Wednesday, 14 November 2001

Philip K. Dick: The Zap Gun (1965)

Edition: Grafton, 1975 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 993

Philip K. Dick had two concerns which appear over and over again in his novels, the meaning of humanity and the chance or occult motivation of events. The second theme is of primary importance here. The idea of the novel is that the arms race is effectively over, but that those not in the know ("pursaps" as opposed to "cogs") need to be persuaded that weapons research is still going on. So there has arisen a "weapons fashion industry", which each week comes up with a design, which is shown in action on TV (against androids; none of the weapons really work) and then elaborately "ploughshared" - turned into some peaceful gadget. The weapons designers get their ideas acting as mediums in trances, which is where the occult motivation of events comes in.

The crisis comes when Earth is invaded by aliens and suddenly real weapons are required - weapons which the pursaps believe to be already in existence. Or is this what is happening - the only source of information about what is going on (cities disappearing after satellites appear in orbit) is a toy designer who appears to have travelled in time from the future with a warning.

The extremely trashy title may have prevented this novel, which with its theme of the alien slavers is a satire on the pulp science fiction genre, being one of Dick's better known, but it is easily up to the high standard regularly reached by his fiction. It lacks the punch of his biggest classics, but doesn't fall far short.

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