312 of 334 people found the following review helpful
on March 23, 2007
This anti-robot novel is oft misunderstood by those who come to it with expectations formed by the pro-robot movie. The novel is essentially a paranoid fantasy about machines which pretend to be people. The pretense is so horrifyingly effective that a bounty hunter engaged in the entirely necessary task of rooting out and destroying these monsters finds that his own humanity has become imperiled.
The novel "DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?" re-titled "BLADE RUNNER" to tie it to the Ridley Scott film loosely based on it, remains available under either title (and with separate entries on AMAZON), but it is the same book. The film studio wanted to market a "novelization" of the film, but PKD adamantly refused to authorize this, forcing them to instead market his original novel under the film's title. Good move, Phil!
This decision, however, has led to confusion and/or disappointment when readers approach the novel with expectations formed by the film. Many reviewers here (whether they like the book, the film, or both) have commented on how different they are. Few seem to realize, however, the extent that they are in direct and fundamental conflict. Some praise the book for tearing down the distinction between man and machine or promoting other nihilistic views and pro-robot messages that the author would have found abhorrent. Others pan it for lack of focus, or for otherwise failing to promote the film's pro-robot agenda as effectively as the film did.
The book is anti-robot and pro-human, and seeks to uphold the distinction between robot and human, and between illusion and reality, in the face of a most-insidious challenge. The common man is celebrated for his basic decency -- specifically his capacity for basic empathy and compassion -- and the robots are deplored for their complete lack of these qualities. In the book, even a "chickenhead" (a mentally retarded human mutant) is infinitely more valuable than the smartest robot.
The film was pro-robot and anti-human, promoting the idea that a compelling illusion is equivalent to reality. It glorifies the android as a sort of superman ("more human than human") -- stronger, faster, more beautiful, more intelligent, -- who seem poised to inherit the future on a dying Earth. The film even seems to admire the robots for their ruthlessness.
The book makes Deckard (the protagonist) human, and loyal to humans. The film has Deckard switch sides and join the robots. Indeed, in the film (not the book) Deckard may himself be a robot (the latter is never made explicit, but director has made clear it is what he intended). This means that, in the FILM, there are virtually no sympathetic human characters -- those characters who suggest that a man is worth more than a computer program are portrayed as bigots.
In PKD's view, the androids are unquestionably monsters who must be destroyed. The irony, and the central problem posed in the novel, is that their ability to SEEM human (which,, in the NOVEL, is never more than meticulously-programmed fakery), means that those who must destroy robots risk damage to their own humanity in the process. Thus, the author approves of Deckard's wife, whose sympathy for the "poor andys" is evidence of her humanity, while still approving of Deckard's assignment.
In the novel, the robots' increased ability to fool the VK test is merely an advance in programmed mimicry of human test responses. The film, on the other hand, treats the improved performance on the VK test as evidence that the robots are truly "human". But the film's robots do not demonstrate compassion in any meaningful way. The agenda of the film is NOT so mcuh to show that robots are as compassionate as humans, but rather to show that humans are as ruthless as robots (as evidenced, mainly, by their willingness to kill robots). This agenda is eerily similar to that of the TV androids near the end of the novel, who set out to expose human empathy as a myth.
In the novel, the title question must be answered in the negative. Androids DON'T care about other creatures. It is humans who have the capacity care about other creatures -- ironically, even about androids -- even electric sheep.
So many, even among the author's admirers, have missed the novel's true focus that it may be best to defend my interpretation with a quote from the author himself, made shortly before his death (quoted in the book "Future Noir"):
"To me, the replicants are deplorable. They are cruel, they are cold,
they are heartless. They have no empathy, which is how the
Voight-Kampff test catches them out, and don't care about what happens
to other creatures. They are essentially less-than-human entities.
"Ridley, on the other hand, said he regarded them as supermen who
couldn't fly. He said they were smarter, stronger, and had faster
reflexes than humans. 'Golly!' That's all I could think of to reply
to that one. I mean, Ridley's attitude was quite a divergence from my
original point of view, since the theme of my book is that Deckard is
dehumanized through tracking down the androids. When I mentioned
this, Ridley said that he considered it an intellectual idea, and that
he was not interested in making an esoteric film."
78 of 84 people found the following review helpful
on May 18, 2003
Other SF writers have ideas; Philip K. Dick had visions. In fact, all of his visions may be said to be part of a single Uber-vision, a life-long attempt to construct a picture of the world and to ask meaningful questions about it. Most of his SF novels were different "takes" on this vision and explorations of those questions. To say, as so many people have done (including Dick himself), that his themes are "what is reality" and "what is human", is to touch only on the surface of the problems he was grappling with. It is necessary to understand how thoroughly Dick lived with his vision of life to know what his explorations meant, especially if one wishes to grasp their emotional center.
Take this novel for instance (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). One could read it as if it were an ordinary SF novel and be fascinated by its "ideas", such as androids with false memories or the economy of real-animal trade in a post-apocalyptic setting -- in the same way that some fans of the "Star Trek" shows are interested in the structure of the Federation, the nature of the Borg, etc. But Dick's ideas are nothing more than access points to his larger vision, and the novel has some interesting little conduits that can take you there.
One thing of note (that few notice) is the idea of the "Penfield mood organ" which triggers an argument between Deckard and his wife in the opening chapter. Apparently one selects a desired emotional state and "dials in" settings to send one's brain the electrical signals that create that emotion, such as "pleased acknowledgment of husband's superior wisdom in all matters". The gadget is obviously named after Wilder Penfield, 20th century pioneer in brain mapping research. (A variant of this idea was used later in another of Dick's robot-or-man novels, the neglected We Can Build You.) Significantly, the device "frames" the novel, referenced again during the last scene. Such a device is the least outlandish piece of "science fiction" that the novel contains, since it is based on real science. And that fact roots the other speculations of the novel, however wild, in a very real and pressing contemporary question: if our moods and attitudes can be manipulated via electrical currents, then... what are we?
Another fascinating aspect of the story is the quasi-religious figure named Mercer. Mercer speaks at times with words like those of Christ, at other times with Zen riddles and self-contradiction. He offers empathy without salvation, salvation without truth, a truth through lies. When he is exposed as a fraud (when the set for the Mercer films is "subjected to rigorous laboratory scrutiny"), he admits it but insists that it does not detract from his validity. Mercerism is the only hint of transcendence offered by the novel, which raises the question: if such transcendence is exposed as fraudulent, then... what can be our transcendence?
The devastation that Deckard experiences in the end is a reflection of Dick's own emotional response to the conundrums of life as he saw it. That's because his vision was never an abstract or academic construct, an intellectual game without consequences -- it was always a life-or-death matter for him. And so it is for us, because Dick's true theme is neither ontology nor human identity, but the value of our existence, our origin and our fate, our relationships to one another and to God.
165 of 191 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 1997
Sometimes one wonders why some people even bother to read. If you are a fan of the movie Blade Runner, and you are a little disapointed by this book, then shame on you. You shouldn't be reading books in the first place then! Rarely can movies capture all the themes and ideas of a book, and rarely can books capture the artistic cinematography of film. The two media are separate. Treat them as such.
What Blade Runner and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? are about is the routine of police bounty hunter Rick Deckard. His job is to hunt down and "retire" fugitive androids. But what the movie only scratched the surface of is WHY those androids are fugitives. Fans of the character of Data from Star Trek, or of the computer Mike from Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress will find the familiar theme of what it is that defines the difference between artificial intelligence and artificial life.
This is the realization that Deckard comes to and must deal with: these androids are not mere machines with off-switches, they are living creatures, aware of their own existence and their own mortality. In the post-nuclear holocaust world that Deckard exists in, humans define life by their ability to feel empathy. Empathy for the lives of each other, empathy for the lives of the remaining animal species of earth decimated by fallout, or empathy for artificial life. Eventually, Deckard questions his own ability to feel empathy, and therefore, his own humanity. For if being alive is about feeling empathy, then how can he truly be alive without feeling empathy for the living machines whose job it is for him to kill.
In the film version, Rutger Hauer's performance as one of the androids briefly captured the theme of the book, but it was never really explored and was instead sacrificed for artistic license. If you were intrigued by special effects, skip this book and rent Terminator 2. If you were intrigued by the question of artificial intelligence and artificial life, then you may want to ask if androids really DO dream of electric sheep.
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2000
If you are coming to "Do Androids Dream..." by way of "Blade Runner", the film (loosely) based on the book, be warned: the two are similar only in their most basic plot outlines. As is typical of Dick in his prolific middle period (roughly 1962-1970), there is a lot going on in this novel. The main theme, dehumanization, is amplified by each character and situation, but Dick creates a rich environment that is equally compelling as the way that theme is explored.
In short, Rick Deckard's job is to kill renegade androids, a job he finds taking its toll on him. Sadly, he's not the only one who is feeling dehumanized: witness the existence of the Penfield Mood Organ (one of Dick's most touching inventions), through which one can alter one's state of consciousness by dialing the appropriate setting (such as "the desire to watch television, no matter what's on"); witness the cult around Wilbur Mercer, a vague messianic figure whose (literally) uphill struggle and persecution an individual can share by grasping the handles of a little black "empathy box"; witness Buster Friendly, a television personality bent on exposing Mercerism as a sham; and, lastly, witness the popularity of artificial animals (such as the electric sheep of the title) in a post-apocalyptic world where most real animals are either dead or sterile from radiation.
That Dick manages all of these sharply drawn ideas (and more, as well as a number of interesting characters) while still keeping the plot moving swiftly and ruminating on the nature of humanity is a tribute to his brilliance. "Do Androids Dream..." is not a perfect book -- there are a few loose ends at novel's close -- but it is a rich and rewarding one that retains its impact as the years pass. As a summation of several of Dick's ideas, it may also be the ideal introduction to this author's work.
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on May 13, 2001
Though much science fiction of yesteryear is now dated and reads blandly, SF visionary Philip K. Dick was well ahead of his time and his best works, including this masterpiece, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? This book works on two levels. On the one hand, it is an exciting, fast-paced, and highly entertaining SF action adventure. This facet of the novel was, of course, captured in the movie Blade Runner. However, it also has a deeper, below the surface, entirely different meaning to it. In this book, Dick asks us what it means to be human. If you read this book and dig below the surface to the core themes, you may find that the answer may be a lot different than you think. Whatever level you take the book on, it is a masterpiece-enjoyable, entertaining, and yet literary and profound. Even the seemingly wacky title is perfect. Read.
144 of 174 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2001
I read this book before seeing Blade Runner, and I'm glad I did.
"Do Androids Dream?" is more of a philosophical novel than a science fiction film. Basically, the premise is, "what are the philosophical implications if robots became virtually indistinguishable from humans"? In 1968, this was a mind-blowingly new idea.
The vision of Philip K Dick is absolutely fascinating. For example, in order to maintain the difference between androids/replicants and humans, the government has invented a new religion, based on the idea that killing animals is highly immoral. Yet today we eat animals every day. This belief-system has artificially made a moral code which androids fail to understant.
It's a little like the blacks after the Civil War - invent white supremacy, disallowing the blacks from making their way in society as normal people - and whites can then point at them and say, AH HAH! I told you blacks need us around to help them! Look how (...) their lives are! OBVIOUSLY they are inferior!
Philip K Dick makes many references to the Afro-American experience in this novel, and the theme is most disturbing.
There are many, many other, even more interesting, themes in this novel; including those seen in the film. If replicants show more mercy than humans, does this not grant that they have greater "empathy"? This is a vast theme, and one that is successfully portrayed in the film. Roy Baty has a chance to kill Rick Deckard (in the film), yet he chooses to save him.
This novel bears so many re-readings. For instance, yesterday I reread the part where Deckard gives the Voigt-Kampff test to Rachael the replicant (it also appears in the film!) I noticed for the first time, that the questions that Rachael does not react to are the ones concerning killing animals! Again, this is an artificial moral code, so the only reason she feels no "empathy" to wasps, butterflies etc. is that such moral codes were never natural.
ALso, she fails to react to a question about killing babies. The reason this is so is that replicants cannot have babies, and so any emotion towards "children" are denied them...
To anyone hesitating before being this book: There are some aspects of this book that may turn one off.
First, there is little or no action, and no film noir style. That part (great as it is!) is only in the film version.
Secondly, the novel is in Philip K Dick's bizzare, almost childlike style. Do not look for brilliant prose (although there are some gems), or brilliant dialogue.
Thirdly, Philip K Dick was desperately poor all his life, and all his books were written VERY fast in order to make enough money to live! Thus, the book is not as well polished as it could be 0- although it's better than some others.
Fourth, there are some parts of the book that are - well - strange. VERY strange. Philip K Dick was the master of strangeness. If you prefer books where both feet of reality are kept firmly planted on the ground, this is probably not for you.
Fifth, the book is extremely rich in religious imagery, especially towards the end. Although these are my FAVOURITE parts of the book, if you find religion a bore, or disturbing, then maybe this should be given a miss...
BUT - if you don't mind your mind being stretched - if you don't mind a rather ropy style - if you LIKE PHILIP K DICK or GREAT GREAT IDEAS - then read "Do Androids Dream" now!
Oh, and by the way, because of Blade Runner the Movie, this book has sold more copies than all PKD's other books put together. It was the event, the film was, that made PKD a name as a great writer - some two months after he died of a stroke...
Oh well. Thank you Ridley Scott, and thank you Blade Runner. You have opened PKD's books to a wide, wide audience...
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2000
I'll hold my hand up now and say that I'm not a sci-fi afficionado. However, I must make an exception in the case of `Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?'. This is one original and fiercely intelligent novel, which transcends the genre that spawned it: it is the equal of many highly regarded works of `serious' literature and undoubtedly the product of a formidable intellect. The ideas that Philip K Dick generates and the way he applies them to the human condition in this book throw up some fascinating themes: is empathy what makes us human? Is life precious for its own sake? Can we be sure that we are even 'alive'?
The novel is set on a post holocaust Earth now only sparsely populated by `specials' - humans whose genes have been rendered defective by radioactive dust - and a few others. The remaining healthy humans have migrated to Mars, seduced by the promise of owning their own android. The value of life on Earth is so high that a ludicrous extreme now exists, where the ultimate status goal is to own a live animal - which only the affluent, or the desperate, can afford. The sad, but cheap, alternative is to own an electric replica in order to save face with the neighbours.
Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter, his job to 'retire' renegade androids who have escaped from Mars. Six of the latest, highly sophisticated, Nexus 6 models have committed murder and escaped to Earth. The trouble is, these androids are so convincing it is only possible to be sure they are not human by gauging their reflex reactions to a series of questions, to test their empathy. This approach obviously has its shortcomings - the android could well have a laser gun pointed at you underneath the table. Set over the course of a single day, the novel charts the psychological voyage of discovery that Deckard unwittingly embarks on which sees him transformed from a down at heel private eye, who does his job without ever questioning the ethics or consequences, to an existentially uncertain refusenik who is profoundly unsure of his own sanity.
Dick's novel was the inspiration for Ridley Scott's `Bladerunner', though the two are significantly different. Where `Bladerunner' is a sort of ultra stylish sci-fi film noir `Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?' is a more cerebral experience that touches on some fairly weighty philosophical themes. The film is visually stunning and manages to captures a nightmarish vision of a post apocalyptic future more perfectly than any other movie in the last twenty years, except perhaps `Terminator'. It is a work of atmosphere over ideas, though this isn't a criticism. The book covers more ground - certain elements, such as the bizarre religion Mercerism and the almost fanatical sociological obsession with live animals, are omitted from `Bladerunner', and these help to contextualise the warped evolution of human life on earth since World War Terminus. In conclusion this book is a classic, and that is not a term I would use lightly. It works on all sorts of levels, whether you're after a thought provoking exploration on what it means to be `alive' or simply an exciting, well written sci-fi detective yarn. Read it.
45 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on June 30, 2005
Androids takes place in a not-so-distant future where a world war has spread a cloud of radioactive dust across the globe, many forms of animal species are extinct, many of the survivors have emigrated to colonies on Mars and the remaining humans are encouraged to emigrate, except for those who have been tested and classified as "specials" meaning the ones with diminished mental abilities because they have been affected severely from radiation. Emigrants are given androids, very sophisticated robots, as slaves. As the technology gets better, newly manufactured androids become more and more human-like, both in appearance and behavior, to the point that they are very hard to distinguish. Discontented androids sometimes kill their masters and find ways to smuggle themselves to earth, in hopes for a better life. In the post-world war earth, life is regarded so precious that owning and caring for an animal is both considered a highly moral life and a status symbol. Because real animals are so rare, many people have fake, very sophisticated and real-like electronic animals that they care for and hide from their neighbors the fact that their animal is fake. On the one hand there are bounty hunters who catch and kill androids, human robots which dreamt of a better life, evidently with some feelings. And on the other hand there is the value which people place upon animal robots. On the one hand there are intelligent, sophisticated androids like the one who made a successful carrier on earth as an opera singer; on the other hand there are hunters who emotionlessly kill her without regard to her artistic talent, or there are simple-minded specials. Throughout the plot, readers are given a lot to think about questions like what is life, what is empathy, where do you draw a line between the value of real and artificial life? It is a philosophical novel and the author puts all these questions before us with brilliant comparisons between characters. The only negative feeling that one might get is the unusual, somewhat simple prose style but overall, a very good, thought provoking novel.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
The audiobook's title "Blade Runner" is only for the movie tie-in. This is a reading of "Do Androids..." and not a rendering of any novelization of the film. Scott Brick produced mixed results as the narrator, fitting wonderfully as Rick Deckerd, with his somber, tough outlook, and not so well with some of the other characters. He didn't really capture Rachel, for example, to my liking. And his tone for Isidore reminded me of Henry Gibson on "Laugh In" from 1960s TV, which was not a plus.
Dick's view of circa 2020 has flying cars, video phones, humans on Mars, and mood-altering devices, besides androids. One amusing miss was "carbons" for traditional document copies, managed by secretaries. The speculative science fiction was not Dick's core purpose here anyway. Instead, it is the relationship between humans and androids, and what it means to be either, caught in the transition when empathy was the key distinction and animals had more rights that artificial life, no matter how complicated.
Read other reviews of the novel to help decide if you want the audio. It's an excellent story, and ten CDs make for a reasonable length. Images of Harrison Ford as Deckerd and Sean Young as Rachel won't hurt as you follow along (in fact, Ford was a natural fit), even in the much-different original novel.
21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on October 8, 1999
Strange, Dark, Intense book about what the future could be; what could happen to the human race. Phil did a wonderful work on this book. First I saw the movie Blade Runner, one the best sci-fi I've seen, then I got the computer game, wow, like seen the movie, the only thing missing was the book. This book it's probably one of the best sci-fi books I've read, now I know and understand better the computer game, because I tried to related the game with the movie, but it also got a lot of things from the novel.
This is a must read book, it travels to the year 2021 and it presents a different world, were human emotions are maybe the only thing left from the world we know; all it's gone, the animals, people are moving from earth to other planets, and the androids are moving from the other planets to earth, it's up to the bounty hunters (Blade Runners) to find them and retire them (kill); it put your emotions on the line, because at some point, I feel sorry for the androids, they only want to escape form the humans and make their own lives here on earth, the new ones (Nexus 6) are trying to develop their own emotions. It's a great book and it would make you think about a lot of thing in life and appreciate more the things you have, because in the end, how do you know if you're an android or a human? You cannot, that's the problem...