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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?


Philip K. Dick

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
average rating is 5 out of 5

Dystopia, Science Fiction

R. Alex Jenkins

Like millions of people, I linked to this book through Blade Runner, expecting a similar experience, in so many ways, but so different in others.

Rogue androids need to be retired and someone needs to do it - cue Rick Deckard - but that's where many similarities between book and film end. Replicant androids are not the formidable force they are in the movie, but capitulate when the game is up, which makes them rather pitiable and sad. Vulnerability and weakness are strong underlying emotions in this book, as opposed to a more direct Hollywood vision of man vs machine and who wins out. This is no Terminator.

Here, we're more concerned with our reason for living and why we carry on as we do. What makes us stay put? Or love? Animals, pets, partners, empathy? Weirdly, all of that.

In a future where you can simply dial a code into a machine to set your mood, why bother with anything at all, even relationships? Want to feel good? Dial in and tune out right now. No need for social skills, just pills - yet human beings still need to stick together. Even though androids operate in a tight-knit unit, they are inexplicably detached from each other due to lack of empathy. They can relate, but they can't sacrifice their essential individual needs for the overall good the way humans can, which is emphasised by a religion called Mercerism, the lynchpin of understanding humanity and this book. Humans plug into a type of religious escalator to get their spiritual and emotional fix, and even when it becomes physically painful, keep on struggling uphill, tired, bruised and demoralised, for reasons that machines could never understand, to remember what it's like to be connected and alive. Mercerism defines humanity over and above mech-based individualism.

Additionally, the book uses a concept in which any type of domestically ownable pet can be inexpensively purchased as a near-identical facsimile of the real thing due to technology being so advanced, but human status and ego doesn't want mech, it desires the real thing. If you earn enough money from retiring androids, in Deckard's case, you can have a real sheep, goat, emu, or whatever you wish, but it's very expensive and almost out of reach. It's a bizarre parallel with religion and the need to be organic and real, to feel alive and somehow empathise, which makes this literature the strange, pitiable and sentient work of art that it is.

PKD isn't always the most fluid author, with rough patches and indecipherable holes in places, but he is one of the most ingenious and cohesive writers at understanding existence and humanity. There's something so lonely, lost and detached about this book, yet beautifully organic and identifiable too. A bleak dystopian future where machines are taking over but are, for now, necessarily kept at bay.

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