Monday, June 30, 2008

1% Well-Read Challenge: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Title: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Author: Philip K. Dick
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 1968
Pages: 210
Rating: 8 / 10

I know I said I was going to read Life of Pi next, but I'm still waiting on my copy from the BookCrossing bookray I joined. In the meantime, I read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the book that was the inspiration for the movie Bladerunner (which I've never seen, but will probably rent sometime in the near future). Here's the story:

The year is 2021 (in my copy; in older editions the setting is 1992). A world war (referred to only as "World War Terminus") has left Earth completely destroyed. The fallout from the radiation has caused genetic mutations in some of the humans who are left behind; these people are referred to as "specials" or "chickenheads"*. Animals are endangered (or extinct); owning and caring for a pet is now considered a civic duty and a point of pride. Artificial animals have been engineered for people who can't afford the real thing, but don't want to be looked down on by their neighbors. Androids have also been created, and are given to humans who choose to live off-world to use as slaves. "Andys" are not allowed on Earth, because they are considered dangerous. Our protagonist, Rick Deckard, is a bounty hunter whose job is to locate rogue andys and "retire" (read: kill/destroy) them. The best way to tell an andy from a human is empathy - androids are unable to feel for anyone but themselves.
Empathy, [Deckard] once had decided, must be limited to herbivores or anyhow carnivores who could depart from a meat diet. Because, ultimately, the empathic gift blurred the boundaries between hunter and victim, between the successful and the defeated. As in the fusion with Mercer [a religious figure, similar to Sisyphus], everyone ascended together or, when the cycle had come to an end, fell together into the trough of the tomb world. Oddly, it resembled a sort of biological insurance, but double-edged. As long as some creature experienced joy, then the condition for all other creatures included a fragment of joy. However, if any living creature suffered, then for all the rest the shadow could not be entirely cast off. A herd animal such as man would acquire a higher survival factor through this; an owl or a cobra would be destroyed.

Evidently the humanoid robot constituted a solitary predator.
There's a bunch of other stuff going on, too, but the great thing about PKD is that he didn't explain everything as it happened; a lot of stuff I had to guess at or figure out later. It made the book very engrossing.

The characters were great, too. My favorite was John R. Isidore, one of the aforementioned specials. I felt so bad so him; everyone he met ridiculed him and looked down on him for being "stupid." When the narrative was from his point of view, he lamented the fact that he was slowly losing his cognitive faculties. He KNEW he was getting dumber, but there was nothing he could do about it. He also tried hard to please the people around him, even if they didn't appreciate it. I don't why I liked him so much more than Deckard, but I did. I didn't feel sympathy for Deckard - at one point, I was even convinced he was actually an android himself. I was a little disappointed in him, actually, because it seemed like he had this big, life-changing epiphany that was going to completely change him and make him a better person. And then it didn't happen. Or rather, he changed his mind about changing his mind. Oh, well.

At any rate, this was an excellent sci-fi novel. This was my first PKD book, but I'm looking forward to reading more.

Up next: Less Than Zero, by Bret Easton Ellis

* A term that gave me some pause the first time I saw it in the book; that's not how I normally hear it used. I'm not going to link to the definition at Urban Dictionary, but you can look it up yourself if you're curious. Just don't do it at work, or around small children. One of the perks of living in Atlanta is that I got to learn all sorts of interesting slang.


Anonymous said...

I should read this - it's not that I don't like SciFi but I haven't read much at all.

I would like to sit and watch Bladerunner start to finish. It's movie that I've seen pieces of on TV but never in its entirety.

jessi said...

Would you like my copy? I'd like to pass it on to someone who will actually read it. :)

A friend of mine tried to get me to watch the movie in college, but I just wasn't interested. I think I'll appreciate it more now.