Thursday, September 20, 2018

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Philip K. Dick
Completed 9/16/2018, Reviewed 9/17/2018
4 stars

There is so much more to this book than the movie “Blade Runner”.  Despite being a short book, there’s interesting world building.  There’s television, religion, and an actual electric sheep.  And of course, there’s chasing after androids.  The book is a fascinating look into the creative powers of PKD.  He managed to pack into this small book a post-apocalyptic world with a decaying ecosystem and nuclear fallout.  I wish I had this book in my science fiction class in college because it there’s so many things that could be discussed in a group.  Being short, there seemed to be a couple of loose ends that weren’t neatly tied up, but overall, the book had its intended effect on me.

Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter, chasing after rogue androids.  His latest assignment is to find and kill six of the newest model androids that have returned illegally from Mars.  He’s also enamored with live animals.  In this future world, many of the earth’s species are going or have gone extinct because of the radiation of the last war, World War Terminus.  It becomes prestigious to own a live animal, rather than an electric one.  Deckard has an electric sheep, but is always going by the pet store, drooling at the outrageously expensive animals for sale, like a thirty thousand dollar ostrich, or something more reasonable like a goat with a five year payment plan. 

This future has its share of gadgets.  There’s the mood organ with which you dial one of hundreds of options to put you into that mood, from ecstacy to severe depression.  There’s also the device (the name of which I can’t remember) that lets you experience the martyrdom of Wilbur Mercer, the founder of the religion Mercerism.  Through it, you can share all the joys and pains of all the other people connected to their device. 

The television of the future has only one channel and one program, a sort of Today Show/Tonight Show that’s hosted by the comedian Buster Friendly.  The show has guests and features weather reports about the state of fallout and pronouncements on what’s real and what’s fake. 

All of these things, the animals, the devices, the television, create an interesting future of consumerism and mood-altering to help people who must stay on Earth.  Many people have left the dying Earth for Mars to avoid repercussions from the fallout.  Those that remain are workers like Deckard, and chickenheads, people whose bodies or minds have been affected by the fallout.  Staying on Earth is depressing business, so people believe in Mercerism, use the mood organ, and spend all their money on animals.

There’s quite a complex morality play at the heart of Deckard and his business.  He often questions his actions as a killer of androids.  Androids don’t have empathy.  The test he uses to determine if someone is an android or not is a series of questions designed to determine if the person in question has empathy.  At one point, he asks himself a few questions to determine if he is an android, because he has lost empathy for the androids. 

I give this book four stars out of five.  The basic plot is exciting, but as you can probably tell, I really dug the animals, gadgets, the religion, and the ambiguous morality.  I usually don’t notice plot holes, but there were a few.  The book could easily have been longer to deal with some of these loose ends.  The prose is not awesome, but it reads like most of the PKD books I’ve read so far, terse being a good word for it.  But also like his other works, the prose style fits this noir-ish story.  Despite having “Blade Runner” deep in my psyche, I was able to experience the excellence of this book in its own right.  I didn’t even have Harrison Ford as Deckard distracting me. 

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