The Zap Gun is one of Philip K. Dick’s lesser “pot-boiler” novels. It was originally serialized, so it’s shitty in the way that novels always are when it’s clear a writer is being paid by the word, all useless adjectives everywhere. Being a slice of PKD’s consciousness, however, it’s also completely insane. Case in point: the story revolves around a group of parapsychic government weapons, “fashions” designers who receive schematics for world-destroying bombs while in drug-induced fugues.
To fuel what is essentially a cold public-relations war between East and West (here given the adorable monikers “Peep-East” and “Wes-Bloc”), the G-men tap into a higher plane and awake with sketched designs for things like lobotomy gas, the Evolution Gun, and weapon BBA-81D. These weapons are designed and constructed in underground laboratories, then tested and disseminated in propaganda films, but never actually used on the enemy. Instead, each element of the weapon is immediately “plowshared” into useful commercial products.
This satirical vision of weapons created for immediate decomission—built to be melted down and repurposed like Napoleonic cannons—is prescient in a weirdly skewed way. In our modern world, we're beginning to use the same technology to manufacture weapons as we do to manufacture toys, in an increasingly free-form market of 3D-printable objects. Instead of "plowsharing" weapons into plastic commercial goods, we're building weapons out of plastic commercial materials, fueled by a hive mind of shared design that isn't quite psychic, but definitely creepy. If we buy into the utopian vision of 3D printing, the idea that anything representable in AutoCAD can be democratically altered, shared, and built on a budget, then which objects are beyond our purview—copyrighted designs? Guns?
Dick was right about one thing: as we move into a conceptual future, the line between weapons and more benign everyday objects will only become wigglier.