Friday, December 30, 2016

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip Dick


Warning - Minor spoilers: but none for the plot. I am very glad to have heard of this book only through Jess Mariano on Gilmore Girls, though this should have given me a clue of its cult status. But I don't suppose watching Blade Runner would have pushed me to read the book, so I am quite happy I hadn't.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick reminds me of a Terry Pratchett quote... "What would humans be without love? Rare."

The story begins far into the future when most of the life on our planet has been wiped out by a plague of dust. Man has colonized Mars and nearly everyone has left the planet Earth to live on the colonies. Many people in the world have been contaminated by the dust, altered to become something not quite human, not quite right. These are called 'specials'. Still on Earth with the specials are certain people like our protagonist whose jobs have kept them back.

Technology has advanced to such an extent now that it is impossible to tell the difference between man and machine by simple physical appearance. The only thing that androids lack and humans have is the power of empathy. The colonies are run with the help of android-slaves, who have a habit of disappearing and running off. The Earth police are equipped with a technology that can determine humanity and android-ness based on reactions to certain psychological stimuli. Very simply put, this device measures how many seconds it takes one to wince when someone gorily describes murder or animal slaughter.

Rick Deckard is an Earthling and a bounty-hunter, whose job it is to catch and terminate any androids which have illegally alighted on the planet by escaping from the colonies on Mars. When a new type of android arrives which may fool the police technology, Rick begins to wonder what empathy really is. The androids he meets in his hunt test the limits and possibilities of his sense of empathy, and he wonders how well a judge it can be of humanity. Could a robot feel empathy? Could a human love a robot? Must a human possess empathy?

Through the book, introducing us to newer concepts and characters of this world along the way, the author asks and explores these questions. A world where electric animals are bred as pets, because most live species are extinct. A 'special' who cannot tell a live animal from a fake. A man who decides to help out a band of escaped androids. A robot who believes it is human. A machine to control and assign moods. Whatever does it mean to be human?

This is an excellent read. What Dick lacks in poetry of language, he makes up for in linguistic inventiveness. One of the non-living monsters of Dick's world is "kibble" which is the word for odds and ends accumulated over time, any useless 'stuff.' He says our lives are full of it and it wreaks degradation in our lives. When no one is around, he says, kibble reproduces itself. It's material chaos. This is just one example of the words that he has derived for this world. An elaborate "diktionary" of his terms is available online - a must read to get a taste of his writing.

The major theme is life and survival, and it also focuses of religion, popular culture and marginalization. Unlike most dystopian fiction, this does not have a 'hero against  the system' plot. Even so, I am a little tired of bleak futures, and would like recommendations of science fiction books with brighter todays and tomorrows. Or something that is set in the future but has a different immediate conflict, like Asimov's initial Robots mysteries. I'd like something of that sort to be the next book I read for the Science Fiction Experience 2017

5 comments:

Brian Joseph said...

Great commentary on this book. It is one pf my favorites.

I wrote about it here: http://briansbabblingbooks.blogspot.com/search?q=androids

I am also on a science fiction kick and I am rereading a couple of science fiction books right now. They are not positive books however.

If you want something positive you may want to try Arthur C. Clarke (Mot Childhood's End, that in some ways is not positive) in particular Rendezvous with Rama or the Space Odyssey books.

I have also been thinking of John Varley's Gaea Trilogy. I think that the three books, Titan, Wizard and Demon are excellent, intelligent and generally positive.

DMS said...

I hadn't heard of this one before. So glad you heard of it, read it, and enjoyed it so much. It does sound like a fascinating read! Thanks for sharing!

Wishing you a Happy New Year!
~Jess

listenwatchreadshare said...

This came up in discussion at a book club meeting and I did feel ignorant for not knowing about it! So I rectified that and glad I did. It's very inventive in its concepts and I do find it fascinating that sci-fi of that era really did rely on concepts, there not being the flashy "effects" we are so used to in the modern day.

Priya said...

Brian, thank you so much for the recommendations. Looking them up now!

Jess, it certainly is fascinating. And I haven't even managed to dive into its depths here. You should definitely read it. :)

Denise, exactly! I did not miss the "effects". I did not know science fiction like this was possible...

Jason C. said...

Yessss! Another top-notch review of one of my favorite books and writers. PKD is a mad genius and even though he has written several duds, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" stands as one of his most accomplished works. It is thematically rich and seems even more relevant today with so much technological advancements. I still think you should watch 'Blade Runner' though since it is an excellent film on its own right despite its deviation from the original source material. I am not too keen on the sequel but I just might end up watching it out of sheer curiosity.

I like that you mentioned that what he "lacks in poetry of language, he makes up for it in linguistic inventiveness." While I don't necessarily agree that this is true of all his writing, he does tend to be a writer of ideas. That is not to say that he incapable of writing a compelling narrative but more often than not, his ideas/concepts take precedence. Also, I have reviewed a bunch of books by PKD if you are interested. Since you enjoyed this one so much, I would highly recommend that you read "A Scanner Darkly" next. Unfortunately, it does not have the optimistic view of the future that you are looking for but it is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest SF novels ever written.

I will have to get back to you on Sci-fi recommendations that are more hopeful and not so bleak, haha.

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