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on June 23, 2004
After being an ardent Blade Runner fan for years, I decided to explore it's roots in Philip K. Dick's book, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?". The movie and the book had less in common than I'd expected, particularly with the character development. Unlike Blade Runner, there is nothing at all redeeming about the personalities of the replicants/ "andys" in this book, which has an even more chilling effect. There are, however, plenty of interesting ideas here, and depicting "authentic" animals as the ultimate status symbol is definitely intriguing. What interested me the most, were the marital issues between Deckard and his wife Iran. The love scene between Rachel and Deckard here is curiously shallow, adding to the isolated tone of the book.
Philip K. Dick is a good writer, effectively permeating the book with an unrelenting anxiety and cruel irony. PKD's ideas came to fruition in Blade Runner, but this is the blueprint, and therefore an absolute must for Blade Runner enthusiasts.
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on June 5, 2004
This novel, first published in 1968, was the basis for Ridley Scott's film Blade Runner (1982), which despite its striking, evocative visuals, plucks elements of the novel out of their context, making them somewhat less intelligible and less radical than in the original. Additionally, Dick's humor and his metaphysics are missing from the movie. The reader of the book is continually challenged to evaluate how human the androids are and how mechanical the humans are. The androids are not mere machines like most of the simulacra in Dick's other novels: they are artificial people made from organic materials; they have free will and emotions like fear and love. Physically and behaviorally they are indistinguishable from real people. Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter whose job it is to hunt down and kill escaped androids. His life is thoroughly programmed; but in the course of the novel he starts to wake up to his buried human nature and capacity for empathy and understanding. This novel is the place to look for a serious analysis of the question of what it means to be human; you get only the tip of the iceberg of that issue in the movie. The book is one of Dick's best.
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on December 4, 2007
Having never read sci-fi, or seen the film, before, this novel was somewhat of a revelation to me. While I had trouble keeping track of the details, I loved the big ideas: interplanetary immigration, religion/cult, empathy boxes, the value of a real living animal...and of course the moral debate of whether bounty hunter Rick Deckard should retire (read: kill) androids simply because of what they are. My favourite character was Luba Luft; she's such a funny bugger. But perhaps the funniest thing was that the novel is set in 1992, but you can blame hindsight for my chuckles. While overall the novel was probably too intelligent for dim me to fully comprehend, I'm definitely interested in seeking out more sci-fi, particularly by this author. If you know of any books in particular you think I'll enjoy, please send the recommendations my way. This was fun!
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on March 1, 2004
This book, known for its tie-in to the SF blockbuster film Bladerunner, is a distinct beast. One of Dick's best, most fully developed, and imagined novels, it takes place on a radioactive wasteland-Earth in the not-so-distant future, after a war that killed virtually all animals (whose prices, even when no specimens are available, are kept in auction guide-like catalogues called Sidney's Animal and Fowl), and necessitated lead codpieces to protect the human germ line in the minority not turned into "specials"-radioactive rejects such as one of the book's two male protagonists, Jack Isodore. The main, tough male character is Rick Deckard, a married bounty hunter who steps up to the plate after his senior colleague is killed in the line of fire. One thing that I don't think comes through in the film, but which is a major focal point of the book, is the metaphorical, metaphysical status of the weak, the feminine, the loving-emotional-animal axis so central to our mammalian human being. As always in Dick, it helps to look beyond the action to the philosophical or metaphysical verities that are being expertly explored through the condensed tool of his nonpareil fiction. Here it occurs to me that the "being-a-man" coolness (i.e., emotionlessness) of the prototypical-and ideal-1950s male is here what is being taken to task. In non SF pulp forerunners to a book like Androids-in the works of Raymond Chandler and his hardboiled ilk, that is to say, in detective fiction-the desirable femme fatale is resisted as the detective (the "private dick," as the slang goes) solves the crime. In Androids-which is a kind of metaphysical detective story-the Deckard character makes a mistake of falling for Rachel Rosen, an attractive young female with attractive small "Irish" buttocks, large grown up-woman eyes, and a Jewish last name. She at first appears to be the daughter of the head of The Rosen Association, a rich corporation at the forefront of extraterrestrial android manufacture. The Voigt-Kampff test, however-a sort of polygraph that asks pointed questions trying to stir human-style empathy, such as what would one think about a couch made of human hide-reveals that she is a Nexus 6, the most advanced type of organic robot. It is interesting both that Rosen is given a Jewish name and that the Voigt-Kampff test is thought in the book to be ineffective in detecting certain schizophrenic patients. For Dick's true topic is not technology and hovercar chases but empathy. With his bounty money Deckard replaces his electric sheep with a real goat, bought from the Rosen Association at considerable expense. This is a huge status symbol. The book opens with a marital dispute over a Penfield Mood Organ, a device that can program emotions, even rather exotic ones such as 481, "awareness of the manifold possibilities of the future," 888, "the desire to watch TV, no matter what's on it," and 594, "pleased acknowledgment of a husband's superiority in all matters." Moreover, the main religious figure, and the number two personality on the planet after TV celebrity Buster Friendly, is Mercer, an old man whose experience of climbing up a rocky hill while stones are thrown at him can be accessed by anyone with an "empathy box"-a black box with two handles that somehow conveys not only the experience of being with Mercer, but his actual wounds as he makes his Christlike trek. When Deckard must wrangle with his mission-to kill other AWOL Nexus-6 andys, some of them females with the same alluring form of Rachel Rosen, with whom the bounty hunter makes the plunge-the reader is forced to contemplate what it is that truly ties him to others, what makes him better (or not) than an animal, a what-who-by turns insures and interrupts his essential loneliness. He is a detective on a mission to kill that which he loves-a difficult proposition, and one that all life in principle faces. The woman, the goat, the sexy android, his wife, the escaped androids, and even a spider with its legs being torn off all provide the opportunity for reflection on the status of life's common unity, and its ability to recognize itself in itself. Near the book's end Deckard finds a toad-it may be the last one on Earth-and brings it home to his wife, who discovers it is electric. Of course, we too are, in a sense, electric, although our maker(s) are not corporations we can locate by browsing through the Yellow Pages. As biologist Jean Rostand wrote, "Biologists come and go. The frog remains." The beauty and sadness of Dick's world is he presents us with a believable scenario in which the frog is gone. Metaphysics disguised as science fiction: a meditation on loneliness, solipsism, and empathic connection in a vast universe where, ultimately, we must take on faith that the idea of what the Greeks called a Koinos Kosmos (shared universe) when all we can feel directly is our own, individual, Idios Kosmos (private universe). The Hebresque paramour, Rachel Rosen, is the killable other, identified as such by signs so subtle, we might, as any private dick knows, be guilty of displaying them ourselves. When you consider that the trait sought for that separates the android organic machine from the "real" human is precisely the capacity to empathize, you realize that this is a major work by a master.
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on August 1, 2015
#BookReview #DoAndroidsDreamofElectricSheep by #PhilipkDick. Maybe in the end all we have is our illusions. Perhaps the vale of tears, the hard blunt reality of experience, is the only truth we will ever know. Should we despair at the futility of life? Or should we own these illusions and trials with a stoic dignity like Wilbur Mercer, or Sisyphus? In his classic novel Do #Androids #Dream of #Electric #Sheep, Philip K Dick explores the essence of humanity from the expression of the self, empathy and objectivity of moral and social values. Most people will know of this book as the inspiration for the movie #BladeRunner, which was more of a loss interpretation of settings and themes from the story than an actual adaption. Normally this would bother me, but Blade Runner stands apart from the novel on its own merit. The novel, which is set in a future world ravaged by a nuclear war, follows bounty hunter Rick Deckard as he hunts down a new type of android the Nexus-6. The cliche aspects of the story (the strange technology, futuristic slang, post nuclear world,…etc) belie the genius of the details of the world and its thematic impact. The constant search for a “human identity” an authentic and existential self in a world that includes artificial beings. For the human characters like Rick Deckard and John Isidore, it is there ability to adhere to illusions, the noble lies, that separate them from the fakes. Even when we learn that the ideas most central to their lives are illusory, they adhere to them for their pragmatic value. As religion fails, as inter subjectivity fails in various fashions, as the self becomes fluid, they must knowingly retain some essence of the illusion to continue. And there is some beauty in this, even if it is knowingly a construct. An electric sheep to count ourselves to sleep. 
This is a sickening truth that one discovers in art, that beauty can not be fully expressed without wresting it from despair. This is why the inability of Hollywood to allow tragic endings often hampers the truth, or universality, of their message. They create an illusion within the illusion in order to protect the sanctity of their internal worlds from ruination that would stem from necessary consequence. Not willing to allow the story to play to its natural end, the writer tears the power away from plot and into safety, killing art for stability. The path of life will inevitably lead to one destination, consequences will have to be faced, entropy and decay will be absolute. The hope of conquering these issues, however, may be one of the things that unites humanity in our collective existence. But even though these ideas, or falsehoods, are tempting I think Deckard puts it the best when he says “I am glad to know. Or rather-I’d prefer to know.”
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on June 21, 2004
DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? is another classic science fiction novel that I only just got around to reading. And once again, I find myself wishing that I'd gotten around to reading it earlier. It was also my introduction to the writings of Philip K. Dick, and I also wish I had started exploring his output before now. This novel demonstrates what science fiction can do at its best. It tells an absorbing, thrilling story, but it also works on other levels.
The book's protagonist is named Rick Deckard, and he's a police officer in a post-apocalyptic future whose job is to track down and destroy rouge androids. Although this is clearly a science fiction work, I felt a strong flavor of noir creeping throughout the sections dealing with Deckard's career. The trappings of the fantastic are present, but they're presented in a clearly thriller-type way. Deckard may be a cop from the future, yet he owes a lot of his characterization to the hardboiled, fictional detectives who came before him. This makes him an extremely entertaining character, as well as an immediately sympathetic one.
As has been noted, this novel is doing a little more than just telling another adventure story (although it does a great job at that). While the themes of alienation and isolation and what it means to be a conscious, reasoning entity are well-developed and much discussed by readers, several other metaphors are also lurking beneath the surface. This is a book very much influenced by its time (it was published 1968), but pieces of it seem almost timeless (the war which nearly destroys the world is caused by a right-wing policy group wielding too much influence at the Pentagon; boy, does that sound familiar). The psychological testing done on the subjects to determine their identity (either human or robot) reminded me strongly of the infamous McCarthy hearings.
I was very impressed by the actual writing itself in this novel. Dick's prose is very strong. Science fiction writers often enjoy building up a new world/universe at the expense of characterization or plot, but that isn't the case here. He excels at painting a bleak future, taking the attitudes of today and projecting them into a world with few people and fewer animals. But he doesn't let this overwhelm the book. It's a hard balance to maintain, yet he manages it well. His satire is exactly what it should be: both hilarious and cuttingly accurate.
Philip K. Dick is a writer that I've heard a lot of good things about, and I'm looking forward to diving deeper into his back catalog. DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? impressed me in both its straightforward narrative and in the deeper topics that it touches on. The "social commentary" aspect of the novel, which can be painful in books by lesser authors, is actually one of the book's best features. There are a few sloppy points (the mechanical capabilities of the androids are a bit vaguely defined, and once or twice characters talk to themselves for no reason other than to convey plot-points to the audience), but overall I was a very happy reader.
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on February 25, 2004
In 2021, after World War Terminus, life on Earth has changed forever. Those who were not killed either emigrated to other planets or chose to remain on a tainted planet. With most species of animals dead, live specimens are prized possessions, and for those who can't afford a live animal, companies build artificial ones. Some even build artificial humans.
Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter, sent to find and to retire rogue androids, or "andys," who manage to find their way back to Earth. The government has banned them, fearful of what they might do, especially since they blend in so well with regular humans. But, the more contact that Rick has with the Nexus-6 android Rachel, the more he begins to question what life is. Can an artificial life form have empathy? What happens when a human starts to have empathy for an artificial life form?
Philip K. Dick's masterful novel deals with these issues in a fast-paced, realistic environment. All the characters are finely drawn, especially the andys, and the intelligent story keeps your attention. I also found it relevant with what's going on in the world today. It's one of those novels that I just couldn't put down. A superb sci-fi novel.
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on January 17, 2004
This 1967 novel inspired the classic movie _Blade Runner_, and it remains Dick's most popular book because of that association. But because the movie altered so much of the original, the book has a vibrant life away from it...and it's an incredible achievement.
Bounty hunter Rick Deckard (married in the book version) goes on the search for the Nexus-6 androids loose on a nearly abandoned Earth where wildlife has come close to extinction. Dick explains the background much more thoroughly than the movie, and places special emphasis on the absence of genuine animals on Earth; Deckard's desire to possess a real animal instead of a robot copy becomes the focal point of his struggle to define his own humanity. John Isidore, a mentally deficient "chickenhead" who falls in with the androids (never called 'replicants' as in the film), is the other symbolic half of this confrontation with what it means to be human; the movie would change him into William Sanderson's diseased inventor. Throughout, Dick uses his piquant humor and dead-on satire to enthrall the reader.
A classic SF novel, no arguing about it, and it lead to a classic, if extremely different, SF film. A fascinating read. Even if you claim to dislike science fiction, you need to pick this one up. It may change your opinion of the whole genre. (And make you want to read more Philip K. Dick --there's a lot more great stuff out there!)
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on December 27, 2003
the way I see it - this book is particularly relevant to today because it deals with isolation, loneliness and the mechanistic world v. the frail imperfect human world. To share my ideas on this book I am interacting via a computer; I live a pretty isolated life which main connection to the world is via the web, or through internet. So to a large extent I, myself, have become an extension of the web - a biological peripheral if you like. Anyway - getting back to this book - as far as I am concerned it makes us ask how we descriminate between 'real' people and the new 'plastic' people who are programmed by big business to perform regimented tasks and will have their genes modified to remove unwanted characteristics - the human will be turning himself into a replicant in pursuit of perfection - eugenics is a powerful ethos and with the right genetic technology you can basically chose the characteristics you want - as you would if you were ordering a replicant.
So, unlike many readers - I see this book in a very much the eugenic real versus artificial tension that occupys a region of philosophy I guess.
The only thing I agree with the other reviewers is the fact that the book bears no relation to the fillum. [also as well as the book, I find the vangelis soundtrack better than the film]
read it - it is mind-altering
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on December 17, 2003
By now, most people are familiar with the book because of the movie, Blade Runner, which frankly fails to capture those qualities that make the book special. Let's face it, Dick was a hack writer, but a fascinating philosopher. I personally, read Dick for his boundlessly thought provoking ideas. In Androids Dream, he is principally concerned with the questions:
If the ability of humans to manipulate logic can be modelled in machines, and machines are extensions of human intelligence, then what does it mean to be human? Can there be Artificial Intelligence? If so, can it be distinguished from Natural Intelligence? How so?
Obviously, Dick believes the difference is empathy, a notion that derived from an early childhood experience of his own. He was torturing a beetle, and observing the beetles struggles to survive, when he had a full blown satori--that he and the beetle were the same, they were alike in their striving for existance and their avoidance of pain. It was a life changing moment, he later would claim, and that theme is a the heart of this novel, and is reminiscient of Blakes poem, "The Fly". But his point goes deeper than this. He seems to want us to think about how we humans can lose our humanity and behave as if we have become machine-like. If we sacrifice our free will, our creativity, our ability to say yes, or no, independently; if we sacrifice our conscience--and blindly commit ourself to be governed by a set of external rules--then we have become computer programs, not human beings. And he seems to imply that this is how places like Auschwitz came to exist, built by human beings who had become machines that are exceptionally good at following orders. Around the world, we have political machines, economic machines, marketing machines, martial machines. In Cambodia, a political and miliary machine consisting mostly of children forced millions of people from the homes into the fields to be mowed down like so many insects.
The points that Dick makes are important--extrememly important, to an authentic human being who has not sacrificed their humanity or abdicated their sense of responsibility to a set of rules. But his particular genius lies in his ability to paint different, contradictory views and interpretations of the same reality. This ability conveys a peculiar paranoid sense of reality that is as eerie as it is profound. It gives a strong sense of what it must feel like to experience a psychotic break with reality. That may be a strange roller coaster ride, but it helps to create a sense of empathy.
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