Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick

4/5 Stars. A hauntingly eloquent, saturnine future world story

Determined to work my way through some literary classics I have missed, I picked up this Philip K Dick novel. It is the book that inspired Bladerunner, one of my favourite all-time movies. It was safe to say I was a little nervous at the comparison I couldn’t fail to draw between the two.

First off, for me, it is a masterpiece of fiction writing. It is simply written but so nuanced and cleverly layered it resonated with me so much.

The book was a lot smaller than I expected and was easy to read. It tells the story of a day in the life of Rick Deckard a sanctioned bounty hunter who hunts down rogue androids and ‘retires’ them. On this particular day, Rick is handed a bounty hunters windfall, six of the newest nexus-6 models.

The story takes place in San Francisco against a backdrop of a decaying world following a war no one remembers that has left radioactive dust clouds like weather systems floating around and that has decimated most of the worlds life. Real animals are a rarity and expensive to own but are the ultimate statement in society and for the owner’s empathic health, something that humanity struggles with. Those that can’t afford the real thing buy robot simulacrums, so realistic it is hard to tell them apart and therein is the first of many parallels in this story. Human androids are so like humans it is hard to tell them and us apart. But androids do not have empathy. They don’t dream. They haven’t evolved to care and this is how they are hunted, found and retired.

I can’t help but draw some comparisons with Bladerunner. There are some similarities but it is more divergent in my mind. The world is as grim but the book feels so much emptier. In the book, we have colonised Mars and most ‘genetically clean’ humans have moved off-world, actively encouraged too and what is left is sad and lonely and well just dire. There is no sunlight.

I say this next unapologetically, I enjoyed the film much more. Though honestly, I feel they could be considered as separate works, there is enough space between them to do so in my opinion. The book I found quite melancholic and sad, there was more mental abstractness to it that is dealt with and the action when it comes is terse and brief. By the finish, I was left with a sense of hopelessness. Whereas the film managed to ask much the same questions, was in many ways just as bleak but the story was easier to follow, there were more scenes and it was eye-catchingly shot with that Vangelis sound-track so evocative, oh my word. As well I connected more with Deckard.

Also, the film didn’t leave me with that same sense of despair the book delivered. In Bladerunner, Roy at the end was tantalisingly more human than Rick Deckard and answered the question ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ in a much more defined way.

I am really glad I read the book. I think it is marvellous and complex and simple all at the same time and the story will stay with me but I can’t say I much cared for Deckard or the jetsam of humanity that was left behind, or, to more eloquently borrow from the book, the kipple of humanity.

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