Carmody no other name is given) lives an ordinary life on Earth until an alien Messenger shows up to inform him that he has won the Intergalactic Sweepstakes and to take him to collect his prize. After signing the paper accepting the prize, he is confronted by an alien named Karmod, who insists that he is the rightful winner of the prize, pointing out that Carmody could not have entered the sweepstakes because Earth is not a part of the Galactic culture. The computer that made the award admits (proclaims, in fact) that it had made an error in awarding the prize to Carmody, but the prize itself speaks up, urging Carmody not to give in, and he insists on keeping it.
Carmody then learns that he will have to find his own way home, specifically that he will have to find the Where, When, and Which of his Earth. Carmody and the prize are sent to the planet Lursis, owned and inhabited by the god Melichrone. Melichrone is the only entity that can live on Lursis for long. As the god of that planet, he has turned himself into entire races of beings, but now he is bored and can find no meaning in life. Carmody tells him that he can find meaning by helping others, such as Carmody himself. Melichrone agrees, warning Carmody that his unique situation as prize winner has caused him to be pursued by a unique predator. He sends Carmody to another godlike figure named Maudsley.
Maudsley turns out to be a builder of worlds, one who economizes by using shabby...
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