Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

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Philip K. Dick

GENRES:
Sci-Fi, Dystopian, Novella

SUMMARY:
Rick Deckard is a policeman in the early 21st century. He lives in a sprawling and decaying metropolis where the majority of uncontaminated humans have emigrated to offworld colonies. Earth has become a garbage bin for the refuse of mankind including those physically or mentally affected by the radiation dust that surrounds everything.

Although still considered normal and able to emigrate if he so chose, Deckard is held by his job as a police bounty hunter trained to track and "retire" escaped androids. Too poor to afford a real pet, Deckard lives with his despondent wife and their electric sheep while going through the motions of life and work.

His life is forever changed the day he gets the assignment to retire six new and advanced Nexus-6 androids. Meeting with the head of the Rosen coporation, Deckard meets and becomes involved with Rachael, an android who fits his stereotype but also begins to crack it. With her help and a lot of luck, Deckard tracks and eliminates the names on his list one by one. Alternating between the hunter and the hunted, he begins to question his beliefs, his humanity, and that of those around him-- human or android.

Do Androids Dream...? is the novel from which Bladerunner originated.

RESPONSE:
On the surface, this is a simply written and entertaining post-Apocalyptic story. The decrepit and polluted setting is familiar. It's a common theme in sci-fi to compare and contrast humanity with the artificial intelligence they have created. It's also pretty familiar when the hero has an epiphany and realizes the error of his ways. So yeah, Do Sheep Dream...? incorporates these commonplace sci-fi elements, but it is anything but a common book.

First of all, it was written in the 1960s, long before the rundown settings of the cyberpunk genre became popular. In this way, the setting is relatively innovative and impressive. Second, there's no clear epiphanies or answers handed out on a silver platter in this book. The androids aren't compassionate; they aren't easily categorized as the misunderstood and downtrodden heroes. In fact, the scene where Pris gradually rips the legs of a spider to see if it really needs them portrays them as innocently monstrous. On the other hand, neither are they inhuman; they have a desire to understand humanity and survive.

Deckard's moral crisis evolves in a similar grey fog. He realizes that androids are more than he thought and actually becomes emotionally and physically involved with one, but he still finishes his assignment by killing them. There is no poignant scene at the end where Deckard throws down his laser gun, repents his clearly defined sins, and runs off into the sunset with his android love. And that is the success of this book. It makes you think. There are no heroes or villains. The author doesn't define humanity (or lack thereof) in terms of black and white. It is an ambiguous concept, and Do Sheeps Dream...? is the perfect vehicle in which to explore that which makes us human and that which can also make us inhuman.

POINT BLANK:
An easy read that makes you think when you're done. And if that doesn't sell you, the book is better than the movie.