Review by Jason Koornick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)

Summary


Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is Dick’s most well known novel (and rightfully so in my opinion), due to the fact that the movie Blade Runner was based on this story. It is the futuristic story of Rick Deckard, Blade Runner. He is a special police officer assigned to terminate human replicants who live unnoticed in the San Francisco of 2021. The replicants are perfect reproductions of humans who are manufactured to do hard physical labor in the colonization of distant planets. They also provide company to human settlers in space. When a group of replicants go on a murder spree, hijack a ship and return to Earth, it is Deckard’s job to search and destroy these villianous androids.

Throughout the course of the book, Deckard finds himself caught between his own feelings and the requirements of his job to kill. Many complex emotions are addressed in this book including basic human feelings of empathy, love and loneliness. The picture that Dick creates of San Francisco in 2021 is dark and disturbing. It is a classic Dick backdrop for a story that takes the reader through the dark recesses of the human psyche. Required reading for any Dick fan.

 

Review

Warning: Reading the review below may give away the story if you haven’t read it.

It would be hard to find a reader of science fiction who would disagree that Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is a classic in the genre. It has all the elements of a great work of science fiction. It works on many levels and addresses a range of humanity’s most pressing concerns. It is heavy in drama but also asks profound philosophical questions. The character development in this novel is as good as any I’ve read in a PKD book and the story draws on many of Dick’s common themes. The story and drama of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep are perfect for Hollywood but also make intense observations about the nature of life, religion, technology and the human condition.

Blade Runner – Does it do the book justice?

This is the classic debate between PKD fans and the Blade Runner camp. Unlike many die-hard PKD fans, I thought the movie Blade Runner stayed true enough to Dick’s vision outlined in the novel. Undoubtably there are many story elements that are different but conceptually both are very similar. The mysterious landscapes and a grim and unforgiving future sets the mood for the story. Harrison Ford convincingly portrays the morally troubled Deckard and Sean Young is dangerously seductive as Rachael. I agree that the film focuses more on the Hollywood actors than the troubling story created by Dick. However, considering the motives of the film industry, especially mainstream acceptance, Blade Runner is a ground-breaking film in many ways.

Here’s where the film and the novel differ most significantly (in my opinion). There are a few key scenes which the film omitted which I thought would have been great. The scene where Deckard gets picked up and taken to the “alternate” police station, The Mission Street Hall of Justice is incredible. He’s charged with “Representing himself to be a peace officer”. In classic Dick fashion, this radical turn of events turns the suspecting into the suspected and adds to the plot intensity. I was sad to see that this scene wasn’t in the movie. The activity surrounding the comic Buster Friendly (in the novel) is not mentioned in Blade Runner either. The endings are also very different.

Another major difference is the omission of Mercerism in the film. This is a key component of the emotional state of the novel’s characters. It is an example of Dick’s brilliance at work. Rick Deckard and his wife Iran’s use of joint hallucinations to control their connectedness and the spiritual despair that follows it’s demystification is intense. You can feel the character’s longing for meaning in their lives.

All in all, Blade Runner misses a few key elements of the story after which is was based. Behind the Hollywood glitz and the big-name stars, there is an incredible story that questions the future of human existence in a techno-society. Much more than Total Recall, Blade Runner is truer to Philip K. Dick’s disturbing vision.

To read Dick’s thoughts on the movie version of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, see the book The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick – Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings (Click here for this books page on Amazon.com). In particular, the essay, “Notes on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Written in 1969, PKD outlines his thoughts on how to make the scenes most effective. He discusses the crucial questions of What is reality? and What is illusion? There is also mention of the sex scenes with Deckard and Rachael. It is a very revealing essay that shows Dick’s interpretations of his own art.

The Value of Life In The 21st Century

In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep life becomes such a valuable commodity, people use replicants to fill their need to be show compassion. Underneath the dismal surroundings of this futuristic San Francisco, there is a hopeful message about humankind that involves the ability to express emotions. On an earth ravaged by nuclear war, life in any form becomes sacred. Replicant animals become a status symbol for their owners while real animals are owned by only the richest people. This compassion becomes the only way to separate the humans from the androids. Dick is suggesting that this trait defines our existence as humans. Without the ability to love and value life humans are incapable of living. Philip K. Dick had a life-long fascination and love for animals. This element of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep reflects his vision of a world where animals are respected like humans, maybe more.


Rick Deckard- Man or Machine?


This is another never-ending argument among fans of Blade Runner and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Rick Deckard is a very complicated character. He is a character whose essence contains many Dickian elements. He is a troubled man who questions his own existence. His ability to feel emotions and demonstrate these uniquely human qualities make his character believable. As the story goes on, Deckard finds himself in an emotional entanglement, torn between his love for Rachael and his job to retire replicants. He also is never able to accept that his job involves killing, even if they are androids. Rick Deckard is a very unlikely hero. He is not sure of himself and doesn’t act with extreme prejudice although he certainly has elements of anger. These aggressive feelings are complimented by another side which demonstrates his need to be connected to a larger picture. These feelings can be seen in Deckard’s strong desire to own an animal and put the ugly past behind him. Roy Baty is more of the Hollywood hero type with his fierce determinism and unforgiving ability to kill.

It’s up to each reader to decide Deckard’s status as man or android. There are many elements that suggest his humanity. If Deckard is an android, it changes the whole nature of the story. This question is presented as an undertone of the whole novel. By raising this issue, the reader is drawn further into Dick’s science-fiction universe where reality is never what it seems and there are infinite possibilities for any situation.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep Is A Must-Read

If you’re a seasoned PKD fan or someone who just wants to read a great sci-fi book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is the best this genre has to offer. It provides a starting point for new readers to see where PKD’s genius lies. Although it may be his most commercial work, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep captures the magic of this intense author, with profound consequences.

Agree or disagree? Add a comment below.

One Response to “Review by Jason Koornick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)”

  1. zac Says:

    No comment about the “kipple”, such a great connection to the disaster the human race left behind to escape into space, to use up the Earth and then just leave for a new life. The connection to our modern society and its throw it away mentality.
    No mood organ, such a great bridge to our modern “brave new world” use of medication and pharmaceutical emotions.
    No connection to Deckers love of his “fake pet” and how badly he wanted that android sheep, or any fake animal, though his job was to kill fake humans.

    The book is the book. The movie is the movie. Both are visionary in there own way. PKD has written some truly fanatic work during his life, and luckily Hollywood has open main stream society up to his works.

    Philip K. Dick is (and I use this word with the full weight of it meaning)…
    Awesome.

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