Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K Dick

Updated: Nov 4



Are you a fan of Blade Runner? I'm a late bloomer on the cult classic. In fact, I use to hate it! I didn't understand the philosophy behind the 1982 sci-fi (shorthand for Science Fiction, just in case, ya know?.) It was dark, eerie, and most notably, an 80's movie. I'm talking about crazy outfits, stoic protagonist, androgenic antagonist - it was awesome!  What some of you may not know, is that Blade Runner was heavily inspired by one of the greatest sci-fi novels ever written. Phillip K. Dick published "Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep" in 1968. I read it for the first time this year. The writing holds up wonderfully. 

We follow bounty hunter Rick Deckard. He's the same fellow we see in "Blade Runner," except the title "Blade Runner" never appears in the book. "Blade Runner" was the name of a movie William S. Burroughs had as a working title for his own movie. But it became a book or something. That's the Beat Generation for you. 

Bounty hunter Rick Deckard (as opposed to the Blade Runner) owns an electric sheep, though he wants a real one real bad. "Real" animals are hard to come by in the radioactive atmosphere of Earth in 1992 (or 2021 depending on the edition) after World War Terminus. Most people moved to Mars, where androids, identical to humans in every way, wait hand and foot for their meat bag masters. 

Deckard's job, identical to his role in Blade Runner, is to "retire" (read kill) any Androids who escape the Mars colonies for a non-servile life on Earth. These rogue androids are thought to be criminal and highly dangerous. 

The Nexus 6 brain thingy, that is, the new personality model, is essentially so human-like that telling an android apart from a human is very unlikely. This leaves Deckard the task of applying what the movie famously calls the Turing test, named after brilliant Mathematician Alan Turing. You know, the guy played by Benedict Cumberbatch in The "Immigration Game."

The book refers to this test as the Voigt Kampf test. Both are essentially empathy test where the administrator asks you a series of questions. It's designed to be answered swiftly with many questions alluding to violence against animals. At this point, it's the only useful tool for deciphering between a human and an android. Deckard has to track down these escapees, administer the test, then proceed to retire them. 

"Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" is a profound novel. The question of "what it means to be alive" is delicately approached. The little bit of life left on Earth is severely cherished. The rogue androids who make Earth their home may simply be in search of a life they were denied. But it is possible that they are deceptive masterminds hiding in plain sight. 

This book is a must-read for everyone, but especially sci-fi fans. Dick approaches the overarching philosophy of life through a thrilling crime-noir. The lessons being many, but notably, that what we think of as being alive may be terribly flawed. With that, tell me, what makes you so sure you're not an android?

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Next Review: Slaughter House V

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