I recently caught a couple of science fiction movies (I-robot and Loopers), and decided to give some science fiction books a whirl. None of the Isaac Asimov books really piqued my interest, but ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ by Philip K. Dick was strange enough a title to give it a shot. The story is exactly as weird and interesting as the title sounds (interesting enough to inspire the movie Blade Runner), and it is thought provoking to boot.
So, the basic plot takes place in a post-apocalyptic Earth that is nigh on uninhabitable. Most humans have moved to “colonies” on other planets, and most animals and insects have become extinct. Animals are now so rare that owning one is a status symbol, and the quest to own one is one of the main drivers of Rick Deckard, the main character. Deckard is a bounty hunter who tracks down and kills Androids who have escaped the colonies and are pretending to be human in order to live on earth. Apparently a punishable offense.
In the introduction to my copy of the book, Graham Sleight says the central question posed by the book is “what is fake? And, if you can make a fake seem authentic enough, does it matter?” This is a very good overview of the central theme. Right from the first pages – where we are introduced to ‘mood organs’ that artificially regulate mood, and to Deckard’s fake (electric) sheep – we are confronted with the question of reality. Much of Deckard’s job involves trying to tell (increasingly sophisticated) robots apart from the ‘authentic’ humans, some of whom are not classified as exactly ‘human’. There are several double crosses and slight of hand’s as the androids attempt to evade detection. And, the line of what is authentic and what is fake gets increasingly murky as humans act like robots, robots act like humans, and many characters become so multifaceted that I am not quite sure what to make of them. Thoroughly perplexing.
The central idea of the book is so intriguing and novel that it alone is worth the read. Add to that some incredibly powerful scenes (like when some Androids torture a spider), and some very complex characters, and you have a classic novel. But the story also has some downsides. For one it is a little short. There are many aspects of the story, and especially the background, that I feel should have been delved into deeper – for example what exactly is Mercerism? The book is also a tad hard to get into (I had to start reading it three times), and often hard to follow (I had to backtrack a few times). But overall it is an good and intriguing read, and definitely something that will make you think. After all, if the fake seems real, does it matter that it is fake?
Author: Philip K. Dick
Pages: 256 (Paperback)
Publisher: Del Rey
Josh’s Rating: 3/5
Amazon Link: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?