You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Do Andoids Dream of Electric Sheep?

One of the first things I noticed about reading Philip K. Dick's Do Andoids Dream of Electric Sheep? is that it's very different from Blade Runner, the movie made from it. The differences are not only with the plot but also the characters and the overall tone.

Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter who hunts down and destroys androids (this much is the same as the movie). Before he destroys them he administers an empathy test. The androids are as smart as humans but they lack empathy, so that is how he tells the difference. Deckard is assigned to destroy six androids when one of the other officers is shot and injured by one. He is nearly killed by one of the androids who pretends to be a Russian cop. Then he tracks down a female android who is posing as an opera singer.

It is while trying to capture Luba Luft that he is faced with a challenging question. She points out that if lack of empathy is a characteristic of androids, then Deckard could be an android, since he has no empathy for the androids he destroys. He is more confused when she summons another cop who claims not to know him and takes him to a completely different police station. There his world is thrown upside down, since it seems a mirror version of the world he knows, with different targets and different empathy tests. But one of the officers, Phil Resch, shoots the police investigator when he tries to shoot the Resch and Deckard, and Resch helps him escape. The investigator prove to be an android. He tells Deckard that he had suspected his superiors were androids. Now he is uncertain whether he may be an android, implanted with false memories. Likewise, Deckard is wondering if he may be an android. He witnesses Resch's viciousness in killing Luba Luft and can't tell if it means Resch is more likely to be an android because of this or whether Deckard himself is is more likely to be an android due to his cold nature toward the androids. This is the kind of ambiguousness, the questioning of the foundations of one's world, that Dick excels at.

With the bounty money he collects Deckard puts the down payment on a goat to keep. The world is suffering from the fallout of a deadly dust, and there are few living things. The remaining population is obsessed with keeping living things; those who can't afford a real pet will keep a fake one. The goat replaces Deckard's electric sheep, and he and his wife feel elated at owning such an expensive real animal.

Before he can go to sleep for the night, Deckard is ordered to find and kill the remaining androids. He calls up Rachael Rosen, the android at the corporation that manufactures them, and asks for her help. She agrees and meets him at a hotel room. After discussing the remaining targets, they make love. Rachael believes that he won't be able to kill any androids anymore, especially the one that is a copy of her.

Isidore, a young man who is a special, with lowered mental capacity, befriends the remaining androids and promises to protect them. But he is horrified when Pris, the copy of Rachael, takes a spider he has found and begins cutting off its legs. Their cold attitude toward life is a stark contrast to the human's craving for living things, which is heightened in the sterile world.

When Deckard arrives he kills the androids then becomes disoriented. When his wife tells him that someone killed their goat, he despairs. He drives far away and discovers what he believes is a real toad, which were supposed to be extinct. When he takes it home to his wife she reveals the false interior. Finally, his despair mixed with elation, he settles down to sleep.

This is a fascinating book full of contrasts. Living and false animals, living humans and androids, a dead world and a living group hallucination where humans experience empathy together. The author makes a point of questioning the difference between humans with empathy and the cold androids. One of the androids claims that empathy is just something humanity made up to feel superior to androids. Indeed, the humans themselves use mood organs to make them feel things, so perhaps that is a point. The lines become blurred.

I can understand the question of whether Deckard is an android, and it's definitely brought to the center of attention in the book, more so than in the movie. My opinion is that he is not literally an android but his questioning is only a metaphor. He wonders if his coldness towards the androids means that he is just like them. He compares himself to Resch, and is only confused when Resch turns out to be human.

This is a great example of setting affecting the plot and characters. The stark world leads the characters to seek the consolation of living things. It highlights the conflict between the humans and androids and brings the emotions into contrast. The philosophical questions raised are interesting. A


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