meant to be to break down an individual's personality and rebuild it as part of the group, giving people a new and better perspective on life. It's now out of print, and has been omitted from recent 'also written by' lists in the books, implying, perhaps, that the author is a little ashamed of having written it in the first place.
The book was published in 1976 and purports to represent the experience of the original Est seminars, written by one who went through them. It shows them in a positive light, and describes how the ideas and the training affected the author as he went through the course. A section towards the end of the book discusses the background to some of the ideas in it.
Est, or The Landmark Forum as it is now known, has endured some criticism during its time, both from anti-cult groups, and from various Christian populists. An independent and moderately favourable view might be obtained from The Skeptics's Dictionary.
Long Voyage Back
Long Voyage Back was published in 1983, at the height of the cold war, and shows that influence. The author sides with the nuclear disarmament side of the debate and the only character in the book with vociferous views on the subject, the daughter of the lead character, probably represents Rhinehart's own views.
The story concerns a forthcoming nuclear war between the USSR and the USA, and graphically depicts the ensuing carnage. One family and some friends try to run away in a sailboat, and the story describes their battles with nuclear winter, fallout, the army, enlistment, farmers, getting supplies and pirates, among other things.
It's an horrific story, made worse by its 'believability'. One memorable pre-war statement was that, 'In a nuclear war, the USSR will win. This is because the average Russian doesn't have a gun, so they can't all shoot each other and the army for food'. Ouch.
Adventures of Wim
Adventures of Wim was published in 1986, and was sold as 'The sequel, well almost, to The Dice Man'. Unfortunately, it's no longer in print, though it's reasonably easy to find in libraries and second-hand bookshops in the UK. It is possibly the best of Luke's books, and is well worth the effort to find it.
It takes Luke's style to its logical conclusion, as the entire book is made up of sections taken from other, fictional books. It seems that an entire industry has grown up publishing books about a Montauk named Wim - later books refer to him as Whim - including The Gospel According to Luke (Luke Forth, not Luke Rhinehart)and the screenplay of a movie. The screenplay is possibly in there as a result of Luke Rhinehart's continuing frustration in trying to get The Dice Man turned into a good movie. Adventures, then, is an effort to create a new interpretation of the story of Wim, drawing on the many previous efforts, and so providing a multi-faceted and whimsical account of 'one of the greatest figures in the 20th and 21st Century'.
A boy is born of a virgin mother and is named 'Wim', Montauk for 'Wave Rider'. He is pronounced to be the saviour of the Montauk nation by his tribe's navigator, and educated in their ways. Sadly, the humans steal him away and attempt to educate him in more useful skills, such as American Football.
Wim, also known as 'He of Many Chances', proves to be an inefficient saviour, as God sends him on a quest for Ultimate Truth. This does not seem to be something that will benefit his tribe terribly, but the navigator isn't one to stare down the barrel of a lightning gun, and sends him on his way. After a long and arduous search, Wim finds ultimate truth, and with it the cure for the sickness of the human condition. Hurrah!
There's a lot of philosophy in this book, and it's a more open view than in previous books. It would spoil the shock value to give away the ideas, but suffice it to say that it ties in with the views of The Dice Man, but in a softer and more accepting way, and with more paths to enlightenment. It's also the funniest book Luke has written to date. If that's not enough, then you should definitely read this book to learn how to do that perfect basketball hook shot.
Search for the Dice Man
This is the official sequel to The Dice Man, and was published in 1993. It is set 20 years after the end of The Dice Man, and Luke's dicechild, Larry, has grown up to become a hotshot investor on the stock market. He has totally rejected his father's reverence for chance: he sees it as an adversary to be overcome, and has managed to create a stable, normal life for himself, in spite of his early abandonment. Indeed, he is due to wed the daughter of his boss, and live wealthily ever after.
This state of affairs would make a dull story and soon his father's ghostly presence intervenes. He gets approached by the FBI, who are trying to trace his father's location, and find out whether he's alive or dead, and though he naturally refuses to have anything to do with them, he soon starts to pursue his own investigations. He is financed in this by his fiancée's father, who wants to put the whole dice business to rest, and is accompanied by his fiancée's sister, an unreformed hippy.
Well, it takes a long time - a whole book in fact, but Larry eventually does complete his quest. Along the way, what he's seen and heard have changed him somewhat and the ending has a delightful twist. However, written by Larry rather than Luke, and by an author who's perhaps mellowed with age, the general opinion seems to be that it's just not quite as good as the original. Or maybe it just doesn't appeal in the same way...
Book of the Die
The Book of the Die is mentioned as a fictional book in many of Luke's earlier works, and he chose the year 2000 to make it a reality. The book is a collection of thoughts and ideas about dicing - its purpose, the meaning of life, and so forth - much in the style that might be expected from Luke. Interspersed with this are frequent parables, poems, stories. Some are from his earlier books, some from the new ones, some stolen and rewritten from various well-known sayings and writings, some from his followers (both real and imaginary), and some which purport to be from his own life.
The whole thing is broken into 21 chapters, plus an introduction and explanation of the whole thing. The idea is meant to be that you roll two dice to decide which chapter to read, or look for answers in, or perhaps flick through to pick one which seems appropriate, or maybe read in order like any other book. As long as people are aware of their options, eh?
Also, roughly at the end of each chapter are six dice options, with the standard instructions:
Read the options, throw out one or two (or all six) and replace them, then roll a dice and do as suggested.
The dice options, and the book in general, aim to be intriguing and thought-provoking, and certainly succeed in that. It's in some sense a book with all the answers - written by someone who has thought about such things for most of his life. Yet it's also a book of no answers, as Luke consistently tries to ensure that the reader is aware that the book is just another illusion. 'Dice living is a load of shit', he says at one point. And it contains large sections of hilarity and absurdity.
There is a forthcoming book planned for release next year entitled Whim, about the complete life of Wim, including parts not covered by Adventures of Wim.
There are also continuing plans to release the story of either Luke, Larry, or Wim as a movie. Currently the rights to Search for the Diceman rest with New Line Cinema, and Brian Evans has written a screenplay for it but nothing has happened to it so far. The rights to The Diceman rest with Paramount Pictures.
Luke has written a number of screenplays himself, including one on The Dice Man, and Adventures of Wim, in an effort to accelerate the process, but with no success. Luke Rhinehart would seem not to be a Hollywood-style hero.
Spin-offs and Influences
Companies being companies, have often attempted to profit from the ideas of the Dice Man, and a few such ventures are noted below. Also, a number of musicians, writers, artists, and other people have been influenced by the ideas. A wide influence for a small paperback book sold for less than a fiver.
Dice have always been colloquially referred to as rocks, and the makers of Rolling Rock lager knew a good tie-in when they saw one. They launched a series of adverts based around the diceman theme, and even a Diceliving website, and have since been strongly associated with Luke's books.
Indeed, the rise from the dead of Rolling Rock in the late 1990s has partially been attributed to the rise of dicing at around the same time, fueled, perhaps, by Internet chatrooms where role-playing is common.
Let's do It like They Do on the Discovery Channel
The Discovery Channel recently hired a pair of part-time dicers to do a Diceman Travel Programme based on the dice. Where they go, what they see, and what they do, all are based on the roll of a dice. Apparently it's been popular, though the tendency of the dice to steer the couple off in strange directions has caused problems for the producers and editors.
Also on film, there have been at least three documentaries on diceliving and the philosophy of the dice, including one 50-minute short film called Dice World by Paul Wilmshurst, and published by Channel Four in the USA.
Luke sprinkles a liberal variety of new words and phrases into his books, none of which have entered popular language. A few choice examples are 'dicesciple' and 'I'll be diced'.
It's even inspired a computer font - 'Living by Numbers' by Ray Larabie.
Message Boards and Advice
Johan Neilson created a definitive dicing resource in his Six Sided Homepage back in 1997 in response to a lack of such sites on the web in general. To date it's still running well, though it does suffer from a Y2K bug. But why would a dice care about the date?
The diceman has turned up in several songs - here's a quick list:
The Manga Bros make their songs according to the principles of The Dice Man
'Six Different Ways' by The Cure
'Dice Man' by The Fall
'Random I Am' by Millencolin
'Slaughter Of The Soul' by At the Gates
'X, Y and Zee' by Pop Will Eat Itself
'Black Diary' by Jameson
'Patrick Bateman' by The Manic Street Preachers
'Such a Shame' by Mark Hollis
'The Dice Man' is an alias used by Richard D James, the Aphex Twin
'The Diceman' is the alias used for certain projects of Colin James (Jolly James, Gregg Retch, formerly of Meat Beat Manifesto)
Jock's Image Gallery shows six 'chance and decision' paintings, which were drawn using a method inspired by The Dice Man.
Ben Marshall, of Loaded magazine, has spent the past two years experimenting with being a diceman, and writing up his experiences in the magazine. This seems to have been a big hit with the readers, and Loaded subsequently named Luke Rhinehart as writer of the century. Praise indeed.
A Random Life
Most authors have nice biographies which show a place of birth, current location, and preferably a few nice pictures. Not this one. Those few facts and figures which are out in the public domain are uncertain. In any case, one would expect a diceperson to be free and loose with the truth. This is certainly the impression he gives when writing:
Finally, there is George Cockcroft. In theory he is the author of several books, including 'The Dice Man'. For most of the last 30 years he has hidden behind the name of Luke Rhinehart, but in this book he begins to peek out behind Luke's bulky presence and reveal a few things about himself. Any man who has as one of his mottos: 'This Truth Above All: Fake It' can hardly be considered reliable, so the intelligent reader will take anything he says with the same pinch of salt taken when listening to any other fictional character.
One wonders if celebrities should try and catch on to this model for privacy - creating so much inaccurate and contradictory information that nobody knows who they are. This elusiveness is helped by his followers, who are always at their most unreliable when answering questions about him. This is no doubt inspired by The Search for the Dice Man, where his fictional followers are equally creative in their answers.
The same process holds good for questions on the real life existence of dice centres and similar concepts from the book. It has been claimed that 'Barter Books' in Alnwick, England is a dice centre, for example. Maybe it is. Maybe it's a brilliant marketing scheme.
From the Books
The books claim copyrights by either Luke Rhinehart or George Cockcroft. There are the following hints in their cover notes, but this is all there is...
Dedication from The Dice Man: 'To A, J, M. Without any of whom. No book.'
Dedication from Long Voyage Back: 'For Ann, who made me aware.'
Nothing from Adventures of Wim.
Dedication from The Book of the Die: '...to my wife Ann... to Francis and Chris... to Dan Mandel... to my friends and fellow seekers.'
Biography from Matari: 'During his years as a university teacher Luke Rhinehart taught, amongst other things, courses in Zen and Western literature... in 1971 he was engaged in creating a dice centre in New York... He is also involved in a round-the-world voyage in a large trimaran ketch.'
Biography from Search for the Dice Man, Book of the Die, The Dice Man: 'He lives in the United States.'
A Life Story
George Cockcroft was born on 15 November, 19321, son of an engineer and a civil servant. He got his BA at Cornell University, and his MA at Columbia University, where he married on 30 June, 1956. Subsequently he got a PhD in psychology, also at Columbia, and had three children, in no particular order.
He subsequently went into teaching, teaching English at a number of places, until 1970 when he became a full-time writer and leader of the dice cult.
His religion is Zen Buddhist (from the stories, Luke was a Zen Buddhist before he found the dice, though the book does rather ridicule the religion) and he is a member of, amongst others, The Authors Guild, the Hudson Valley Writers Guild, Phi Beta Kappa, and Phi Kappa Phi. He is also a sailing enthusiast.
Another Life Story
Luke Rhinehart was a psychology professor who, bored with his lot, moved himself, his wife, and his three kids, to a Spanish island and wrote The Dice Man. Since then he has made only occasional stealthy contact to sell new books, and is still wanted by his government for unpaid taxes.
The Story He told Books Unlimited
Luke started experimenting with dice a long time before writing The Dice Man, but this made progress on the novel rather slow. When he actually finished it, he was 37, and lived in Majorca teaching English to the hippies (or maybe teaching the English to be hippies - the text is ambiguous). It was only by chance that he ran into a publisher, and the rest of the world could share his dream.
Later on he spent some time in a sailboat in the Mediterranean, and from there moved to a former surfer retreat on the edge of a lake. He's not quite as evangelical as the Luke who wrote The Dice Man, and has settled down a whole lot.
The Story from Guardian Unlimited
A bored New York psychologist called Luke Rhinehart was exploring the notion of divided personality, that 'there are as many selves as groups to which we belong', in his best-selling novel, 'The Dice Man'. Despite what society tells us, we don't just have one personality, but several, claimed Rhinehart, before proceeding to surrender his free will to the roll of the dice in an effort to test his theory.
They proceeded to link David Bowie's success to reading the book, though they did admit that they have no evidence. Good story, though.
Do Invisible Dice Roll Sixes?
There are those who suspect that George Cockroft and HF Keating - author of Memoirs of an Invisible Man - are one and the same person. This is based on the fact that the two authors in these books share the following techniques and similarities:
A first person point of view linear narrative.
An educated, middle aged, white male protagonist.
A contemporary US setting.
A unique satirical viewpoint and similar bureaucratic and pop culture targets.
An arresting fantasy science fiction premise.
A similar sense of humour.
Very similar writing styles, even down to some specific phraseology.
Both books share themes of hiding your real identity... either concealing the body behind a transparency effect, or concealing the personality behind pseudo-identities.
It has also been rumoured that a different person wrote Search for the Diceman than the one that wrote The Dice Man, which is certainly possible. Maybe a son, or relation, or someone else just trying to cash in on the name. Can you figure it out?
Where Is He Now?
Good question. His last known mailing address was Luke Hill in Canaan, New York. Further research reveals that he is on the Advisory Committee Board of the International Writers' Colony at Ledig House. But essentially, you don't find the Dice Man - he finds you.