Philip K. Dick – Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep

07Jan09

You have to love the name of the book. That was reason enough to pick it up! Androids, and electric sheep. What could possibly make more sense? Seriously, the name of the book intrigued me enough to pick it up, just to see how bizarre sci-fi could get. It’s not as bizarre as it sounds, if it helps…

The book is based in a sparsely populated earth, whose inhabitants have fled the planet post a war that has rendered most of the world (as we know it) a thing of the past. Animals are endangered, there isn’t much greenery, and most of the people who have stayed on have been forced to, due to the radiation leading them to become ‘chickenheads’. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep follows the quest of a bounty-hunter, a person who has to retire andys (androids) who are on the planet illegally, to kill six (of eight) andys who are superior to earlier models, and can almost pass off as humans. Eight of these new andys (Nexus-6 cylons) made their way to earth; two were retired by a senior bounty-hunter who was later injured while trying to retire the remaining six. Rick Deckard is given the task of retiring the remaining six, who are more advanced, tougher to retire and use their wit and trickery to escape being the victim of bounty-hunters.

In this post-apocalyptic world, where animals are endangered, all Rick really wants is a real animal. He is the owner of an electric sheep (bought when his ‘real’ sheep died of tetanus), but that is more of a status symbol, as opposed to the real thing. He yearns for the day he will be able to afford a real animal, and constantly thumbs through the Sidney Catalog, a catalog where the prices of various animals are listed, as well as their classification (E for Extinct). In fact, when he gets paid for retiring some of the Nexus-6 andys, he goes and pays a deposit for an animal – something to take care of.

While this has all the elements of a good sci-fic book, it also explores various philosophical questions like, what does it mean to be human? and, how do humans distinguish androids from themselves. The key is empathy (the Voigt-Kampff test, i.e. the test used by humans to determine if someone’s an andy or not is based on empathy – how they react to certain emotions, situations and questions. e.g. You are reading a magazine, and you come across the picture of a nude woman.). As the book progresses, Deckard faces challenging questions like, should he really be killing a woman andy who is an opera singer, and brings much joy to the world with her talents? And, what right does he have to rob someone of their life, even if they are not human?

This book, as the cover proudly proclaims, ended up becoming the basis for the movie, Bladerunner. I haven’t actually seen the movie, but the book was interesting and gripping. Based in the future, in a world where humans can program their moods, and people can actually buy electric animals that closely resemble real ones, where human beings are encouraged to leave the planet in order to ensure the survival of the human race, this book is an interesting and gripping read. It makes you wonder about people, about humanity and the characters of some of the people (supposedly human) that Deckard comes into close contact with, during this mission.

Overall, a 7 on 10.

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