on 7 January 2004
Philip K. Dick was part of the generation of 1950's science-fiction writers who took as their core task the criticism of American popular-culture. Thus there is a frequent recurrence of certain themes in his works: The threat of nuclear war; the evil effects of unbridled capitalism; and the degrading influence of mass-media (especially television). However there is another theme which pervades Dick's work, and is more personal: An obsession with the blurring of reality, dreams and waking confused together, mechanical replicas indistinguishable from their originals, drug-induced hallucinations more real than reality. His books are often structured as a series of unexpected trap doors. You think you know where you are and who is whom, then suddenly the bottom falls out and your certainties are thrown into doubt...
on 4 January 2011
I don't usually read science fiction novels but after my partner recommended this I decided I would give it a go, particularly as he had bought me it for Christmas. I read it in two sittings and loved it, it touched upon much more than science fiction and into the heart of philosophy and humanity itself. I enjoy thrillers. I enjoy being challenged and put my hands up and admit that I did not think that I could ever be on the edge of my seat due to something in this genre. I loved it, it had me trying to work things out constantly, I got ideas and thought I had grasped the book, then another turn, and another until I was at the last page.
The novel takes place over one day and it raises so many questions that are central to the human experience. It does make you question a great deal yourself, it is a wonderful allegorical tale of how much humanity has modern society left within it. It is short in length - only around 214 pages so it is easily and quickly readable and today at work when asked what I had just read, I did find myself defending the strange looks I got when I told them.
on 19 March 1999
I read this novel some years after first seeing the film version - "Bladerunner". At first, I was disappointed: I foolishly expected something to resemble the film - but I had forgotten that Dick himself was extremely distressed about the distruction of his plot when the film was made: Hence the book and the film, although based on the same ideas should really be viewed as different stories: Both have a "Bladerunner" chasing after escaped Androids, but there the similarities start to run out.
On reflection, I now recognise the book as being an excellent work. The only reason I have awarded it four stars out of five is that I have also read "Ubik" - which is so excellent that I cannot judge "Do Androids..." at 100% in comparison.
The book is more subtle than the film, and includes a lot of Dicks subtle examination of the human condition, which, over the years, had led him to accurately predict several technological innovations to come, not because he was up on technology, but because he knew the sort of thing we'd end up doing. The story contains electric animals, since the real ones have become rather scarce, one of these being the electric sheep owned by the main character, which he pretends is real to save face. One of my favorites is the device which can change your mood: When you don't feel like changing your mood, you can dial in a code to put you in the mood for using the machine! So, given that we are now cloning sheep, I would suggest mood-machines and Androids are on the way.
If you're new to Dick, you're also new to his unique ability of being able to weave a puzzle that will take at least half the book to unravel (or so you think, until you reach the end, and you realise you were wrong!): So, if you haven't read his material before, start with this book - and stick with it - wait a while to let the neurons settle down, and then read his best work - "Ubik". Most of his other works are also worth a read, and some are excellent, although I don't have space to list them all here.
on 19 June 2007
Forget about Blade Runner. That was as much about Ridley Scott's stylish visual sense as androids and humanity. The book the film was based on is much more about decay. This is not a world of Tokyo cityscapes; it is a broken world, a dying world, a world populated by those too old or to stubborn to leave. It is about a society where people strive to own a real animal. And of course, it is about questions of what it is to be human, and about the rights of androids when their intelligence surpasses humans'.
As usual Dick imagines this with incisive intelligence himself, considering commercial and political influences on the development of androids and society in general. The plot is 'overcoming the monster', delivered in simple prose, with twists to confuse and tease your mind. A quick but stimulating read, in short, it deserves its classic status.
on 29 June 2007
Deckard is a bounty hunter in the regular employment of the San Francisco police department. His regular salary is low but he earns 1000 dollars for every android he destroys. there's not much life left on Earth. Most of the plants and animals were either killed in the nuclear war or died later from radiation poisoning. Those left are still deteriorating and dying. Unaffected survivors were persuaded to colonise other planets and were offered android 'slaves' as an incentive. So Deckard and his wife now live in a dry, barren, depopulated city where radioactive dust and escaped androids are the big problems. The diminishing fertility of the few remaining healthy men is guarded by lead codpieces. The most expensive, prestigious and coveted commodity is an actual living animal - even a spider or a toad is highly valued. Deckard and his wife own an electric sheep which they keep on the roof of their apartment building. They're ashamed of it. If Deckard could 'retire' 3 androids, the 3000 dollar bounty would be enough for a down-payment on a real ostrich or a goat. This is his ambition.
If you've watched 'Blade Runner', it might strike you that this, the book it was based upon, tells a very different story. This Deckard bears little resemblance to the Harrison Ford Deckard. The android characters are equally dissimilar to those in the film. the way they're tested (in book and film alike) is by asking them a series of questions, the answers to which show whether they have empathy. Androids fail the empathy test. Whereas the film androids failed the test, they then went on to behave empathetically. the book androids, on the other hand, confirm the test results in their cold behaviour, not only to their enemies, but to each other. Even so, Deckard finds enough 'life' and humanity in these entities to stimulate his own sense of empathy.
I did enjoy the film very much - although P K Dick was distressed by it apparently. The book is a completely different experience: more sad, dour, down-beat, more complicated, more thought provoking, less technologically flashy and colourful. Loving the film is no guarantee of loving the book, or vice versa. I recommend them both.
on 16 July 2010
World War Terminus has been and gone, leaving an Earth where radioactive dust keeps the few survivors who haven't emigrated inside for parts of the day; an Earth where real animals are now status symbols; an Earth where renegade androids are 'retired' by bounty hunters.
In the first chapter we meet Rick Deckard, one of these bounty hunters, as he argues with his wife before work about which setting to put their mood organs on. He then tends to his electric sheep and dreams of owning a real animal. Immediately, we are introduced to one of the main themes of this novel: that of reality. In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Philip K. Dick explores thoroughly the concept of reality - by showing us androids who could almost pass for human if not for a lack of empathy; and a whole business set-up to provide for electric animals; and the theory of Mercerism.
I was struck by the bleak tone, and the fact that Mercerism - a pseudo-religion - is one of the few aspects of life to give people hope, since this could be said to be a false hope. At one point Deckard thinks the following: "This rehearsal will end, the performance will end, the singers will die. Eventually the last score of the music will be destroyed in one way or another, finally the name 'Mozart' will vanish, the dust will have won" and this idea that the world is gradually crumbling shows us why people cling to Mercerism, and the status of owning animals as a way to make it through each day.
I have to confess that I was somewhat reluctant to pick up both my first Masterwork in this project and my first Philip K. Dick novel, I don't quite know why. Perhaps because the story is so well-known thanks to Bladerunner; perhaps because I have always been reluctant to pick up the classics of the genre, out of a fear that they would be extremely dry and unreadable. I'm happy to report that the reverse is true - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was extremely readable, at times very tense and atmospheric. There was a particular scene later in the book where an android coldly mutilates a spider and observes its ability to run that made me literally shudder. I was surprised that this novel still has such power and intensity after such a long while of being published.
I really enjoyed the absurd humour that provided such a difference in tone to the bleak hopelessness that prevails throughout most of the rest of the novel. The fact that Isidore was unable to tell the difference between a real cat and an electric animal made me squirm a little with discomfort, but I also appreciated the dark humour. The whole presence of the electric animals was amusing, and yet somehow sad and desolate.
PKD's writing is compulsive and spare, but at times it does meander into somewhat melancholic psychedelia, where PKD becomes more rambling and less punchy. There were a couple of passages that I felt could have been removed entirely to make the novel read better.
Altogether, though, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a science fiction triumph, and certainly deserves its place in the Masterworks list. It can be read on so many different levels - purely as a psychological thriller or as a social commentary about what defines a human being. It is definitely worth multiple reads to fully enjoy the experience. Recommended.
on 2 May 2000
Bladerunner was a brilliant film! Unfortunately, when they say "based" on the novel Do androids dream of electric sheep they mean "based" in th loosest sense of the word. The two don't even compare to each other. You should put Bladerunner out of your mind before reading this amazing book. The wonderful central methaphor of Mercer continuosly climbing the hill is applicable to any persons life. An uphill struggle to ultimately get us to where? This is the question that Deckard starts to ask himself but unfortunately unanswerable. One of the greatest sci-fi novels ever written be one of the greatest sci-fi writers ever.
on 10 January 2001
This is 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?', a true classic of science fiction novels and one that stands alone at that. This is the original format of the classic movie under the title 'Blade Runner'. It follows the trials of the Bounty Hunter Rick Deckard as he hunts down humanoids known as 'Replicants'- androids with the appearance of a regular human but with super strength, agility and intelligence. They are illegal on earth so the position of a 'Blade Runner' is put to the test - a hunter/killer of the perpatrators. Rick Deckard is one of them. This all takes place in a dreary acid rain-sodden San-Fransisco. With an extremely dark, murky however engaging atmosphere. Although the 'Blade Runner' film was based on this novel, it's story line is completely altered although it's atmoshere and technologies remain. If you liked the film then this is simply a must as it almost adds a brand new chapter the the blade runner saga which is truly remarkable. I, personally have read it several times already and I am about to start it again. A truly timeless sci-fi classic - 5 stars!
on 24 May 2004
A very pleasing read. I'm partial towards science-fiction that tries to speculate about the way future technology would fit into ordinary society, as opposed to clean fantasy-world scenarios, and this book does a very good job of describing what life on earth would be like if androids (flesh and blood humanoid beings with computer brains) existed alongside humans-with the added twist of earth being in a process of slow recovery after a nuclear world war. Though in my opinion by no means a bad movie, Blade Runner, which was based on this novel, is nowhere nearly as interesting as the original story (and it deviates at times quite strongly from this).
For all its future technology description (hover cars, videophones, mood controlling machines etc.) it is a highly philosophical book, which deals with interesting ethical questions, and it supplies plenty of food for thought; I found it both an entertaining and stimulating read.
on 24 November 2005
Forget the film, Blade Runner, and just read this instead.
I first read this a few years ago, and i have since re read it, and i still think it is a work of genius.
The world that we are taken into is both stark and intreging.
The best thing about this is the fact you are able to see into the world of the androids, and instead of seeing them as 'bad', we are able to see their take on the world. They are as intelligent, if not more, than humans, but have a kind of child hood wonder about them.
I especially like the Wilbor Mercer religion that Dick creates. It hads a depth to the story and a motivation for Deckards behaviour.
You don't need to be heavily into the SF genre to enjoy this book, i am sure everyone will enjoy it.