Knowing that the film “Blade Runner 2049” is slowly but surely approaching, I came up with the idea to watch the first part in the coming period. I watched it a long time ago, as a kid, and it remained in my memory as a “cool” movie, but I believe there are films that should be (re)watched every few years because they can give us explanations or insights into things we couldn’t see when we were younger.
One warm day found me (of course, again) in a bookstore. That’s when the novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” (hereinafter referred to as DADOES) by Philip K. Dick caught my eye. Hmm, if I’m planning to rewatch the cult film, why not read the work that inspired the famous Ridley Scott beforehand?
When I finished reading the book, my only reaction was, “wow.” Although the book was published almost 50 years ago, I couldn’t help but get the impression that K. Dick described something inevitable, which also seems frightening. But let’s take things in order (without drawing parallels with the film).
In the not-so-distant future (which, according to the period when the book was written, should have already happened… but, you never know…), humanity has decided to find the most efficient way to “help” itself. Through nuclear war. Since, after that, planet Earth resembled an average high school student’s room, most of humanity emigrated…immigrated…well, moved to surrounding planets, which became colonies. Although this should be bad news, it turns out that every family gets an android to help them in daily life (from washing dishes to hoeing potatoes). Moreover, you also have a Penfield device to tune your mood like a typical drug (from depression to euphoria… basically, anything you want), as well as an empathy box, which represents a kind of fusion of virtual reality and collective consciousness where everyone experiences the ascent of Wilbur Mercer (a quasi-saint), who is pelted with stones, and whose pain is also felt by the users of the empathy box.
Of course, the agony on the polluted, radioactive Earth wouldn’t be complete without a talk-show that runs non-stop, combining the worst of daytime TV, music programs, and reality shows you can imagine (and I’m sure you can…). And, as if that’s not enough, you have rogue androids seizing every opportunity to reach our dear planet and hide on it, and who are such advanced models that ordinary people can’t recognize them as non-humans at all.
This is where Rick Deckard comes into play, a bounty hunter for (android) heads, who asks questions first, then shoots… no, the man really does that! First, a person has to agree to be connected to a certain portable device that measures their reactions to set questions, and, if those reactions deviate from the expected, the person is an android who needs to be elimina… I mean, “retired.” And for that, he gets well paid (the hunter, not the android). Our dear Rick has been tasked with “retiring” a group of the latest generation androids (Nexus 6), which would bring him a large sum of money, with which he could finally buy a real animal (more on that later). In this adventure, his paths will cross with Garland, another bounty hunter, as well as Rachael Rosen, a mysterious girl behind the very corporation that made the Nexus 6 androids. I’ll just say that both Garland and Rachael are not the typical people you’d meet in a convenience store.
On the other hand, there’s John Isidore, a person of below-average intelligence (categorized as a “chicken-brain”), who works as a driver for a veterinary clinic and lives in an abandoned building. His life changes drastically when three fugitives enter it, awaiting the announcement of very interesting news to the whole world.
Philip K. Dick really touched on many interesting futuristic and philosophical themes in his novel, and I’m sure that, upon finishing it, you’ll take some time to sort out your thoughts on the topics he addressed.
What are these themes? Well, let’s start with what it means to be human. What will differentiate us from androids in the future, who, apparently, aside from not differing from humans in terms of appearance and intelligence (it seems they’ll be smarter than us), won’t even differ in terms of expressing emotions?
There’s one key word, in my opinion, that may be the main motif of this novel. And that’s empathy. The only thing inherent to humans, which androids (still) can’t fathom. Is empathy truly what makes us special? Can empathy perhaps exist even for non-living beings, such as androids or mechanical animals? And is that normal or not? I don’t know why, but while reading the novel, I got the impression that empathy will slowly start to vanish in the future and that we’ll become insensitive beings, and that maybe we’ll even fail the empathy test for androids?
Rick Deckard shares these dilemmas. Some encounters and situations he’ll face will force him to reassess his view of humans and androids. And does such a job exhaust him physically, mentally, and emotionally, requiring a living animal to preserve sanity and empathy? Uh… this sounded kind of wrong, but read the novel and you’ll understand.
Oh, yes, I know I still owe you something! So, in the future, almost the entire animal kingdom on Earth has died out. As an alternative, mechanical versions have been created, which at first (and second and third) glance do not differ from the living ones. They need to be taken care of and fed, so they don’t get sick (i.e. break down). But, that’s not the same for many people, including Rick Deckard. Because owning a real animal (be it a rabbit, sparrow, horse, goat, or something else) is a kind of status symbol, as well as proof of having empathy (otherwise, how could you care for someone if you don’t have at least a little empathy).
As you can see, the novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” opens the door to many questions, often touching on various religious-philosophical-futuristic themes. If you’re a fan of science fiction inclined towards philosophical contemplation, I think you’ll enjoy this work.
For a book written half a century ago, it is quick and easy read. Touching on philosophical themes is not strenuous to read, nor do the characters spout nonsense (as can happen in many novels). The only detail that was a bit unusual to me is that the action often “cuts off” only to continue in the same place in the next chapter. But maybe that’s just me (or bad book print).
Summa summarum: Should you read the novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”? Absolutely! Regardless of whether you have (or haven’t) watched “Blade Runner,” and whether you liked it (or didn’t), read this work. Consider the future, intelligence, empathy, and androids from the perspectives of Rick Deckard and John Isidore, and ponder whether there is any truth in it.
Question for you: Do you believe that in the future, androids will surpass humans and gain the ability for empathy, and why do you think so?
(Originally reviewed: 23/09/2017)