Thursday, October 31, 2013
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
To provide a general plot summary of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? sometime in the 20th century the world experienced a third, final, devastating nuclear war that killed of much of the population. Faced with a planet slowly dying from nuclear fallout, the UN pushes for extensive off-world colonization, including Mars, and to help motivate citizens to leave earth each colonist is given an android "servant". Really, no better than electronic slaves. As the androids become better and more complicated it becomes harder to tell androids and humans apart aside from a couple of specific tests. Because androids occasionally kill their human masters and escape police departments employ bounty hunters like Rick Deckard to "retire" androids. Overall it raises a bunch of good questions such as what sort of value artificial life has and what makes someone human.
The book raises a lot of good questions, but I haven't even talked about half of what Dick manages to cram into this novel. And really I think that this is a weakness of his work and I've heard that this is a tendency of Dick's books and stories in general. Dick introduces all of these really interesting ideas such as a device that lets you control what emotions you feel, a religion based on holding all life, from humans down to the smallest bug as sacred, and an extensive market in pet animals that cost as much as cars and come with payment plans. Dick introduces all of these really interesting ideas that you could make a whole book out of just one of these ideas. (And no, so I don't get accused of plagiarism, this isn't really my idea, this is from the foreword to the edition that I read but I found myself agreeing with the foreword's author as I continued with this novel.)
So really, I think this is where the movie adaptation has a benefit well over the book. Blade Runner has cut out all of the superfluous elements of the novel like the electric sheep and Mercerism, which allows the story to be much better-paced and focus on the important element. I feel that because the book has all these various threads, many of which never really get developed, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? loses a lot of its focus and you kind of lose the urgency of the narrative. I will say that the movie has your more expected Hollywood ending while the book just sort of ends, which I feel is kind of an appropriate ending for this story.
If you're interested in this story, I'd actually recommend that you watch Blade Runner, especially the director's cut which is widely considered to be better than the original theatrical release. The book's all right but it definitely lacks the focus and direction of the movie.