Posted on July 22, 2017
28. ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ by Philip K. Dick
Last Saturday I had a ‘Dick Day’ (ho ho ho, I’m so hilarious!), in which I read basically the entirety of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and then watched Blade Runner. I tell you, if you want to mess with your head, I highly recommend having a Dick Day yourself.
I’d never read any Philip K Dick before, but I will be reading lots more from now on. In fact, this morning I went to my library and feasted my eyes upon the sci-fi section, which is absolutely dominated by Dick. I managed to resist taking any out, though, because I’ve got enough to be getting on with at home. (Oh, innuendo, you glorious thing.)
Do Androids…? follows Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter whose job it is to find runaway androids (human-like robot slaves) and ‘retire’ them. The more androids he retires, the bigger his bonus, and he’s hoping for a significant paycheck so that he can replace the electronic sheep that lives on his roof with a real animal. Unfortunately, before he can retire an android, he first has to identify it as such, and increasingly sophisticated technology means that androids and humans are becoming more and more similar, and telling them apart might no longer be so easy.
The first thing that struck me when I was reading Do Androids…? is how much world-building Dick manages to pack into just the first few pages. It’s incredible. Within the first six pages he establishes a dystopian Earth, complete with toxic dust and off-world colonies; humanity’s obsession with owning animals as they become increasingly rare; a class-based hierarchy involving humans, ‘specials’ and androids; and various futuristic technologies and even a religion that become key to the story. And he makes it all interesting, compelling reading too. I mean, come on.
The next thing that struck me was how Dick breaks all the usual rules of writing. Most notably, he has pages and pages of dialogue in which characters explain who they are or what is happening. Usually I would consider this bad writing – he’s telling more than showing and he’s info dumping all over the place – but somehow, in this book, in Dick’s masterful hands, it works. I never once found myself bored or frustrated. Quite the opposite: I found it difficult to put the book down. I can only guess that certain writers are so good that they transcend traditional rules and do whatever the fuck they like, and their work is none the worse for it.
The central question of Do Androids…? is “What is humanity?” Is it to do with an organic body? Is it more tied to emotions, particularly empathy? Or is it something even more ethereal and undefinable? This is also the central question of the Ridley Scott movie Blade Runner, which is a loose adaptation of this book (the word ‘Replicant’ appears nowhere in Do Androids…?, just as the myriad animals are missing from the film). I couldn’t really picture how Do Androids…?, with its twisty-turny plot and strong theme of introspection, could be made into a movie, but I think Ridley Scott did a fantastic job, and Harrison Ford is fantastic as Deckard. The film is a slow-moving sci-fi noir, with an incredible soundtrack and beautiful cinematography. It’s a shame that Dick himself died just a few months before it was released (although he did get to see excerpts of the film, and he loved it).
As a complete Philip K. Dick virgin (man, this is just too easy) who completely submerged herself in his brain for one day, I can’t recommend Do Androids…? enough. If you can read it one sitting, so much the better.
“You have to be with other people, he thought. In order to live at all.”
Have you read this book or are you planning to? I’d love to know your thoughts!
Want to read this? You can buy the book here.