Off the Shelf

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

By Marcus Pan

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?A friend gave me this book to check out. Admittedly, the title seems a bit surreal, but after noticing two main items of interest I decided to take his advice and give it a read. The first was that it was written by Philip K. Dick - a science fiction author who's name I have heard tossed around for some time even among such company as Bradbury, Asimov, Orwell etc. And even Oddlystrange mentions him in her piece Required Goth Reading (Legends #82) and states that it is a must to read works by Philip K. Dick to aspire to become a "Net.Goth/Industrial." Well, that's me. So what the hell. The second item was at the top of the cover was emblazoned "The Inspiration for Blade Runner." I don't know about you, but Blade Runner? THE Blade Runner? Well, hell, it's a keeper. So I delved in expecting morbid neo-industrial settings, awesome futuristic fight scenes and without having the least bit of a clue where the electric sheep fit in and who would want an electric sheep anyway? Do you mean an electronic animal or was this some made-up futuristic slang for some other object?

It wasn't slang. Nor is it the "book of Blade Runner" either. But I did quite enjoy it. While I went in with precepts concerning the aforementioned imagery, I was instead given a rather good science-fiction book that touched upon religious and theological subjects - and the Big Brother scam of the millennium. While the book is, again, not Blade Runner, you have to look at the cover again. Notice the word "inspiration," as in the idea that it isn't the book, but instead might have caused a spark that developed into the great industrial classic we now call Blade Runner. That I can see.

Entered are we into a post-apocalyptic world (if I had a dime for every time I had to say or write that). Following the end of World War Terminus as they call it, the fall-out as expected ravaged the landscape. Animals and people died and entire species have become extinct. Suddenly it's not cars or huge houses that are considered elite in what's left of Earth's population, but instead owning a true animal. Seriously - just owning a cat grants you social standing. (I have three of them - it ain't that big a deal…regardless of the fact that mine would beat the fluff out of yours.) Animals are that scarce that buying an ostrich is tantamount to entering a car-leasing deal in this age. So electric counterparts - animals that are fake - have become commonplace and people will use them to raise their status in society. Just don't tell anyone that when it moos it's recorded and you're cool.

We wake up with Rick Dekard, a bounty hunter for the local police department. Only he doesn't hunt criminals - that's police work. He hunts androids. And really this isn't as easy as it sounds, as androids have become so sophisticated there is only one way to tell them apart from an actual human and that is using empathy - feelings. Feelings of these type have always been what most die-hard theologians point to as whether or not something has sentience. And, not accidentally, it is also the kind of thing that die-hard spiritualists use as well to define what does and doesn't have a soul. (As near as I can tell, I don't seem to by those guidelines. Guess I won't be at your parties in the next world [sigh].)

Expect to have your ideas of sentience shaken here, as is Rick Dekard's, as you spend the couple days with him looking for the latest pack of escaped androids. I'm not going to reveal any more about the story, such as the Big Brother scam as that's a main climax, but I think I've laid enough groundwork about it thus far for all of you to determine if it's "your thang." Philip touches upon the theological and philosophical issues without dropping like a stone too far into its depths - kind of like watching just the waves on the surface of Lake Theology after tossing in a pebble or two. It reads fluidly and is somewhat short, so you should get through it rather quickly.

If you have a passing interest in exploring sentience, but don't want to get mired in it, then this is a story you'll enjoy. While the characters and people you'll meet aren't particularly memorable, it's their shaken ideals that is the focal point of the story and not the people themselves. It's the socio-control exerted over a thinning populace, the question of whether or not a computer-brain can learn enough to be "alive" and the shaken mind of a bounty hunter who once thought he was doing the right thing, but now isn't so sure. That's where the story is.

"Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" by Philip K. Dick
Published by Ballantine Books
Copyright © 1968 by Philip K. Dick
ISBN 0-345-40447-5

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