Thursday, March 06, 2008

Weapons as toys, toys as weapons

kw: book reviews, science fiction, future fiction, politics

The first edition of The Zap Gun by Philip K. Dick was published in 1965, written in 1964. I suppose he thought it safe to put his novel forty years into the future. Of course, now 2004 is mostly four years in our past. I found it mildly interesting to see the trends that have reversed on him. Principally, while there remain tensions between the US and Russia, the world has not rigidified into a Wes-bloc and Peep-East (the latter from PRC plus Eastern Bloc). He couldn't have imagined resurgent Islam or a terrorism-dominated Mideast.

Linguistic trends hold up better. Many terms are shortened, so we have Indy (independent) filmmaking, iPods (I used to know what it acronymizes), and "the burbs"; we don't have Dick's cogs (cognoscenti) or pursaps (poor saps; all who aren't cogs).

We didn't settle the cold war by agreeing to "plowshare" our weapons development (all image, no substance), a process he also calls "weapons fashion". No, the richest nation on Earth simply made weapons of domination and occupation too costly for anyone but themselves, but then began selling them at a discount to all takers. Ergo: well-armed terrorists.

Dick wrote at a time that we could still dream of steaming jungles on Venus (we didn't quite know it was a steamy 800°). He makes use of telepathy and clairvoyance. He, like many, expected air cars. Here's why we never will have air cars: wheels on the ground are cheaper than any hovering technology, for getting you through your daily commute. Even maglev trains are becoming white elephants (France's TGV still beats out all maglev contendors, economically; the "lifting current" exceeds the propulsion current).

For the same reason, economics, the concept of "Slavers from Sirius" that is this story's backdrop, just doesn't make sense. Robots are cheaper than slaves, once you have the tech infrastructure.

The title of this post probably gives away too much of the story. It is a game, of a sort, that overcomes the interstellar slavers. But in Phil Dick's hands, getting there is all the fun. It is a classic I'm happy to have run across.

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