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The Zap Gun
Philip K. Dick
Gollancz, 253 pages

Philip K. Dick
Philip K. Dick was born in Chicago in 1928. While attending UC at Berkeley, he dropped out rather than take ROTC training. He went on to write some 36 novels and 5 short story collections. He won the 1962 Hugo for The Man in the High Castle and the 1974 John W. Campbell Award for Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said. He died of heart failure caused by a stroke in 1982.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Simulacra
SF Site Review: Lies, Inc.
SF Site Review: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
SF Site Review: Time Out Of Joint
SF Site Review: The Game-Players of Titan
SF Site Review: Minority Report
SF Site Review: Now Wait For Last Year
SF Site Review: Dr. Bloodmoney
SF Site Review: Beyond Lies the Wub and The Father-Thing
SF Site Review: Second Variety
SF Site Review: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Martian Time-Slip and A Scanner Darkly
SF Site Reading List: Philip K. Dick

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

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The Zap Gun One of the happy results of Philip K. Dick's posthumous, Hollywood-fed, popularity is that his work is very widely available. The Zap Gun is surely one of his less well-known novels, but here we see it in a brand new UK large-sized paperback edition. It's not one of his masterworks, but it is a fine, enjoyable, very funny, novel.

Dick's novels very often have a comic aspect, but this is one of the funniest. Curiously enough, it is set at almost the present time -- our present, that is: 2005. The US and allies (Wes-Bloc) and the Soviet Union and allies (Peep-East) have secretly come to an agreement: instead of continuing the ruinous arms race, they will pretend to be constantly developing new weapons, which are then "plowshared": turned into goofy consumer products. The weapon designers are psychics, who dream up their new designs in trance states. The Wes-Bloc designer, Lars Powderdry, or Mr. Lars of Mr. Lars Incorporated (the conceit being that weapons are basically fashion), is the main viewpoint character. He is tortured by the knowledge that he is essentially a fraud -- his designs are useless. He is also obsessed with his opposite number in Peep-East: Lilo Topchev, of whom he knows nothing. This despite his very sexy mistress, Maren Faine, head of the Paris branch of Mr. Lars, Incorporated.

Dick mines this central idea for some comic play, then introduces a slightish plot. Aliens from Sirius invade Earth, looking for slaves. Earth has a problem -- for decades nobody has developed new weapons. In desperation, the two blocs decide to have Lars and Lilo collaborate -- which satisfies Lars's desire to meet Lilo. But Lilo, instead of cooperating, immediately tries to kill Lars. And even when they work together, their designs, though unusual, seem hardly useful. There is a fairly pointless, though also funny, subplot about a paranoid conspiracy theorist and White Supremacist who is elected as an "average man" to the governing body of Wes-Bloc. The eventual solution involves a wild mix of time travel, androids, drugs, toys, and comic books. All of this hardly matters -- Dick was under less control of his plot than usual here -- I think his main concern was to be funny.

Lars is a fairly sympathetic main character. Dick's extrapolations of the future often seem quite prescient -- indeed, the book has hardly dated at all. And he succeeds in being funny, and very entertaining. The Zap Gun isn't a great work, but it is well worth reading.

Copyright © 2006 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.


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