A Review of The Zap Gun

The Zap GunThe Zap Gun by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was another crazy book (in a good way) by Philip K. Dick. It’s more lucid and centered than many of his other (later) books. This was written in 1965, but is set in 2004. In this book, the Cold War still exists, seemingly, between Wes-bloc (us) and Peep-East (the Soviets). There is a weapons race between the two sides, and each employs “weapons fashion designers” to design their new weapons. The thing is, a peace treaty had been agreed upon years ago between the sides and these weapons don’t and won’t work. They’re not designed to. After the designs are made, they go into production and fake weapons are then filmed doing significant damage to the other side so that society, the “pursaps” (pure saps), will continue to think they’re being protected by their respective governments in an evil world.

The protagonist for this book is Lars Powderdry (another great Dick name), the western weapons fashion designer. His eastern counterpart is an attractive young “cog” named Lilo Topchev, and does Lars have a thing for her. Even though he has a mistress in Paris. Yep. Dick and his cluttered relationships are at work again. Heh.

Both weapons fashion designers use hard core secretive drugs to induce a trance state during which time they sketch their weapon ideas. Upon waking, they see what they’ve sketched and the sketches are off to the lab. This situation works out well for everyone — until alien satellites appear in the sky and apparently start to take entire cities (starting with New Orleans) captive for slave labor in the Sirius system. It’s at this point the weapon fashion designers are brought together (in Iceland, I believe) to pool their resources in the hopes of making a real weapon to defeat the aliens.

One interesting sub-plot occurs when Lars picks up a pulp comic at a magazine stand and recognizes some of his weapons in the comic. Lilo does too, when he shows it to her. The tricky thing is, these are weapons they just concocted this week, while the comic has been on the stands for one or two months. So, are they stealing their ideas from a schizophrenic comic book writer?

Another major part of the plot occurs when some soldiers in DC happen upon a doddering old man talking about a major battle he helped win 60 some years ago — in 2005. He’s from the future. Time travel. Yep. (You also get androids in this novel too. Sci fi all the way, baby!) Klug, the old man, is taken to the authorities where they come to believe his story and set up Lilo and Lars to work with him to try and get a design for the real weapon that defeated the aliens all those years ago. Lilo is ineffective, but Lars “connects” with Klug while in his trance and finds the answers to his questions. The answer lies in a toy. I won’t give it away though.

Yet another sub-plot involves Surley G. Febbs, one of the funniest characters I’ve seen out of Dick. A severe narcissist with a plot to rule the world, he plays a role at the end, after you think the book has been tied up nicely. The thing that makes this work is, this actually ties the ending up nicely. It’s a fresh perspective for me, because one of my major complaints about Dick is that his endings always seem so rushed, so not-quite-finished. This ending works for me.

There’s sex, there’s a suicide, there’s hilarious terms Dick makes up for nearly everything, and underneath it all is the running satire of the real life arms race that people were frightened to death of during the time of the book’s writing. This isn’t Dick’s best book. In fact, some people don’t like it all that much. But I really enjoyed it and finished it in less than a day. It was that gripping. Recommended for all!

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