“Everything is true. Everything anybody has ever thought.”
— Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
What is life? Such a mundane question, right? Philip K. Dick doesn’t think so. He sure as hell didn’t think so when he wrote Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Although Blade Runner (1982) draws inspiration on this classic masterpiece, it definitely doesn’t tell the same story. This novel’s essence emanates from a desire to dive deep into the concept of life. To do so, there’s nothing more perfect than androids and electric animals to serve as a means to establish how simple existence is. In this novel, set in 2021, World War Terminus has sent mankind off-planet and introduced everyone to extinction. The remaining people now lay great importance to any remaining living creature, but each now go for great value. Those who can’t afford them are looked down upon, and to avoid such scrutiny, invest in electric simulacrum. The story however doesn’t solely focus on these creatures, but also on androids. These machines were so similar to humans, it is near impossible to tell the difference, hence forcing the government to ban them. Bounty hunter Rick Deckard however has the mission to find rogue androids and to “retire” them. In this journey, he’ll be enlightened in unimaginable ways that his life isn’t as easy as just buying himself his next big horse.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a phenomenal novel that does much more than tell a straight-forward story. Throughout the book you’ll zigzag between two different narratives, one focused around our favourite bounty hunter, Rick Deckard, and another one around J.R. Isidore, an empathy-filled human with low mental faculties, also called a chickenhead. While they’re both completely different characters who live completely different things throughout this story, it’s their view of life that makes them such fascinating characters. While one learns the meaning of empathy for certain things, the other is filled with it, no matter the recipient. What this adds to the story is our understanding and perception of androids and electric creatures as it forces us to wonder what exactly makes us any different from androids, or the other way around. The novel also attracts our attention to our ability to even distinguish the differences between something real and something fake. The use of a special test that uses a range of empathetic identification, notably our feelings towards animals, also known as the Voigt-Kampff profile test, among other tests, is specifically dissected to the point of forcing the reader to even give it any credibility.
What was fascinating about this very test is how it can even be transposed to our own very understanding of mental illness in society. Using the infamous Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders, or even any other tests we have, like the ones we use for psychopathy (see the Hare Psychopathy Checklist), can be quite controversial when you look at them as a list of questions that will result in a diagnosis. What happens if a person is able to fake his way to being a false-positive? Someone who doesn’t have said illness but pretends to have it? Would we ever be able to even distinguish the real from the fakes, or the fakes from the real? Philip K. Dick however focuses his attention much more on our understanding of androids and artificial intelligence. When the day comes that we invent our first robot with real human skin, watch as the various questions that this author thought of will be tackled upon and remain irresolute for countless years.
Amidst all the exploration of reality, Philip K. Dick also incorporates a religious segment through Mercerism. Without diving too deep into the subject—got to leave some stuff for everyone to discover for themselves, right?—the novel also puts forth a whole concept of collective consciousness and the idea of empathy-towards-all. With the help of an empathy box, the story transports you to interesting landscapes and explores its themes even further than you’d ever imagine. Thing’s are even more messed up in this decrepit future when you realize that they have these special mood organs. Upon its very introduction at the beginning of the book, you’ll be stunned by what life has come down to. From the creation of social statuses based on the value of the animal you possess (if you don’t have one, expect to experience disgust from others in all its forms) to the idea of loneliness, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? has a lot to tell you. The novel even tackles the concept of progress and its inconspicuous cycle. Oh, did I forget to talk about Rick Deckard and his hunt for illegal androids? Well, that’s because this novel isn’t just some sort of action flick centered around a bounty hunter and his duty to retire illegal androids. It’s way more.
This classic novel is the source of inspiration for the classic movie Blade Runner (1982). Have you seen the movie? Are you excited for its sequel Blade Runner 2049?
Are you interested in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
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MY OVERALL RATING: ★★★★☆/