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”