by Richard E. Geis
Thanks to Frank Bertrand and Patrick Clark for contibuting this article to philipdick.com.
[source: Psychotic, #21, November 1967. Note: This obscure review is by
Richard E. Geis, the legendary and award winning long time fanzine writer, editor and
publisher, in particular of The Alien Critic]
Philip K. Dick has a habit of persuading the reader he is presenting a common, every-day variety of science fiction, in this instance a satire, and then, when the reader is hooked, or isn’t looking, firing the zingers deep into the poor sap’s unsuspecting mind.
In ZAP GUN the plot runs as follows: by the year 2004 the East bloc and the West bloc have agreed to peace but for the benefit of their “average man” have kept the cold war alive in the mass media by using psi-talented weapons designers who “create” super weapons while in drugged trance-states. But the weapons are fakes and are immediately “plowshared” into household gadgets.
Dick doesn’t explain why this system works so
well, economically, or why the two blocs have to kid their populations
along, but never mind – this is satire, isn’t it?
Some of the characters are oddly named: the
protagonist, Lars Powderdry, the West’s weapons designer; and a minor
(seemingly) character named Surely G. Febbs. These names, plus the jesting
and mucked-up blurb-teaser page just inside the cover, further instruct the
reader that this book is wild satire.
Okay, to continue the plot: alien satelites appear
in the sky. The world’s rulers suddenly realize they have no weapons that
can touch these sats. The East bloc and West bloc weapons designers are
brought together to come up with a real weapon. They fail. In the meantime
the aliens, Sirius slave traders, are sucking up whole city populations.
A basic s-f plot, right? But Dick starts winging
and suddenly the rules are out the window. We meet an ancient war veteran
who talks of a war he fought in 63 years ago in 2005 – one year in the
future! We discover that the weapons designers have been tuning into the
mind of a mad cartoonist and stealing his comic book fantasy weapons. And
we find that a weapon can be created from a contempoary toy to defeat the
aliens. Who tipped off the hero, Lars Powderdry, about the toy? The old
war veteran who has time-traveled back to save the world. The veteran is
Vincent Klug, a failure as a toymaker in 2004 who may be the ultimate ruler
of the world. Or, then again, maybe he isn’t.
Surely G. Febbs? Oh, he’s a typical paranoid
chosen by a government computor to help “rule” the West bloc in committee
with five other typical pursap (poor sap) citizens. Surely manages to put
together a real zap gun and is almost the supreme ruler of the world
except for one little thing – at the last moment he gets caught in a
mind-destroying maze, see, and…
Then there is the head of KACH, a private espionage
outfit serving both East and West. He, too, is caught by one of the mazes
which is delivered by mail, as was the one that trapped Surely.
So who sent the mazes?
Suddenly, with Philip K. Dick writing the book,
nothing is simple or settled.
The characters are real people, not caricatures,
and this is confusing, because if the people are real that means the plot
isn’t just for laughs and – On the other hand the plot has to be a
fake because the book should have ended at the finish of Chapter 29. But
the story goes on and makes all that happened before so much crap. The
Sirius Slave Traders and weapons designers plot is a schtik, an exercise
in Dickian put-on.
With this guy Nothing is Certain.
And I like it this way. His books are a
The zingers? Dick makes comments about now in a
future setting. Like: ‘There is, he thought, probably a free pamphlet,
distributed by UN-West for the asking, titled something like, HOW WE RULE
YOU FELLAS AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING ABOUT IT?’
And there are others.
I wonder if Dick used the I Ching when plotting
this book? I’m still trying to puzzle out the meaning of THE MAN IN THE