Fiction Reviews


Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

(1972/2007) Philip K. Dick, Gollancz, 7.99, pbk, 214 pp, ISBN 978-0-575-0-7993-9

(1972/2012) Gollancz, pbk, 7.99, ISBN 978-1-780-22038-3

 

This a welcome (2007 and again in 2012) reprint, courtesy of Gollancz of Dick's 1972 classic, and it is a tough book to review. First of all, most people know most of the story via the film excursion in Blade Runner. Secondly, and more importantly, I absolutely loved both the book and the film in that order. Reading the book again after being steeped in the mythology of the film became even more interesting because I was reminded of how close the film followed the book and how far it diverged.

Do Androids... concerns several hours in the life of Rick Deckard, a down-trodden member of the department of police responsible for hunting down and 'retiring' androids. Like all members of his post-World War Terminus society, he dreams of owning a real animal as opposed to the fake, electric sheep he actually owns. He gets an assignment to hunt down and retire six of the new Nexus-6 andys that are loose, illegally, upon the earth. His search leads him from being hunter to hunted, forcing him to re-evaluate his definitions of humanity and reality.

So much would be familiar from the film. The novel, however, includes so much more. An intricate part of the difference between android and human is Mercerism, a new religion based on Wilbur Mercer making his way to the top of a hill whilst being effectively tortured. Empathy boxes allow the 'worshipping' person to be in complete empathy, not only with Mercer but also others of the faith, and it is this empathy that differentiates humans from androids.

As in most of Dick's books, his obsessions are very much evident. Reality and the insecurity of it are there, but I suppose the central theme in this novel is the relationship between androids and humans. Dick does expose us to our own inhumanities and compares them to the androids', but throughout the novel there is also a familiar low-key aspect - life goes on and is always going to, despite our fallibility.

If you haven't tried Dick's novels, I urge you to. This would be an excellent starting place.

Graham Connor

See also an article on the difference between Blade Runner and Do Androids Dream.


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