I never read science fiction. I’ll watch it, but never read it. Odd, isn’t it? So when this book appeared on a reading list for university, I was not particularly thrilled. And yes, I have seen Blade Runner, the immensly successful movie which is based on this novel. I don’t really want to talk about how they compare – so we’ll see how we go.
Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter working for the San Francisco Police Department. He is assigned to kill ‘andys’ – androids that have found their way onto Earth from one of the prospering colony planets in the outer Solar System. He is not a happy man; married to a woman who cares more about her ‘mood organ’ – a device that drugs the user into feeling a desired mood, and constantly desiring a real, live pet – something that is considered a status symbol on this desolated Earth of the future. So when he is asked to take on the unfinished assignment of an injured colleague, he must ask questions about not only himself, but everyone else around him as well.
Philip K. Dick was an odd man. He spent a large amount of his life on drugs, creating a fairly unique body of work. This novel is no exception. While the world itself is not perfectly realised, the jargon he creates flows seamlessly. Much of the setting, though, is left untouched, allowing the reader to make up their own mind about the appearance of the world his characters inhabit.
A friend of mine once argued that science fiction was nothing but escapist. I beg to differ. I think that most science fiction writers are linked very closely with the world tof today, and the possibilities of tomorrow. Dick is no exception. He really tries to explore what it means to be human in this novel. But when humanity has devolved into a simple scientific test, how can we empathise with these humans who are trying to stop machines they have created from taking over their lives? It is the few non-human characters (many of whom are not aware of their heritage), that show any kind of human characteristics. This includes the ‘specials’ – humans who are not intelligent enough to repopulate the colonies, and are forced to live in slums.
Forty years ago, this was a bleak future for people to look towards. Echoes of the Cold War are all through this book, and the theme of invaders who look the same as us is a similar theme i nspeculative fiction of this time. Now, though, I think we look more at the ideas of humanity presented in this book – what it means to be human (as opposed to just American), and the responsibilities we have with technology. Not exactly ground-breaking territory for science fiction, but at the time, maybe.
I nearly made it – but not quite. Yes, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is very, very different to Blade Runner. You can see where some themes have come through, so similarities remain, but the entire plot is changed completely – characters gone, added, changed, and entire sequences ripped out, or moved.
I suspect that there are many better Philip K. Dick novels than this one. While Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is not bad – and Dick’s writing style is unique enough to keep you interested – the questions it raises are, by now, pretty stock-standard. Maybe I should investigate this author further, and see if anything better comes my way…