The Zap Gun
|The Zap Gun|
The Zap Gun - paperback book cover image
|Author(s)||Philip K. Dick|
The Zap Gun is a 1965 science fiction novel by Philip K. Dick. The novel was expanded from his novella Project Plowshare, which was first published as a two-part serial in the November, 1965, and January, 1966, issues of Worlds of Tomorrow magazine. The author is perhaps better known for his 1968 Science fiction novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"  which became to basis of the 1982 Ridley Scott film "Blade Runner" staring Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer 
This novel is set in 2004. There is still a charade of Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union although the two blocs now include China and certain countries that were non-aligned in 1965. Elites in both blocs, called cogs (from cogniscienti; the non-elite are "pursaps" which is never fully explained but comes up as "pure saps" in one character's thought-processes) operate under secret protocols to the treaty between the two world leaders leading to détente and signed in Fairfax, Iceland in 1992. The secret part of the agreement turns the arms race into consumer product development under cover of advanced weaponry, ostensibly as civilian spin-offs, or as the author calls them, "plowshared" items (from Isaiah 2:4: "And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore."). The weapon designers are called weapons fashion designers. Both blocs have one person each who holds the office of weapons fashion designer, although they cultivate successors. The weapons fashion designers don't create weapons or consumer products in the traditional sense of the word, rather, they enter a trance state silimar to an epileptic seizure. In this state they use a form of automatic writing--or sketching--to deliver plans for complete items, which are quickly sent to developers for construction.
The Wes-Bloc--Peep-East is the name of the Eastern bloc--weapons designer, Lars Powderdry, is the central character. He is deeply troubled that the modern world hinges upon a fraud as well as worried he might be replaced at any time by pretenders the military government has waiting in the wings. The Peep-East weapons fashion designer is Lilo Topchev, a woman of unknown age about Lars speculates before--and after--the global private intelligence agency KACH provides him an intentionally blurry photograph of her per his request. Maren Faine is the head of the Paris branch of Mr. Lars, Incorporated, and Lars's mistress. He commutes between the Wes-Bloc capital Festung Washington, D. C.; San Jose, California and Paris using high-speed transportation devices referred to as hoppers.
A character named Vincent Klug, a failed toy maker, somehow manages to hang around the subterranean levels of Lanferman Associates under San Jose (stretching from Los Angeles to San Francisco under ground) without authorization. The existence of this massive facility is kept secret from the pursaps. It's where consumer products are developed as well as spurious films of the weapons they are supposedly based on are crafted, deployed against uprisings in colonies off-world. Klug hangs around hoping to convince some of the designers to work on his toy plans, and one does agree to do so on his off hours.
A subplot revolves around Surley G. Febbs, a pursap who has spent considerable time pursuing what passes for knowledge about tearweps (terror-weapons) at public libraries. He is selected as a concomody, which is the office of chief consumer representative and the military junta's abbreviated version of representative democracy (the US Senate is mentioned as still existing as a vestigal organization: "Spokesman: a transparent shade named President Nathan Schwarzkopf. Like the League of Nations, such bodies perpetuated themselves, even though they had ceased to be even a chowder and marching society." Likewise the Supreme Soviet has disappeared although the head of Peep-East was also the head of the Party, among other things). Six concomodies sit in session in Festung Washington with Commander-in-chief Supreme UN-West General George Nitz. Febbs is contacted and told he has been selected because he exactly matches the profile for the average American, which he takes as a compliment while protesting the notion that he is in any way average. He quits his job and begins to make his way to Festung Washington to take up the post when events overtake all the characters in the book.
"NASBA, the Wes-bloc space agency at Cheyenne, Wyoming, announced today that a new satellite, presumably launched by Peoples’ China or Freedom For Mankind Cuba, is in orbit at an—"
Peep-East quickly denies the satellite is theirs and General Nitz makes this the main contingency while harboring reservations it is really a Peep-East trick. Peep-East shares telemetry data Wes-bloc doesn't have on the satellite and the leadership of the elite in both blocs come around to the understanding that this is a real invasion by aliens, especially after more craft appear. Eventually a grey curtain descends upon New Orleans. Although the force-field curtain is impenetrable to observation via more conventional means, "instruments nearby" record a lowering of mass, Red Army Intelligence Major Tibor Apostokagian Geschenko reports, and tells Lars Powderdry that the aliens are "slavers."
Geschenko and Powderdry speak in Fiarfax, Iceland, during an attempt to pool the talents of the world's two top weapons fashion designers, Powderdry and Topchev, to come up with a solution to the alien problem. Iceland is nominally neutral territory, presumably following the 1992 accords. Powederdry is warned en route by FBI agents that if he fails he will be killed. He is then left in the custody of the Soviet KVB in order to meet Topchev in an apartment. After he's handed off to the Soviets he asks them if he can buy a magazine to read as they move through a large passenger terminal at what sounds like the airport. Powderdry buys The Blue Cephalopod Man from Titan, a lurid comic book, which engenders some questions by the KVB guards.
The KVB takes him up in a hopper above Fairfax and he starts to leaf through the comic. He realizes two things: the comic is intended for an audience in Afro-Asia, not Iceland; the comic contains classified information from his own weapon designs.
Upon meeting Lilo Topchev is the safehouse, she turns out to be in her teens, indicates the room is being surveilled, and attempts to poison him by slipping him two pills of her designer trance medication. He survives the attempt on his life but demands his personal physician, Dr. Todt, be present at all future meetings. He also needs his own cocktail of drugs to enter his trance state.
They do enter their trances at roughly the same time and Lars Powderdry returns to find he sketched a "donkey-type steam engine." Ms. Topchev's sketch initially appears more promising and Powderdry realizes they co-drew it in the trance state, but turns out to be "utterly hopeless" for the situation at hand. While they drink to their failure, Powderdry randomly pulls the comic book out of his pocket and presents it to Topchev. She, too, recognizes her own handiwork in some of the weaponry in the comic. Powderdry and Topchev compare notes and realize the comic book published at least some of their inventions before they had invented them. Powderdry asks Geschenko permission to contact KACH but Geschenko orders KACH contacted to investigate the comic book instead, which originates in Ghana. Geschenko confiscates the comic and instructs an aid what to do with it. Powderdry then demands to be returned to FBI jurisdiction.
Instead of freeing Powderdry, the two psychic weapons channelers and Geschenko drink coffee and discuss the possibilities involved with the comic book. Powderdry and Topchev reach the conclusion that they are telepathically reading their tearwep ideas from the comic book author's mind. Powderdry manages to get Geschenko to agree to let him call the R&D lab in California. He asks Pete Freid there to find a complete set of issues of the comic and to corss-reference all devices in the stories with known Peep-East and Wes-Bloc designs. The line goes dead before he can ask Peter Freid to contact the FBI in San Francisco to in turn contact the FBI team on the ground in Fairfax that he is being held against his will. Nonetheless Dr. Todt produces a weapon and communications device from his medical bag and the FBI overpowers the KVB men, enter the apartment and consent to take Lilo Topchev back to the United States after checking with headquarters.
Meanwhile back in D. C. Surley G. Febbs has been locked out of the headquarters of Wes-Bloc government and uses the opportunity to network with other concomodies-elect looking for an in.
The character of Ricardo Hastings is introduced as a mentally disabled veteran wandering around outside HQ in Festung Washington trying to regale passer-by with tales from the "Big War." Eventually two young officers-in-training listen to his tale, realize he is talking about current events from the vantage point of the future and bring the old man to the attention of their higher-ups. Hastings reveals the aliens are crab-like creatures from Sirius and confirms suspicions they are capturing slaves. Unfortunately Hastings's mind has deteriorated to the point where he repeats the same phrase over and over again and cannot follow a logical train of thought. He talks about a TWG weapon that misfired; the initials eventually resolve into Time Warp Generator.
Powderdry and Topchev travel to his Washington headquarters and run into Maren Faine, who confronts them with a miniaturized pistol. She fires and Powderdry blacks out, finding himself next in Seattle, Washington. After a few phone calls he's on his way to D. C. again, where the seeming cause for his break with reality turns out to be unfounded: Faine misfired the weapon and killed herself instead of Topchev.
Lilo Topchev has been trying to channel at the bedside of the now-hospitalized Ricardo Hastings but the results all seem to be of some android design. Powderdry arrives and they do a joint trance session next to him. Powderdry learns that Hastings is actually Klug, the toymaker, from the year 2068 long after the Big War ended. Because of the nature of time, Klug is unable to provide Powderdry with the weapon needed to rout the Sirians but he can give certain hints. Powderdry learns an existing device will be used in the war successfully. Klug is deceiving Topchev because she is from Peep-East. Powderdry emerges from the trance seemingly too early, but has written down four words on a piece of paper during the trance. The second word is illegible: "The ___ in the maze." Topchev resolves the second word to "man." Powderdry has Henry Morris at his New York office contact Klug to find a maze toy whose prototype was already built by Peter Freid of Lanfeman. Morris sends him the prototype toy and instructions. The toy is successful in repelling the crabs from Sirius.
Surley G. Febbs has hatched a plot with his fellow disenfranchised concomodies even though they were allowed into session following the withdrawal of the alien craft around Earth. At a secret conapt (condominium apartment) they assemble a real weapon. Once it's done, Febbs turns the weapons on his co-conspirators and kills them all. He then opens a package delivered during assembly and it's one of Klug's toys.
A KACH man writing up a report about Febbs and his demise also receives one of the toys by instant delivery.
Lars Powderdry and Lilo Topchev move in together. Lilo is flirting with the idea of returning to Peep-East rather than going to work at Lars, Inc.'s Paris headquarters, which she perceives would be to play the part of surrogate for the late Maren Faine.
The Zap Gun fits in with Dick's phase of political science fiction novels. Near the end he introduces foreign words that later figure in his religious science fiction novels. Aliens from Sirius with crab-liek hands creep up as a vision in VALIS and as an historical subcurrent in that book.
There have been no cinema, radio or television adaptations of Zap Gun. There are no known popular culture references to it.
- Dick's novel puts US/Soviet détente as starting in 1992 after an agreement reached in Iceland. Reagan and Gorbachev met in Reykjavík, Iceland and allegedly ended the Cold War starting in 1986 and culminating in the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. Reagan also made famous comments about how the two blocs would have to unite in the face of an alien threat, albeit at a different venue.
- New Orleans/Project Plowshare: The original name of the story was Project Plowshare when it was serialized by Worlds of Tomorrow. Project Plowshare aka Operation Plowshare was the name of the real US initiative to use nuclear weapons for peaceful purposes, including for oil and natural gas extraction. Three thirty kiloton yield nukes were placed underground at Grand Junction, Colorado, to stimulate natural gas flow and detonated on May 17, 1973. Funding was discontinued in 1977. Recently there has been a revival of interest in Project Plowshare and related Soviet projects to stop out-of-control deep oil and gas wells, specifically in regards to the oil disaster affecting the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, with New Orleans and southern Louisiana the first and so far hardest-hit location. New Orleans figures in Dick's novel as the first victim of the alien invasion. The lack of response by federal authorities and their refusal to allow state and local authorities or the media in hint that this is a grand operation to create a major disaster for political purposes, much as Reagan's off-the-cuff remarks about the effects of an alien invasion was framed in terms of political utility.
The weapons fashion designers' use of some sort of deep trance, which the drugs only facilitate but do not create, to channel technology is mirrored in certain theories about the Nazis using mediums to contact aliens and gain aerospace plans from them.
The prospect fairly assumes the existence of some sort of shared subconscious or collective unconscious, whether Powderdry and Topchev were drawing from the same source as the Ghanean comic book author or directly from him.
This delving into the depths of the collective mind for utilitarian or artistic goals is mirrored somewhat in the device used to repel the Sirius crabpeople, a small device containing a creature (not human) in a maze. The maze represents both the world of lies Lars Powderdry inhabits and co-creates from which he attempts to escape, and labyrinth of the mind which the acolyte must pass through to have an encounter with the pneumatic symbols orbiting the archetypes of the deep mind of the universe. The optimistic message of the novel seems to be that the means for escaping a bad situation already exist and are at hand, if only we are sensitive enough to perceive them. Although Lilo Topchev escapes the grayness of life in Peep-East, she is tempted to return to that state because of Powderdry's refusal to give up the ghost of his dead mistress, but both eventually reconcile with her death and his reaction.
Klug is a rather transparent Santa Claus stand-in who gets trapped in a time oscillation in order to save the planet, so a Santa Claus as Redeemer who likes to tell war stories and doesn't shy away from profanities.
KACH (the acronym is never defined; either it's a play on the Soviet Cheka, it's meant to be pronounced and means "catch" or Dick had some idea for a four-letter agency but never let on) is the global, for-hire private intelligence agency serving two masters, Peep-East and Wes-bloc, but actually deceiving both with limited or obfuscated data, for its own ends.
KACH operations are never fully fleshed out in the novel, but the concept itself, of a global intelligence agency not loyal to either bloc, was probably sufficient to fire imaginations in the year following the Kennedy assassination, 1965, when the novel was written.
- File:Zap Gun.pdf - The full novel in pdf format
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