When I saw that my favorite bookstore acquired several of Philip K. Dick’s works, I decided to start with one of his most popular ones, the only one that made it to the 1001 Books list. Sadly, I’m not familiar at all with Dick outside of the movie Blade Runner, which is really a loose translation of this novel. After reading this book, I will say that it is hard to disagree that Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a classic of the science fiction genre. It has all the elements that one would expect in a work of science fiction, but it also so much more. What Dick has managed to achieve with his immortal work is one that not only tells a great story with fantastic characters, but also one that tells a very philosophical story that raises questions about what it means to be human, religion, beliefs, and technology. In the introduction to my copy, Roger Zelazny states that upon finishing a Philip K. Dick book, one is not remembering a story but more “the after effects of a poem rich in metaphor.” This perfectly sums up my reading experience as Dick is a writer of pure poetry with a great command of language.
By 2021, World War Terminus has killed millions, and many have left Earth to colonize Mars. The ones that remain live is a dystopian society where it is considered a luxury to even own a live animal, as most are either rare or extinct. Those that can’t afford real animals have to settle for realistic looking replicants that aren’t as great as having the real thing. The corporations have even created replicants of human beings that are impossible to distinguish from real human beings. Due to the fear of what these replicants can do, they have been banned from Earth. However, many live here illegally. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is the story of Rick Deckard, a special police office whose job it is to terminate replicants who live illegally in futuristic San Francisco. When a group of replicants go on a murder spree, hijack a ship and return to Earth, it is Deckard’s job to permanently “retire” these villainous androids.
Throughout the book, Dick uses Deckard to explore the issues of what it means to be human. Deckard is in a constant internal struggle with doing his job and also his own personal feelings about killing these beings. I really loved the great inventiveness in this book. In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? life becomes such a valuable commodity, people use replicants to fill their need to be show compassion. They also view owning a real life animal as a necessity, as Deckard longs to have a real-life pet and not the artificial sheep he owns at the beginning of the novel. Underneath the dismal surroundings of this futuristic San Francisco, there is a hopeful message about humans and the ability to express emotions. People own machines that will generate false emotions to help dictate their choices. There are also empathy devices that allow humans to join together with Mercer, their spiritual leader. The ownership of a real live animal signifies that ability to have compassion, but unfortunately most animals can only be bought by the filthy rich.
I thought the character of Deckard was flushed out extremely well. As he continues to hunt down his assignment of six rogue replicants, we get insight into this turmoil he is experiencing. His affection toward a female android named Rachael further complicates Deckard’s ability to finish his mission. It always amazes me how a work created decades ago, even centuries ago, can still resonate with the current state of the world. I think Dick gives us all something to think about when it comes to our feelings, actions, and what it means to be human.
Despite being a short work, Dick manages to make this an extremely thought-provoking work that leads me to agree with Zelazny that the after effects definitely stay with you long after you put the book down. Any writer who is trying to create a dystopian work would do well to read this one as a lesson on how to do it right. The writing is pure poetry and definitely deserves a place on the 1001 list.
“You will be required to do wrong no matter where you go. It is the basic condition of life, to be required to violate your own identity. At some time, every creature which lives must do so. It is the ultimate shadow, the defeat of creation; this is the curse at work, the curse that feeds on all life. Everywhere in the universe.”
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