After finishing Minority Report, I knew I immediately wanted to read more Philip K. Dick right there and then. Let’s take a Zack Morris style ‘TIME OUT!’ and examine this in more detail for a second. I don’t even read books in the same series next to each other. I always, always need to have a little bit of a break to read something else, or I get bored and oddly grouchy. Yet somehow, after Minority Report, I ran to my shelf and grabbed Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? straight away. If that doesn’t tell you that Philip K. Dick is an amazing author, nothing will.
Plot summary: War had left the Earth devastated. Through its ruins, bounty hunter Rick Deckard stalked, in search of the renegade replicants who were his prey. When he wasn’t ‘retiring’ them, he dreamed of owning the ultimate status symbol – a live animal. Then Rick got his big assignment: to kill six Nexus-6 targets, for a huge reward. But things were never that simple, and Rick’s life quickly turned into a nightmare kaleidoscope of subterfuge and deceit.
Is every Philip K. Dick blurb this bad? Why are they all so horrendously written? I swear he must have written them himself, because I’ve read a good few summaries now and they all make me want to cringe.
Anyway. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? has one of the most intriguing titles in all of literature, yet I never really knew what the book was about. Basically, nearly all the live animals on Earth are dead. The ones that survived are expensive and a status symbol, unlike the readily available electric versions. All Rick wants to do is save up to purchase a real sheep, which is why he accepts the dangerous Nexus-6 contract in the first place. There’s a huge focus on animals throughout, and it gives Rick Deckard a bit of depth that is lacking in a lot of sc-fi novels.
As always, the author’s world-building skills are unparalleled. Mind, he’s had enough practice – apparently he wrote 44 novels and 121 short stories throughout the course of his life. Can you even imagine the creativity required for that? This is where Philip K. Dick really shines. A lot of effort has been put in to making the Earth featured in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? seem so real. There’s an awful lot of detail about how androids would interact with our world; how they can emulate us in almost every way, but can’t comprehend our emotions and therefore can never pass an empathy test.
He had wondered as had most people at one time or another precisely why an android bounced helplessly about when confronted by an empathy-measuring test. Empathy, evidently, existed only within the human community, whereas intelligence to some degree could be found throughout every phylum and order including the arachnida. For one thing, the emphatic faculty probably required an unimpaired group instinct; a solitary organism, such as a spider, would have no use for it; in fact it would tend to abort a spider’s ability to survive. It would make him conscious of the desire to live on the part of his prey. Hence all predators, even highly developed mammals such as cats, would starve.
It’s clever. It’s also very self-aware, to some extent. It mentions at one point how books written about the future become out of date when that future actually happens. As an author whose work primarily focuses on space travel and androids, it’s a very self-deprecating remark to make, albeit an accurate one.
It doesn’t actually feel that dated though, to say it was written in 1968. Obviously robots and the destruction of our world is still a long way off, but certain aspects are present already – video calls, for a start. The style itself is also a little rigid by today’s standards, although that actually added to the atmosphere of the book instead of affecting the accessibility.
It’s deeper than I expected, having only read the author’s short stories before. It actually gets quite philosophical about the nature of religion towards the end, and it can be a little hard to follow at times, if you want to understand it on every level. Speaking of, I really wasn’t a massive fan of the ending – it seemed a little rushed and was more than a little depressing… and the rest of the book was hardly unicorns and sparkles, so for that to stand out as ‘depressing,’ it must have been really bad!
However, I do think I preferred the Minority Report short story collection. This is a little dry and a little too depressing for me. I liked it and parts of it are very clever, especially the detail that has gone into the world creation, but it just didn’t hold my interest as well as it could have.