Sunday, June 28, 2015

Reflections: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Anyone familiar with the Science Fiction genre of books knows about Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  It's a well-known, well-regarded work that inspired, albeit loosely, one of the greatest science fiction films (so says a lot of media outlets) of all time, Blade RunnerDo Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? feels almost as esoteric as it sounds with its opaque examination of life, consciousness, and empathy.  It's an interesting book, even entertaining at times, but in the end it left me a little abandoned in its own musings.

The single most fascinating and entertaining story element of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is its purposeful misdirections regarding who is an android and who is not.  In this world, one can be an android and not know it.  Memories can be fabricated.  Perception can be faked.  There are a series of reversals during the middle of the book that left me questioning my own understanding of who was an android and who wasn't and what that would mean for the story overall.  It was a great sequence.  (A film, although not a great one, that does something similar with great effect is Where Eagles Dare; there are probably half a dozen twists within the span of one ten-minute scene).  Yet, as entertaining as this segment was, it doesn't last long. The book quickly re-focuses on its core philosophical and metaphysical elements.  That's not a slight, however.  I'm pretty open to all things philosophical and metaphysical, but this book provides more enjoyment in the discussing of it than in the reading of it.
The stranger elements of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, such as Mercerism, are balanced out with a very thought-provoking view of the future.  With essentially all animal life obliterated by a Nuclear War (World War Terminus; what a great and imposing name!), humanity is emigrating en masse away from Earth.  Those of us left behind struggle with what it means to be human and the proper way to value life.  Animals, and by extension life itself, have become a rare commodity indeed, and much of humanity long so badly for an animal that they pay large sums of money to own them or buy ersatz animals to fulfill the need.  Rick Deckard, the book's main protagonist, begins the book with an electric sheep but works at eliminating several androids to collect the bounty and buy a live animal; it seems that's all he really wants.  This unique set of problems and motivations certainly gives the book a special flavor; thus far, I haven't read another science fiction book quite like it.  Although I think the book veers a little too far into obtuse commentary, it does leave some tantalizing questions unanswered which would certainly drive the most literal among us a little crazy.

Philip K. Dick and his book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? will forever be regarded as one of the finest works of science fiction we have.  That is, after all, how I came across it again, and again, and again.  It appeared on just about every best of science fiction list I reviewed.  For my part, it was a book I liked but didn't love.  I'd enjoy discussing it with others but don't have much reason to soak in its material more on my own.

Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: Hyperion
Reflections: A Princess of Mars
Reflections: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

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