Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Book Review


Androids

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Philip K. Dick is a Science Fiction classic.  It has arguably started an entire sci fi genre (cyberpunk) and inspired great Japanese Anime (The Ghost in The Machine). Phillip K. Dick stands as the unknown titan of the Golden Age of Science Fiction (with Bradbury, Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein). As a dedicated reader of Science Fiction, I have always been just a touch embarrassed to have not read anything by Dick.  So when my nephew sent the book as a Christmas present and declared that we would be reading it and discussing it together, I jumped at the chance. I had some misgivings – there is a reason I haven’t read anything by Dick, but this would be a great way to read something together with my nephew.

The book opens with a challenging chapter. The lead character and his wife are in the apartment. Dick paints a bleak picture of post-war Earth. Very little survived the nuclear apocalypse and most of humanity with the means and deemed worthy enough have moved off Earth to other planets. Except Decker. Decker is a bounty hunter who “retires” renegade androids who come to Earth. (Retirement being a euphemism for killing.) The beginning of the book portrays how programmed humans have become.  They need a device to stimulate emotion and care for electronic animals to prove they are still worthy of being called human.  From there the story picks up: an upgraded set of androids is now roaming what is left of California and Decker has been assigned to finish the task of retiring this elite group of six androids.  We follow Decker as he learns about this upgraded version which acts even more human than before (but not quite). They are so good at acting human, Decker begins to question the righteousness of his task. Can one really say something that displays such deep emotion is not human?

The conversation were stimulated by this book were far ranging. This was the first Sci Fi book my nephew had read,  so occasionally I needed to provide some literary context about the story and the book (for example we discussed Asimov three laws of robotics). I am child of the cold war and I had to explain that to my nephew. (yes I really did practice duck and cover and yes I thought a nuclear apocalypse was a real possibility). Some of the deep conversations were about the nature of intelligence and humanity. Phillip K. Dick’s book dives into the deep end of this philosophic quagmire.  Decker’s test of empathy was a measure of something that a robot or AI should not be able to replicate (according to the book). Yet I know people who have less emotional sensitivity than Luba Luft (an android opera singer that Decker eventually retires with great remorse). We discussed the concept of the Turing Test – a test that true Artificial Intelligence would need to pass to indicate that it is truly thinking independently and capable of intellectual evolution. Do we need to add emotional evolution as a part of the Turing Test?

The conversations were fascinating as we made our way through the book. For that I could forgive the relentlessly dark prose. The book moved along quickly after a challenging chapter and became a page turner. However, my nephew and I were disappointed with the end.

brace-yourself-spoiler-are-coming

 

First off, I was disappointed that Dick felt the need to demonize the androids in order to justify Decker’s action. The power of the book was the ambivalence of Decker’s actions. It felt like Dick couldn’t follow through with that conflict. Then at the end Decker is rescued by a supernatural act. Everything up to this point had been fully rational so the appeal to the supernatural felt completely out of place.  Interestingly, the conversation stimulated further philosophic discussion about the gospels representation of Easter and just exactly who St. Isidore was (patron saint of technology). I also found out that Philip K. Dick was a deeply religious man.

There was a reason I had never read this story before. As I told my sister (my nephew’s mother), the story starts dark, moves to bleak and ends in despair. It is not recommend reading for those facing an existential crisis. I will concede I am shallow enough to prefer happy endings in my stories. By the end of this story, one does not doubt the doom of humanity. The only question is whether it will be destroyed by its own folly or by its apathy.  For those who love cyberpunk, this is a must read. For those who are not bothered by stories that end tragically and like well written science fiction, this is a must read. For those whose prefer see a bit of hope at the end of the tunnel even if it is only the train coming late, I recommend “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” You’ll get the same philosophic discussions, see the same folly of humanity and have a good laugh at the same time.

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Book Review

  1. I read this a couple of years ago, but I just couldn’t get into it. I found it an agonising read and was just glad when it was finally over (for some reason I didn’t allow myself to put this one down, so sub-consciously I must have enjoyed it on some level). I don’t much mind the unhappy ending, but the invented religion didn’t do it for me. This is a personal opinion based on a single reading, but I felt the story would have been better without that aspect – you don’t need religion, made up or existing, to have a character suffer a moral crisis, and each time Decker had one of his religious visions (only way I can think of to describe it) it merely disrupted the pacing for me.

    After reading the novel, I tracked down Blade Runner, but lost interest half an hour into that as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • it is a bit late in coming, but your comment is due a reply. I think you and I are on the same page as far as the book goes. The religious visions became a “deus ex machina” and I’ve never really liked those in stories. It makes the author look lazy.

      On the other hand, I really enjoyed the movie and thus was disappointed by the book (a rare occurrence but it happens). Having read the book, I think the movie made a more coherent plot than the book.

      Thanks for the read

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Shame on me; I have not read much of Dick’s work either (I began his speculative children’s lit book, Nick and the Glimmung, a few months back and it was decent, I just got sidetracked onto other tasks and didn’t finish it). Unlike Kokkie above, I liked the movie a lot (I think there are two versions of it out now, slightly different and I’m forgetting how at this moment); the movie, however, gave me the impression that the future Earth was still teeming with people, not that lots of people had necessarily fled off-world, though the androids obviously were working there, as we see in the Roy Batty death scene, which is one of my favorites in all of cinema (sci-fi or otherwise). I did skip your spoiler, Syd, but even with your reactions to the dark prose, your review has made me more keen to force this book into the mix. Certainly, as you said, it’s one from the golden age of science fiction and worth a read if only for that. As to my science fiction, I like both niches, if you will: doom and gloom and HEAs (to borrow an acronym I learned from the romance writing world), or happily ever afters.

    Liked by 1 person

Let me know what you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s