Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – (1968) Philip K. Dick

Do androids dream? Evidently; that’s why they occasionally kill their employers and flee here.

do-androids-2Perhaps one of Philip K Dick’s most famous novels – as adapted into the screenplay Blade Runner– Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep is set in San Fransisco during the WWT (World War Terminus) fallout somewhere in the perhaps not-so-far distant future. What remains of earth is mostly desolate, abandoned apartment blocks containing what are described as ‘chickenheads’ and the police. These chickenheads were denied access to the emigrated colonies based on mars, of which only those with high IQs were allowed to escape to. Of course, non-chickenheads had the option to stay if they wished. Rick Deckard being one of them. He is a bounty-hunter whose one wish is to own a real life animal and not the fake robotic sheep that he has been lumbered with. Animals are rare, and owning one is a highly-sought after symbol of high stature.

However, when an assignment crops up – killing the new Nexus-6 androids for a huge reward- Rick can’t say no. These androids are frauds; they are robots passing as humans but they are hard to spot unless you force them to undergo the Voigt-Kampff test- basically a super-efficient lie detector test. There is just one problem: empathy. For Rick, the human emotion to feel empathy has reached out to the androids, and his mission comes increasingly hard when he beings questioning is own morality.

The sub-plot alongside Rick’s emotional conflict is John Isidore; a chickenhead a.k.a a ‘special’ and devotee to the new religion, Mercerism, an ideology based on the teachings of man named Wilber Mercer. This part of the novel is a bit of a mystery; just like Wilber Mercer himself. He is not a ‘God’ as such, but the humans seem to follow him in order to construct some sort of meaning into their lives. The ’empathy’ box, allows its users collectively to step inside a virtual world and experience walking up a hill and have rocks flung at their heads. Each user can feel every other user’s pain; thus instilling a sense of empathy upon the individual. His message is simple: feel empathy for your fellow man and work for the good of the community. John Isidore comes into contact with the remaining Nexus-6 androids that Rick is hunting; his naive and selfless personality as a result of Mercerism causes him to help the robots, despite their criminality.

Like many of Dick’s novels, DADOES confronts human morality and the novel’s antagonist is somewhat ambiguous. The line between human and robot is blurred, much like Issac Asmiov’s collection of stories, I,Robot.  Imagery and symbolism swamp the pages much like Dick’s vision which explores metaphysical and theological issues concerning the nature of humanity.

Many of Dick’s novels were not recognised whilst he was alive, but now he is considered one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time. Many of his stories have been adapted into major screenplays such as Minority Report and The Adjustment Bureau. Why? Well, maybe his vision is becoming increasingly more realistic.

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