You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Osamu Tezuka published this in 1970, shortly after Japan authorized sex education for teenagers. Much of what seems peculiar about the story today was therefore taboo-busting when it originally came out. In the prologue, 500 million anthropomorphic sperm race for a single egg, personified as a queen in a diaphanous gown. (Try to read this without thinking of Woody Allen.) The single winner loses his tail and disappears with the queen into the womb to create an embryo, defined by Tezuka as "...the mark of love, truth, and sincerity between man and woman, male and female."

This arch tone makes the occasional reappearance in the next 500 pages, but the story comes down to earth with the introduction of Shogo, a typically androgynous hero (I'm not androgynous, I'm just drawn that way.) Shogo has landed in the psych ward for torturing animals. Because of his bar hostess mother, he associates love with violence. The story will combine his real life adventures with dreams induced by shock therapy, hypnosis, or a serious crack on the head received when the angry boyfriend of a woman training Shogo to compete in marathons runs him off a mountain road. If you can make sense of that last bit, it accurately describes an incident in Apollo's Song.

Osamu Tezuka is commonly referred to as the God of Manga, and that he may be. His drawing style, however, is a period piece by more contemporary standards. His secondary characters are cartoons with funny faces. HIs sophistication shows only in his page construction and the wildness of his narratives. This edition comes with a quote from Publishers Weekly: "His work deals with the most profound questions of human existence." I suspect that statement was written to accompany his series on Buddha and not something like Apollo's Song.

Osamu Tezuka 1970
Woody Allen 1972
I'm not androgynous. I'm just drawn that way

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Silverberg about the time he
wrote The Stochastic Man
Robert Silverberg considered The Stochastic Man a valedictory offering. When he wrote the novel in the early 1970's he had already resolved to effect his second retirement from the world of science fiction. His first retirement came around 1958, the year the science fiction magazine world imploded due to over-saturation and the growing market for paperback books. Writer and editor Frederick Pohl brought Silverberg back into the sf fold in the early 1960's, encouraging him to write more thoughtful material than the pulp-influenced novels and stories he cranked out -- and Silverberg would not himself object to that characterization -- during the previous decade. But then, by the 1970's, Silverberg discovered that he was "on the wrong side of a revolution." He joined in with the new crowd of younger writers, J.G. Ballard, Thomas Disch, Samuel Delany and others, who were producing more literary and experimental fiction. ("Younger" is a relative term here. Silverberg himself was only in his thirties at this time, but he had been publishing since he was nineteen.) This period, from 1965 - 1974, is considered to be Silverberg's best, but he saw his readership drying up.
What was fun for the writers, though, turned out to be not so much fun for majority of the readers, who justifiably complained that if they wanted to read Joyce and Kafka they would go and read Joyce and Kafka. They didn't want their sf to be Joycified or Kafkaized. So they stayed away from the new fiction in droves, and by 1972 the revolution was pretty well over.
A difficult book to illustrate
but this cover is the most
far-fetched solution

Silverberg also sites the pernicious influence of Star Wars and the craze for trilogies on the popular sf market. He considered himself out of the game and simply fulfilling contractual commitments when he wrote The Stochastic Man and 
Shadrach in the Furnace, published in 1975 and 1976 respectively.

The Stochastic Man may not be the worst title ever given an sf novel, but forty years later it is unappealing, opaque, and dated. Silverberg gives a history and definition of the term in the opening chapter. It comes from logic and mathematics and figures in writing on computer theory. I associate it with the titles of text books and academic monographs filled with symbols and formulas I will never understand. On the practical level, it refers to using sophisticated sampling methods to gather a large enough pool of variables to proceed to an educated guess. Sexy stuff, right? In the 1970's it must have had buzzword novelty. I ran it through Google's NGram viewer that tracks a term's popularity. "Stochastic" makes a steady climb from near total obscurity in 1950 to a high point in 1990 and then, after a period of stasis, there is a decline beginning at the turn of the century. In the 1970's it was definitely on the rise. Silverberg's novel takes place in the 1990's, so when Lew Nichols defines himself as a stochastician, he is using a trendy 1970's term to describe a profession that sounds very much like what we would call a consultant, no frills attached.

The 1970's permeates Siverberg's near future narrative. New York City at the turn of the millennium is the worst case scenario of what New York in the early 1970's was becoming. With the successful Disneyfication of Times Square and the city's declining crime rates it is hard to remember that forty years ago New York City was dirty, dangerous, and nearing bankruptcy. Silverberg and his wife were both lifelong New Yorkers, but they had, like many of their friends, decamped for the West Coast by the time he wrote this novel. In Lew Nichol's New York City, Puerto Rican and Black populations stage pitched battles. Large portions of the city are too dangerous to enter, and those who can afford them travel with protective devices that ward off attackers. The nicest, newest and safest buildings are on Staten Island while the Upper East Side is livable but crumbling. All but the finest restaurants serve artificial food.

But Lew and his wife Sundara, a glamorous woman of Indian origin, live the good life. Lew's stochastic firm brings in an enviable income, as does Sundara's art gallery. (Hmm, a wealthy man whose wife runs an art gallery. Silverberg got that one right.) They attend exclusive parties where the elite mingle and choose sexual partners for later in the evening. A variety of legal drugs keep the party going.
The terrors and traumas of New York City seemed indecently remote as we stood by our long crystalline window, staring into the wintry moonbright night and seeing only our own reflections, tall fairhaired man and slender dark woman, side by side, side by side, allies against the darkness...Actually neither of us found life in the city really burdensome. As members of the affluent minority we were isolated from much of the crazy stuff...

So what is this novel actually about? Reviewers need not worry about spoilers, since a dozen pages into it Lew Nichols, as first-person narrator, has revealed most of the plot developments. Lew will become a consultant to the political campaign of the charismatic Paul Quinn, the great hope of a city and country seeking to rejuvenate itself, but who Lew describes as "potentially the most dangerous man in the world." He imagines that American voters dream of being able to withdraw the votes that as Lew is telling the story they will not place for another four or five years. And there is the enigmatic character of Martin Carvajal, a milquetoast multimillionaire who goes beyond Lew's stochastic methods and is able to literally see the future. Lew calls him a "wild card in the flow of time." Carvajal's resigned, passive nature comes from not only the fact that for him the future and history are one and the same, but he is also aware of the exact moment of his rapidly approaching violent death. He wants to bring Lew on as a pupil in seeing the future, rather than simply making educated guesses about it.

Revealing all in the first chapter of a book sets up a classic suspense structure where readers stay with the story to see how the inevitable works itself out. But Silverberg's profoundly pessimistic novel is not about keeping you on the edge of your seat. By revealing so much early on, the reader becomes, like Carvajal and increasingly like Lew, one that can only watch inexorable events unspool like the frames of a film. More or less knowing what's coming makes all the political machinations and messy personal relationships objects of detached interest rather than elements in an engaging plot. The Stochastic Man is a stylistic exercise that is likely to leave many readers cold, but I found it the most interesting though not the best Silverberg novel I have read.

And what is this obsession with knowing the future beyond the ability to choose lottery numbers and hot stocks? Carvajal's resignation and depression should clue Lew in on the fact that foreknowledge does nothing but make you a passive agent of the inevitable. But like 17th century Puritans struggling with the paradoxes of predestination and free will, Lew cannot let go of his obsession with seeing. (Silverberg italicizes the term throughout the book.) At the end of the novel -- and this would be a spoiler except it too is described in the opening chapter -- Lew has inherited Carvajal's millions and used them to set up an institute to develop the talent for second sight in as many people as possible. He still thinks this is a meaningful project. I thought he hadn't read his own book.

(Biographical information in this review comes from Silverberg's Other Spaces Other Times.)
Read my other reviews of Robert Silverberg novels on Worlds Without End

Sunday, June 24, 2012


From this land men go to the land of Bactria... In this land too there are many hippopotami, which live sometimes on dry land and sometimes in the water; they are half man and half horse. And they eat men, wherever they can get them, no meat more readily. And in that land are many griffons, more than in any other country. Some men say they have the foreparts of an eagle and the hindparts of a lion; that is indeed true. Nevertheless the griffon is stronger than eight lions of these countries, and bigger and stronger than a hundred eagles. For certainly he will carry to his nest a great horse with a man on his back, or two oxen yoked together, as they work together at the plough. He has talons on his feet as great and long as the horns of oxen, and they are very sharp. Of these talons men make cups to drink out of, as we do with the horns of bulls; and the ribs of his feathers they make into strong bows to shoot with.

The Travels of Sir John Mandeville

Friday, June 22, 2012


This has been my breakfast book for the past several weeks. Since it is not something I will probably ever finish cover to cover, now seems as good a time as any to review it.
Nicholas Monserrat
Sutherland offers an idiosyncratic tour of the English novel through the lives of 294 novelists. (By default, any survey of the novel that includes only 294 authors will be idiosyncratic. The choice of whom to include is going to be highly personal.) I read the 25 entries from the 17th and 18th century straight through, but the urge to pick and choose became irresistible. I have taken to looking at the contents and mentally dividing the names into four categories;

1) Authors I have read.
2) Authors I have not read but might still someday read.
3) Authors I have not read and cannot imagine that I will ever read.
4) Authors I have never heard of.

Having worked around used and remaindered books for 30 years, I was surprised that Sutherland came up with so many authors that fit Category Four. I can still picture the pocket paperbacks or book club edition hardbacks of authors like Nicholas Monsarrat, Hervey Allen, Margery Allingham and Trevanian, but who the hell are Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Richard Crompton, or Mary Cholmondeley? It will not be hard to find out.

The more interesting category is number two. It has prompted me to be honest with myself. After all these years of thinking I am going to, am I likely to ever read Henry Green or Anthony Powell? What are the odds that I might pick up a John Buchan novel? The clock is ticking on Salman Rushdie and Ian McEwan. On the other hand, Sutherland has reminded me that I do want to read Patrick Hamilton, really. Same goes for Thackery and Trollope.
Mary Chalmondeley

I like that Sutherland takes into account the publishing history of many of the authors and the influence film versions have had on both their reputations and the writing of their novels. His humor often falls flat, but other reviewers overreact to what they see as his arrogance. I am also baffled by reviews that fault this book for not offering more insights or some kind of middlebrow guide to how to appreciate The Novel. This is breezy stuff and lighthearted entertainment. Sutherland can be as dishy about Samuel Richardson as he is about Jacqueline Susann. I look forward to what he has to say about V.C. Andrews and Sylvanus Cobb, Jr. -- whoever Sylvanus Cobb, Jr., might happen to be.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Sjon's first novel to be translated into English was The Blue Fox. It was a spare eighty pages long and took the author two years to write. In an interview he said of the process

The first year was more or less spent researching 19th century Iceland and reading about the different subjects that make up the story, such as fox hunting, accidents at sea, avalanches, burial rites, the care or abuse of mentally handicapped people, opium smoking, cravats and bow-ties (late Byronesque or otherwise).

Sjon, who is also an award winning lyricist, can pack a lot into a narrative.The Blue Fox involves an elaborately worked out revenge and ends with a priest freezing to death while debating a dead fox on the diabolical nature of electricity.

Compared to The Blue Fox, this second novel is long at 250 pages. A list of topics addressed in From the Mouth of the Whale would include eclipses, natural history, the Icelandic trade in unicorn horns, exorcism, toxic ignorance and married love. Jonas Palmason, known as "The Learned," receives an eccentric education from his father's fragmented library, but in 17th Iceland it makes him both admired and shunned in the communities where he lives. Although his medicine is learned from books, as a child he becomes expert in diagnosing women's ailments by feeling their bodies under their clothes. They like this more than they can admit. He can draw anatomical charts and maps, both of which are in high demand, but the Protestant reformers that have taken over the land find cause to brand him a witch for the research he does into the ancient customs of Iceland. For the rest of his life, he will be either on the run or imprisoned or living among the educated classes of Denmark as an admired equal. But for the most part he will suffer at the hands of those who fear his knowledge, knowledge that is very much a part of his time. The novel is interspersed with his comments on natural history, and modern readers will find them to be equal parts scientific observation and folklore. 
Jonas narrates the story from his final island prison. He has returned from Denmark expecting all charges against him to be dropped, only to find himself again in the hands of his enemies. When they agree to send him back to the island rather than to a dungeon, he looks forward finding his wife waiting for him there. Instead he finds only her bones. The story of their first meeting, which occurs during a funeral interrupted by an eclipse, captures the innate ignorance and savageness of their society.

I was as bewldered as the dogs that howled, the cats that hissed, the ravens that crawled along the ground, the cows that wandered dazed in the fields. I was as unfortunate as the rest, as unmanned by the dread of what catastrophe this eclipse might bring, what terrible tidings it might portend, what loss of life, what pestilence would now wash up from the sea on to our rock, what heresies, what insanity; indeed, I was as confounded as those that ran weeping round the yard or pressed their faces to the muddy paving slabs, tore off their clothes and any hair they could get hold of, many vomiting in mid-prayer...[T]hree men burst out of the front door carrying the old man's body. They swung the corpse's mottled limbs back and forth until it appeared to be raising its wizened arms to heaven...It did not take a great physician to realise that the old man was as thoroughly dead as he had been but a short time before. People now began to crowd around the threesome with their pathetic puppet...lifting it so it appeared to be proceeding in little hops to its intended destination, which was the roof of the living quarters.

During this event Sigridur, Jonas's future wife, explains the means of predicting eclipses, science she has worked out for herself through observation and a natural inclination for math. They are in love.

The chirping of small birds was stilled, the baying of the dogs was silenced, the people on the turf roof ceased shaking the corpse, a hush descended on the countryside and I felt suddenly cold. High above the Earth the disc of the moon completed its shape on the orb of the sun and in the same instant something was completed inside me. Neither Sigridur nor I looked up when the gable gave way with a loud crack beneath the weight of the corpse-bearers.

Jonas's story will also involve the successful exorcism of an angry ghost and the tragic tale of massacred Basque whalers at the hands of ingnorent Icelandic villagers manipulated by their venal community leaders. It's hard to imagine that Sjon will become a beloved voice of Icelanders, but his unflinching vision of meanness and ignorance goes beyond a critique of his homeland's history. He opens his novel with a scene placed in heaven. Lucifer has returned from a successful hunt to find the heavenly household in disarray.

...the stench that now tainted the air in His palace was the stench of blood and urine, sweat and sperm, mucus and grease...I looked at the Father, who was lounging at ease on his throne...He examined something small in His palm...there you lay in His hand, with your knees tucked under your chin, breathing so fast and so feebly that you quivered like the pectoral fin of a minnow...the Father...addressed me in an affable but commanding tone..."Lucifer, behold Man! You must bow down before him like your brothers..." I looked at you a second time and in that instant you released a stream of slimy black faeces. Quick as lightning, you shoved your hand under your buttocks, fetched a fistful of whatever you found there, and raised it to your mouth.

I've noticed than when I really like something, I tend to quote a lot.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


Sculpture of Genghis Khan at Marble Arch, London
(The Khan Mandeville writes about would have been
generations removed from Genghis.)
For truly under the firmament there is no lord so great nor so rich as the Great Khan of Tartary. Not even Prester John, Emperor of Greater and Lesser India, nor the Sultan of Babylon, nor the Emperor of Persia, nor anyone else can be compared to him. Truly, it is a great pity that he is not a Christian; nevertheless he will gladly hear men speak of God and allow Christian men to live in his empire. For in his land no man is forbidden to believe in whatever religion it pleases him to believe. And if some men perhaps will not believe me about what I will have said, and say it is all fable, what I say about the nobleness and the excellence and riches of the Great Khan and his court, and the multitude of men there that I told of, I do not really care. But let the man who will, believe it; and leave him alone who will not. I shall nevertheless say something of what I saw with my own eyes, whether they will believe it or not... Nevertheless I well know that if anyone had been there (or in the countries that border his land, if he had not been to his court), he would have heard so much of his nobility and his excellence that he would easily believe what I myself have said. So I am not going to stop telling you things that I know are true because of those that are ignorant of them or will not believe them.

The Travels of Sir John Mandeville
Translated by C.W. R. D Moseley
Penguin Edition.

(Click of Italics label for more annotated readings.)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Otaku culture takes center stage in the first story. "Otaku" are obsessive fans of anything ranging from manga to movie stars to the internet, an obsession that in its most extreme form keeps those obsessed confined largely to their rooms or certain sites that cater to their obsessions. The KCDS staff meet up with robotics enthusiasts who slip into arcane, for me at least, squabbles about the niceties of robot history. The scene shifts to The Broadband Center, a multi-story emporium catering to otaku needs. This is a thinly veiled version of a real shrine to otaku culture, the Nakano Broadway building. Various plot streams come together when a corpse-powered robot runs berserk. Then we are served up with a tale of plastic surgery designed to transform Japanese ladies into the image of an obscure star. (Apparently there was a period when Japanese women were actually undergoing surgeries to look like Audrey Hepburn.) Again, this being the KCDS, things are not what they seem with these surgeries. Participants become possessed by jimenso, scary little faces of the deceased star that appear behind their new pointy ears. When the source of the ears is discovered, readers are treated to one of Otsuka's most grotesque images to date.

The longest episode in Volume 7 finds the crew employed on a movie set. The elderly, senile director is a parody of the Japanese master filmmaker Kon Ichikawa, who died at the age of 92 a couple years after this was published. Kon made some of the bleakest anti-war films ever and produced Tokyo Olympiad on the 1964 games. This homage to Leni Riefenstahl made some people uncomfortable. His later films became more commercial, but why Otsuka singles him out for this cruel parody is unclear. The plot involves, of course, multiple murders, body parts showing up as props, and reanimated corpses.

Volume 8 tells three of Otsuka's best stories.

The first tale is ghost story with a gentler tone than this series is known for. But Otsuka is back in form for the next two tales. In both of these he follows his favorite theme of how history and folk traditions find their way into modern Japanese culture.

Kaneari, an obnoxious, wealthy, trendsetting wedding planner, is the malevolent force in the second story. He lives the ultimate playboy lifestyle, and the men of the KCDS meet him when they deliver at 40,000,000 yen refrigerator to his apartment. (Correct me if I am wrong, but there is no such thing as a refrigerator that costs around $500K.) Sasaki, the most entrepreneurial of the KCDS, takes an interest in Kaneari's new service, arranged marriages among the deceased. This was an actual practice in parts of Japan, where those who died before they were married could be married to one another for very Japanese reasons explained in the notes but that I will not try to explain here. Of course there proves to be something very fishy and supernatural going on. The drawings made for a shinto shrine to commemorate these events have to power to hasten the demise of the still living halves of the ceremony. The climax is one of the best revenge nightmares ever as Kaneari and his party animal friends receive surprise visits from dead but very angry young women, all dressed as traditional Japanese brides. Kinky and cool.

The final story introduces the disturbing Japanese tradition of the josanbu, midwives willing to kill unwanted babies at birth. The story also involves the introduction of "baby drops" at Tokyo hospitals. These are places where a person can anonymously leave unwanted children. (Similar experiments have taken place in the U.S. In one Kansas City incident, a single father brought all nine of his children to the hospital.) There is also a mysterious stand of unused lockers with magical properties and more information on how Japanese corpses are cleaned for burial than you might want to know. On the upside, it could be that Karatsu has met his true love.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Not the demon from the story, but still a  pretty cool demon
As the man turned to look back, he could see the demon's face, vermillion in color and round like a sitting mat, and its single eye. It had three hands, with claws like knives five inches long. Its body was bluish-green in color, and its eye was amber. Its hair was a tangle, like a bramble bush, and just looking at it turned one's heart cold, an unspeakable horror. But because he kept praying to Kannon as he raced along, the young man was able to reach safety, in a place where other humans were about. At that time, the demon said, "Very well -- but sometime we'll meet again!" and with that vanished from sight.

From The Demon at the Agi Bridge and Other Japanese Tales
translated by Burton Watson
Columbia University Press

For more monsters, follow the Monsters label.

Monday, June 4, 2012


2. Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858 - 1937) was a Bengali polymath, whose discoveries in plant physiology were but a fraction of his contributions to science.

6.  Macula lutea: small yellowish area of the retina near the optic disk that provides central vision.

13.  Dinothere: any elephantlike mammal of the extinct genus Dinotherium, from the later Tertiary period of Europe and Asia, having large, outwardly curving tusks.

14.  No doubt related to "pagne," "loincloth."

17. "Yes, yes, yes, very well, not only, but also."

26. The reader is encouraged to sing these words to the tune of "Il est ne le divin enfant."

28. Daumal is perhaps humorously refering to Saint Gudula (in French, Sainte Gudule), an eleventh-century Belgian saint.

32. Carl Oluf Jensen (1864 - 1934), a Danish veterinary scientist best remembered for his discovery that mouse mammary tumors are malignant and transplantable; he would die a few months after Daumal was writing this.

40. In 1934, a woman in Pirano, Italy, is reported to have been witnessed emitting a glow of light from her chest as she slept. She was examined by Dr. Protti.

62. Daumal is most likely referring to Peter Bender, a German World War I pilot who introduced the theory of the hollow globe of Cyrus Reed Teed into Germany; Benders Hohlweltlehre (hollow earth theory) indeed grew popular in the 1930's, and in 1933, Rudolf Nebel, a member of the Nazi party, received funding to carry out the Magdeburg Project: to send a powerful rocket straight up from Magdeburg in order to hit south New Zealand. Funds ran out after eight attempts. Bender himself would meet his demise after the failure of another Nazi initiative, in which a German naval expedition was sent to Rugen Island in order to detect British ships by means of powerful telescopes pointed skyward. The disastrous outcome resulted in Bender and his wife being sent to a death camp.

74. "The Metamorphosis of King Louis-Philippe into a Pear," a famous satirical series of drawings showing the gradual change of the head of the King into a pear (a "fathead"), was executed by Charles Philipon and later by Honore Daumier, both in the nineteenth century.

81. Presumably the Goose Lake Meteorite, which fell in Modoc County in 1938 and was removed from the site in 1939.

Selected from the endnotes to
Pataphysical Essays by Rene Daumal
Translated by Thomas Vosteen
Wakefield Press, 2012


Sunday, June 3, 2012


I was about fifty pages into The Zap Gun when it hit me. This PKD novel is a sustained satire on a focused topic. Each chapter did not introduce new characters with no discernible link to those I had already met. The plot had not yet splintered into blind alleys and drug-induced hallucinations. And PKD's writing seemed relaxed. It lacked the driven quality that can inform both his best and worst books. He was having fun with this one.

The object of his satire is the Cold War arms race. The novel, written in 1965, is set in 2004. Lars Powderdry, known as Mr. Lars to his adoring fans, is a fashion weapons designer, the best in West-bloc. (West-bloc is us, the good guys. The enemy is a Soviet controlled Peep-east.) Lars designs while in a drug-induced trance. His sketches are whisked off to labs for fabrication and testing. His Peep-east counterpart is a young woman named Lily Topchev.

There is a dirty secret behind all this high tech militarism. None of the weapons work, nor are they needed. Agreements between West-bloc and Peep-east have made such weaponry obsolete. Films of the weapons in use are simulations using robots and special effects. The sketches are "plowshared." They become the basis for household gadgets and toys. The masquerade is necessary to keep the masses, the "pursaps," happy. They want both the threat of annihilation and the comfort afforded by weapons to avoid it. But then alien satellites appear in Earth's skies and begin abducting entire cities to serve as slave labor in the Sirius galaxy. Lars and Lily need to make a real weapon but fast.

PKD outdoes himself with neologisms and acronyms in The Zap Gun. The concept of plowsharing has real poetry to it. The society is divided between an elite group of "cogs" and a mass of "pursaps." Lars is a cog, and he hopes the term derives from cognoscenti. I thought he was worried it might imply he was merely a "cog in a wheel," but he goes back to a an early English usage where "to cog" was to cheat a dice. I was pronouncing "pursap" in a way that suggested "poor saps," but Dick makes it clear he means "pure saps." Surly G. Febbs embodies Dick's jaundiced view of the masses. He is a self-important, deluded pursap angered because an alien invasion is delaying his appointment to what he imagines is an important government post. Febbs is a master of neologisms, hyphenated nouns, and acronyms, and he looks with disdain on those pursaps who cannot stay abreast of the lingo. That will likely include the reader, who might have trouble remembering what MACH stands for or just what a concomody does. Acronym fever reaches new heights with the creation of the BOCFDUTCRBASEBFIN. Who knows what it stands for? Just say it with confidence.

How earth repels the invaders is handled cleverly and dispatched with quickly. There is always the sense that PKD might not care much about his own plots. Of any of the PKD novels I have known almost nothing of before opening it to page one, The Zap Gun is among the most enjoyable. I read that PKD wrote it because a publisher requested a story with Zap Gun as the title. That could be true. He once expanded a novella into a novel because the publisher had cover art he really liked. But PKD does well by his arbitrary title. In one scene the weapons designers are discussing their basic uselessness, and Lars says of the pursaps, "All they really want is a Zap Gun." That throwaway line sums up the book's satire and the underlying anger.