The Zap Gun is a mightily engaging read and tells the story of a man, the Dickensianly named character Lars Powderdry, tasked by the West-bloc government with coming up with new and frightful weapon designs which he sketches out during drug fuelled trances. By agreement with Peep-East (the other great superpower in this rendering of the future) who have their own weapons designer Lilo Popchev, the awesome and sometimes comedic functionality of these weapons is demonstrated to the general public but the weapons are then ‘plough-shared’ into commodities for non-aggressive purposes.
The story hinges on the fact that these weapons actually do not work and that the videos produced for general consumption are elaborate fakes. Earth is then threatened by a system of satellites set up by an alien race intending to put the human race into slavery. The two governments’ collusive bluff is called. Lars has to join forces with his nemesis Lilo to come up with the ultimate weapon to counter the alien threat. The endeavour is complicated by Lars falling in love with Lilo despite his having a mistress in the Paris office of his company.
The dystopian future is a more comedic version of Orwell’s 1984 with elaborate newspeak abbreviations of everyday speech, Lars’s unravelling self-confidence and troubled relationships, and some highly amusing twists and turns. For instance the actual source of the weapons designs is revealed and is far stranger than simply being a drug initiated connection to a parallel world and the ultimate weapon used against the aliens also has quite amusing origins.
Woven into the tale is the appearance of an old man who claims to be a warrior fallen back through time from a post-alien era who seems to hold the key to defeating the alien encirclement. This character has featured in a previous (short?) story of PKD’s I have read and I was pleased that this strong character idea found its way into a full length novel.
Once more drugs and the deception of the masses by the ruling classes are involved in the story and in this way PKD’s writing reflects his concerns about the state of America in the mid-1960s.
PS: this is my 200th blog post. Yay!