Book Review: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

“It’s the basic condition of life to be required to violate our own identity.” 

This is my first PKD book and I didn’t know that this was the book that inspired the movie Blade Runner. I haven’t seen the movie (sorry) so I can’t really compare the two. However, I saw it as an advantage in the process of appreciating (and understanding) the story.

The story sets in 2021 (later edition said 1992) San Fransisco after a great war. People emigrated from Earth and what left is ruined and polluted Earth with an atmosphere full of radioactive. The United Nation urges people to move to another planet to preserve human genetic ingenuity and they give the people an android to assist them. However, some andies (how they call androids) rebel and escape to Earth. It’s the police job (the bounty hunter department) to ‘retire’ these andies. These androids are built so similar to human that the only way to prove that they are androids is to administer a bone marrow test. But police officers can’t just register the test to anyone they suspect as an android. They have to give the suspect a test to see their level of empathy.

Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter, is assigned to hunt down a number of Nexus-6 type androids (the latest type and also the most brilliant) that have escaped from Mars. These androids were built by The Rosen Associates in Mars and one of their ‘legal’ androids, Rachael, is told to assist Rick to locate and retire the rebels.

Owning an animal is the status symbol here as many species have extinct because of the radiation. If you have a real rare animal (like a horse or goat), you have a higher status among the people. Rick used to have a real sheep but it died after accidentally eating a contaminated grass. So Rick ordered an electric sheep to fool his neighbours. However, his wife and he long for a real animal as it is the link to empathy. If you have an animal, you are expected to have some empathy towards them that will distinguish you from androids. Having an empathy towards androids, on the other hand, is a big no-no, especially in Rick’s field.

But then, in the hunt for the Nexus-6 types that almost costs his life, Rick questions his empathy towards some of the androids, including to Rachael Rosen, the android that helps him to kill the rebels. Another chilling moment occurs when an android doesn’t realise that she/he is an android (because some of them are programmed with a false memory). When Rick’s colleague doubts his own being – asking Rick to give him the empathy test -is the moment when the readers are made realise that androids and humans are not really that different. Although they don’t have empathy – these androids are programmed to feel or to show emotions.

Just when I started to feel some sort of sympathy, there was a scene in the book when a Nexus-6 type android, a female called Pris, dismembered legs of a rare spider (rare in this world), one by one, just because she wants to know if it can walk with only four legs. The whole thing upset me, really. When human worship these almost extinct animals, androids feel nothing towards them. I guess I know I’m not an android because the spider scene almost made me cry. I always – ALWAYS – avoid books with dead animals in them and this one throws a bunch of scenes with dead/dying/malfunctioned animals at my face. It is really interesting that PKD put such importance in human-animal relationship to show empathy. Clearly, human-to-human relationship doesn’t always show the best of us.

This edition of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is published by Orion Books.

The book was first published in 1968. Philip K. Dick (1928 – 1982) was an American writer known for his work in Science Fiction.

The artwork in the photo is titled ‘Brace Together Spin Spin’ by Clayton Brothers. Displayed at Saatchi Gallery, London

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