The Zap Gun eventually won me over with its loopy charm. In 2004 Wes-bloc and Peep-East are locked in a cold war, but they only pretend to build the weapons that keep the other countries at bay.
Weapons fashion designers on both sides create sketches while in a trance-like state. The public believes these sketches are used to construct lethal weapons, but in reality the designs are just turned into consumer gadgets and toys. When aliens attack, the two sides must join together to find a real weapon that can save Earth.
Dick wrote The Zap Gun while he was also writing The Penultimate Truth. In that one he identified with the Yance-man speechwriter hacks, and in this one he writes about Lars Powderdry who has a deep-seated fear he will enter one of his drug-induced trances, return without anything to show for it and be discovered as a fraud.
A lot of the Vintage paperbacks feature the Village Voice blurb that calls Dick the poor man’s Thomas Pynchon. I’d say this is Dick at his most Pynchony with all the goofy names (Surely G. Febbs, Lars Powderdry, Dr. Todt aka Dr. Dead in German) and a plot with an off-kilter sense of humor that takes a while to sort out.
Cast of characters
Lars Powderdry – our protagonist. A weapons fashion designer for Wes-bloc
Lilo Topchev – Peep-East’s weapons fashion designer
Dr. Todt and Elvira Funt – Lars’s medical team
Maren Faine – Lars’s mistress
General Nitz – the Commander in Chief on Natsec’s board
Marshal Paponovich – Soviet Marshal and head of SeRKeb
Don Packard – a KACH-man
Surely G. Febbs – the newest concomody on the UN-W Natsec Board
Pete Freid – ranking engineer at Lanferman Associates
Aksel Kaminsky – a Soviet official
Jack Lanferman – owner of Lanferman Associates
Vincent Klug – toymaker who tries to convince Lanferman to partner with him on prototypes
Major Geschenko – head of the Soviet KVB surveillance team
Ricardo Hastings – a so-called war veteran who traveled back in time from 2068
Other things to know
Wes-bloc – the Western nations
Peep-East – the Sino-Soviet bloc of countries
KACH – a planet-wide private police agency
SeRKeb – Peep-East’s governing body
UN-W Natsec – the governing board of Wes-bloc
Lanferman Associates – the firm that produces prototypes from Lars’s trance sketches
pursaps – pure saps or poor saps. The majority of the public
cogs – the cognoscenti. The ruling class who know the truth about the “weapons”
Set in 2041. I never realized, before I started reading a lot of PKD books back to back to back, how fascinated he is with Nazis and World War II Germany. Three of the last five books I read (this one, The Penultimate Truth and Lies, Inc) dealt with Nazi Germany in some way.
Dick threw nearly everything he could think of into this one. The main storyline has an concept similar to The Penultimate Truth involving a simulacrum of the President, although the rest is stuffed with multiple subplots that include psionics, Neanderthals and an attempt to cure Hitler by sending a psychoanalyst back in time.
This novel has a million characters to keep track of, but the anxiety-causing commercials that buzz around like flies, used-car salesman who sell jalopies that travel to Mars and primitive alien life forms used on Earth as components in recording devices are all great.
The conclusion focuses on the least interesting subplot as a group of Neanderthals called chuppers from some different branch of the evolutionary tree gather around a television and watch as Homo sapiens destroy themselves in a war. The few Homo sapiens in the room with them have the grim realization this is the moment the chuppers have been waiting for. Just short of a classic as it doesn’t all come together in the end.
Cast of characters
Richard Kongrosian – a Soviet pianist who plays Brahms and Schumann with his mind
Dr. Egon Superb – a psychoanalyst
Bertold Goltz – head of the Neo-nazi group Sons of Job
Wilder Pembroke – commissioner of the National Police
Rudolf Kalbfleisch – the current der Alte. A simulacrum
Nicole Thibodeaux– the First Lady. Has a stature greater than the president in their matriarchal society
Emil Stark – Prime Minister of Israel
Janet Raimer – Chief White House talent scout
Garth McRae – Assistant State Secretary
Harold Slezak – White House A & R secretary
Hermann Göring – founder of the Gestapo, commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe and Hitler’s successor in World War II
Vince Strikerock – works for Karp u. Sohnen
Chic Strikerock – brother of Vince. Works for Frauenzimmer Associates.
Julia Applequist– ex-wife of Vince Strikerock
Maury Frauenzimmer – Chic’s boss. Owner of Frauenzimmer Associates
Felix and Anton Karp – father and son owners of Karp u. Sohnen
Ian Duncan – aimless member of the Abraham Lincoln apartment building
Al Miller – Ian Duncan’s former friend and jug band partner. Works for Loony Luke’s jalopy business
Patrick Doyle – skypilot for the Abraham Lincoln apartments
Edgar Stone – scheming member of the Abraham Lincoln apartment building
Nat Flieger – works at Electronic Musical Enterprise
Jim Planck – employee of EME
Leo Dondoldo – owner of EME
Molly Dondoldo – Leo’s daughter
Other things to know
USEA – United States of Europe and America
McPhearson Act – outlaws the practice of psychoanalysis in favor of drug therapy
der Alte – German for “the old man.” The president. Has been a simulacrum for the last fifty years
Karp und Sohnen Werke – German for Karp and Sons. Built the Kalbfleisch simulacrum
the Ges – Geheimnisträger. The upper social class. Possessors of the secret that der Alte is a simulacrum
the Bes – Befehlträger. The lower social class
Frauenzimmer Associates – simulacra construction company