Book: Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? (Blade Runner)
I’m not sure why this took me so long to read — a whole week — even though it’s fascinating and very short. I blame Buffy. And my own forgetfulness — I left it in the bedroom so it didn’t follow me around as most of my books do.
Anyway — I was curious as to how the book compared to the movie. I watched Blade Runner about 10 years ago and thought it was amazing, albeit a little confusing. I was told that it altered the original story quite a bit, so I’ve always wanted to read the original story. This is also my first Philip K. Dick, an author I’ve heard a lot about.
I don’t read a lot of science fiction. I usually find it kind of cold and hard and mostly about technology and how humans relate in this new technology. Some people find this fascinating, I know. I’m not really one of them. However, I did enjoy this book, although I have to say I still found the writing style a little spare and cold for my tastes. I was also confused by much of the dialogue and the character’s reactions to things. I chalked this up to the bizarre post-apocalyptic stress the characters were under.
Set in 2025 (I think), in San Francisco, Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter. He ‘retires’ rogue androids. After the last war, most of the human population ’emigrated’ to Mars, while the people left on Earth are forced to watch the world crumble around them, overcome by ‘kipple’ (clutter and the detritus of an abandoned society). I was very curious about the dual human populations — the one on Mars, where apparently humans and androids live in conjunction (having an android was a major lure to get people to emigrate), and the one on the devastated, dying Earth. After the war, many people were adversely affected by the radioactive dust leftover from the war. No one seems to know where this dust came from, but it turned lots of people into ‘chickenheads’ (brain-damaged). I was curious why the other humans stayed, the non-chickenheads, like Rick. He says at one point, musing about why he didn’t emigrate to Mars, “…but I can’t emigrate. Because of my job.” But I wonder why not? Was there a time limit on when you could emigrate, and if you didn’t do it by then, you were left to rot on Earth?
So, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize that the underlying theme of the book is what makes humans human, and how close are we to becoming robots (androids)? In this post-apocalyptic world, the most valued human trait is empathy, and the most valued material possession is an animal. Androids do not possess the trait of empathy. Since the androids are becoming more intelligent and more difficult to discern, a number of empathy tests have been developed to identify them. (what I didn’t get was why the androids allowed these tests to be administered in the first place, since they were relatively foolproof, measuring body reactions). A point was made that certain humans, usually those afflicted with schizophrenia, did not possess empathy any longer, and therefore could be mistaken for an android. I thought that was an interesting thought. It made me wonder about other humans whom we think of not possessing empathy — perhaps unrepentant serial killers, or people with certain severe personality disorders. Would they be ‘retired’ as androids?
I was also so repulsed by the Mercerism thing (the phantom rocks which can injure users of the empathy box was just creepy) that I really did not want to think about it very much. The big ‘revelation’ at the end of the book was interesting, but also confusing.
It did make me think a little bit about the differences between science fiction and fantasy, which are so often lumped together. Both are about ‘things which don’t exist’. Fantasy tends to be about beings which don’t exist, and science fiction is about things which don’t exist (yet). In both scenarios, the characters function in these made-up worlds and the contrast is drawn between the ‘real’ world and these non-existent worlds. Since I focus so much, in my real life, on emotions and connections and relationships, I think I am drawn more to fantasy since (at least in the books I choose), these things tend to be addressed more. I am not all that interested in technology, so sci-fi has left me cold.
However, since I did enjoy this book, now I wonder if I might find some other sci-fi which I’d like. Any suggestions?