Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
DoAndroidsDream.png
cover of first hardback edition
Author Philip K. Dick
Country United States
Language English
Genre Science fiction, philosophical novel
Publisher Doubleday
Publication date
1968
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages 210 pp
OCLC 34818133
Followed by Blade Runner 2: The Edge of Human

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a science fiction novel by American writer Philip K. Dick. First published in 1968, the novel is set in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco, where Earth's life has been greatly damaged by nuclear global war. Most animal species are endangered or extinct due to extreme radiation poisoning, so that owning an animal is now a sign of status and empathy, an attitude encouraged towards animals. The book served as the primary basis for the 1982 film Blade Runner.

The main plot follows Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter who is faced with killing ("retiring") six escaped Nexus-6 model androids, while a secondary plot follows John Isidore, a man of sub-par IQ who aids the fugitive androids. In connection with Deckard's mission, the novel explores the issue of what it is to be human. Unlike humans, the androids are claimed to possess no sense of empathy.

Synopsis[edit]

Background[edit]

The novel is set in a post-apocalyptic 1992 (or, in later editions, 2021),[1] in the aftermath of "World War Terminus." Earth's atmosphere is now permeated with gene-altering radioactive dust, and the United Nations has been encouraging mass emigrations to off-world colonies to preserve the genetic integrity of the human race, with the incentive that every emigrating person receives their own android: a robot servant that looks identical to a human being. The novel spans a single day in the life of Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter hired by the San Francisco Police Department to track down and "retire" (kill) renegade androids that have assumed human identities back on Earth. Deckard's story is interwoven with a subplot focused on John R. Isidore, a character classified as a "special": a radioactively-damaged, intellectually slow human whose status prohibits him from emigrating. Isidore lives alone in an otherwise empty apartment building and works as a driver for an electric-animal repair company. On Earth, buying and owning real live animals is a status symbol and social norm for keeping up with the Joneses: a result of the recent mass extinctions and accompanying cultural push for greater empathy that has motivated a technology-based religion called Mercerism. However, poorer people can only afford realistic-looking electric animals, including Deckard and his wife, Iran, who own a robotic black-faced sheep. The religious movement Mercerism requires the use of an "empathy box": a device that links simultaneous users into a collective virtual reality of communal suffering, centered on a martyr-like character, Wilbur Mercer, who eternally climbs up a hill while being hit with crashing stones. Iran, as well as Isidore, often connect with Mercer through their empathy boxes.

Plot summary[edit]

Bounty hunter Rick Deckard signs on to a new police mission to earn enough money to buy a live animal to replace his electric sheep, in the hopes of achieving a greater sense of purpose in life for himself and his depressed wife, Iran. The mission, initiated by a now-hospitalized colleague, is to hunt down and eliminate (called "retiring") a group of six Nexus-6 androids that violently went rogue after their creation by the Rosen Association. Deckard travels by hovercar to the Rosen Association headquarters in Seattle, Washington to confirm the validity of a question-and-answer empathy test: his standard method for identifying any androids posing as humans. Deckard tests Rachael Rosen, the "niece" of the android-crafting Rosen family, who quickly fails the test. Rachael attempts to bribe Deckard into silence, but he verifies that she is indeed a Nexus-6 android and the Rosen Association was just trying to discredit the empathy test.

Deckard leaves to meet up with a Soviet police contact, which turns out to be one of the Nexus-6 renegades in disguise. After a brief scuffle, Deckard retires the android, and then flies off to retire his next target: a Nexus-6 talented in singing opera. This android, however, pulls a gun on him and has him arrested by a police officer he has never met and detained at a police department he has never heard of. At this strange unknown police station, Deckard's worldview is shaken when Deckard himself is accused of being an android by a senior department official named Garland. After a series of increasingly mysterious revelations at this parallel police station, Deckard for the first time ponders the ethical and philosophical questions his line of work raises regarding android intelligence, empathy, and what it really means to be human. Phil Resch, the bounty hunter for this station, finally goes to get testing equipment to conclusively determine if his coworkers as well as Deckard are actually androids or humans. Garland, left alone with Deckard, reveals at last that the entire station is a sham, completely staffed by androids, including Garland himself. Garland opens fire on Resch as he returns, but Resch shoots Garland in the head and escapes with Deckard. Deckard and Resch hunt down the android opera singer, which Resch brutally retires in cold blood. Although Resch and Deckard are now collaborating, each still worries that the other, or himself, might be an android. Deckard's moral quandary only deepens when Deckard at last administers the empathy test to himself and Resch alike. The test reveals that Resch is not an android but just a particularly ruthless human being, and that Deckard is also human, though he has an unusual tendency to empathize with certain androids.

Only three of the Nexus-6 android fugitives now remain, and one, Pris Stratton, moves in to John R. Isidore's apartment building. The lonely Isidore attempts to befriend her. The last two rogue androids eventually visit the building, reuniting happily with Pris, and they all together plan how to survive an inevitable confrontation with bounty hunters. Meanwhile, ethically puzzled about recent events, Deckard quits work and, with his reward money, buys his excited wife Iran an authentic Nubian goat. However, Deckard is convinced to go back to work after being notified of a new lead on the remaining androids and experiencing a vision of the prophet-like Mercer confusingly telling him to proceed with his hunt though it is immoral. Deckard calls back upon Rachael Rosen to help him, since her own insider knowledge as an android will facilitate his investigation. Rachael reveals that she and Pris are the same exact model, meaning that he will have to shoot down an android that looks just like her. Rachael promises to retire Pris herself if Deckard has sex with her. After sex, Deckard and Rachael mutually confess their love, but she reveals she has slept with multiple other bounty hunters and, with the exception of Phil Resch, was able to dissuade them all from carrying out their missions. Deckard nearly retires Rachael on the spot for this manipulation, but he instead deserts her.

Back in the apartment building, Isidore has developed a sense of companionship with the three android fugitives; they all watch a television program revealing definitive evidence that Mercerism is a hoax, and the androids discuss how the television host is also an android. Pris discovers and mutilates a spider, to Isidore's chagrin, when suddenly Deckard enters the building. Supernatural visions of Mercer appear to both Isidore and Deckard, and Deckard becomes legally justified in shooting down all three androids without testing them, since they attack him first. Due in part to Mercer's warning of an ambush, Deckard is successfully able to retire all three of the robots. Isidore is upset by the sudden loss of his three new friends, while Deckard is soon rewarded for achieving a record number of Nexus-6 kills in one day. But when he returns home, he finds that Iran is devastated because Rachael Rosen recently showed up and murdered their goat.

Deckard takes his hovercar to an uninhabited, obliterated region of Oregon to reflect. He climbs a hill when he is hit by falling rocks and realizes this is an experience similar to Mercer's in the empathy box's virtual reality. Rushing nervously back to his car, he stumbles abruptly upon a toad, an animal previously thought to be extinct. With newfound joy, Deckard brings the toad home, where Iran discovers that it is in fact a robot. While Deckard is unhappy, he decides that he at least prefers to know the truth: whether the toad is real or artificial.

Adaptations[edit]

Film[edit]

Main article: Blade Runner

In 1982, Hampton Fancher and David Peoples' loose cinematic adaptation became the film Blade Runner, which was directed by Ridley Scott. Following the international success of the film,[2] the title Blade Runner was also used for some later editions of the novel.

Radio[edit]

As part of their Dangerous Visions dystopia series, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a two-part adaptation of the novel. It was produced and directed by Sasha Yevtushenko from an adaption by Jonathan Holloway. It stars James Purefoy as Rick Deckard and Jessica Raine as Rachael Rosen.[3] The episodes were originally broadcast on Sunday 15 June and 22 June 2014.

Audiobook[edit]

The novel has been released in audiobook form at least twice. A version was released in 1994 that featured Matthew Modine and Calista Flockhart.

A new audiobook version was released in 2007 by Random House Audio to coincide with the release of Blade Runner: The Final Cut. This version, read by Scott Brick, is unabridged and runs approximately 9.5 hours over eight CDs. This version is a tie-in, using the Blade Runner: The Final Cut film poster and Blade Runner title.[4]

Theater[edit]

A stage adaptation of the book, written by Edward Einhorn, ran from November 18 to December 10, 2010 at the 3LD Art & Technology Center in New York[5] and made its West Coast Premiere on September 13, playing until October 10, 2013 at the Sacred Fools Theater Company in Los Angeles.[6]

Anime[edit]

The anime Psycho-Pass contains a Philip K. Dick-inspired dystopian narrative.

Comic book[edit]

BOOM! Studios published a 24-issue comic book limited series based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? containing the full text of the novel illustrated by artist Tony Parker.[7] The comic garnered a nomination for "Best New Series" from the 2010 Eisner Awards.[8]

Prequel Comic book[edit]

In May 2010 BOOM! Studios began serializing an eight issue prequel subtitled Dust To Dust and written by Chris Roberson and drawn by Robert Adler.[9] The story took place in the days immediately after World War Terminus.[10]

Sequels[edit]

Three novels intended to serve as sequels to both Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Blade Runner have been published:

  1. Blade Runner 2: The Edge of Human (1995),
  2. Blade Runner 3: Replicant Night (1996),
  3. Blade Runner 4: Eye and Talon (2000).

These official and authorized sequels were written by Dick's friend, K. W. Jeter. They continue the story of Rick Deckard and attempt to reconcile many of the differences between the novel and the film.

Critical reception[edit]

Critical reception of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? has been overshadowed by its 1982 Ridley Scott film adaptation, Blade Runner. Of those critics who focus on the novel, several nest it predominantly in the history of Philip K. Dick’s body of work. In particular, Dick’s 1972 speech “The Human and the Android” is cited in this connection. Jill Galvan[11] calls attention to the correspondence between Dick’s portrayal of the narrative’s dystopian, polluted, man-made setting and the description Dick gives in his speech of the increasingly artificial and potentially sentient or “quasi-alive” environment of his present. The essential point in Dick’s speech, for Galvan, is that “[o]nly by recognizing how [technology] has encroached upon our understanding of ‘life’ can we come to full terms with the technologies we have produced” (414). As a “bildungsroman of the cybernetic age,” Galvan maintains, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? follows one person’s gradual acceptance of the new reality. Christopher Palmer[12] emphasizes Dick’s speech to bring to attention the increasingly dangerous risk of humans becoming “mechanical” (225). “Androids threaten reduction of what makes life valuable, yet promise expansion or redefinition of it, and so do aliens and gods” (ibid). Gregg Rickman[13] cites another, earlier and lesser known Dick novel that also deals with androids, We Can Build You, asserting that Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? can be read as a sequel.

In a departure from the tendency among most critics to examine the novel in relation to other texts by Dick, Klaus Benesch[14] examined Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? primarily in connection with Lacan’s essay on the mirror stage. There, Lacan claims that the formation and reassurance of the self depends on the construction of an Other through imagery, beginning with a double as seen in the mirror. The androids, Benesch argues, perform a doubling function similar to the mirror image of the self, but they do this on a social, not individual, scale. Therefore, human anxiety about androids express uncertainty about human identity and society. Benesch draws on Kathleen Woodward's[15] emphasis on the body to illustrate the shape of human anxiety about an android Other. The debate over distinctions between human and machine, Woodward asserts, usually fail to acknowledge the presence of the body. “If machines are invariably contrived as technological prostheses that are designed to amplify the physical faculties of the body, they are also built, according to this logic, to outdo, to surpass the human in the sphere of physicality altogether” (Benesch, 391).

Awards and honors[edit]

  • 1968 – Nebula Award nominee[16]
  • 1998 – Locus Poll Award, All-Time Best SF Novel before 1990 (Place: 51)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Note: This change counteracts a problem common to near-future stories, where the passage of time overtakes the period in which the story is set; for a list of other works that have fallen prey to this phenomenon, see the List of stories set in a future now past)
  2. ^ Sammon, Paul M (1996). Future Noir: the Making of Blade Runner. London: Orion Media. pp. 318–329. ISBN 0-06-105314-7. 
  3. ^ "BBC Radio 4 - Dangerous Visions, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Episode 2". bbc.co.uk. BBC Radio 4. 28 Jun 2014. Retrieved 11 May 2015. 
  4. ^ Blade Runner (Movie-Tie-In Edition) by Philip K. Dick - Unabridged Compact Disc Random House, November 27, 2007, ISBN 978-0-7393-4275-6 (0-7393-4275-4)
  5. ^ "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?". Untitled Theater Company #61. Retrieved 1 January 2014. 
  6. ^ "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?". Sacred Fools Theater Company. Retrieved 1 January 2014. 
  7. ^ Philip K. Dick Press Release - BOOM! ANNOUNCES DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?
  8. ^ Heller, Jason (April 9, 2010). "Eisner Award nominees announced". The A.V. Club. Retrieved July 24, 2013. 
  9. ^ Langshaw, Mark. "BOOM! expands on 'Blade Runner' universe". Digital Spy. 
  10. ^ "BOOM! Studios publishes 'Electric Sheep' prequel". Tyrell-corporation.pp.se. Retrieved July 24, 2013. 
  11. ^ Galvan, Jill (1997). "Entering the Postman Collective: Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?". Science Fiction Studies 24 (3): 413–429. 
  12. ^ Palmer, Christopher (2003). Philip K. Dick: Exhilaration and Terror of the Postmodern. Liverpool: University of Liverpool Press. p. 259. 
  13. ^ Rickman, Gregg (1995). "What Is This Sickness?": "Schizophrenia" and We Can Build You. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. pp. 143–157. 
  14. ^ Benesch, Klaus (1999). "Technology, Art, and the Cybernetic Body: The Cyborg as Cultural Other in Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" and Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"". Amerikastudien/American Studies 44 (3 Body/Art): 379–392. 
  15. ^ Woodward, Kathleen (1997). "Prosthetic Emotions". In Hoffman, Gerhard. Emotions in the Postmodern. Heidelberg: Alfred Hornung. pp. 75–107. 
  16. ^ "1968 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-09-27. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Dick, Philip K. (1996) [1968]. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-40447-5.  First published in Philip K. Dick: Electric Shepherd, Norstrilla Press.
    Zelazny, Roger (1975). "Introduction"
  • Scott, Ridley (1982). Blade Runner. Warner Brothers.
  • The Electric Sheep screensaver software is an homage to Do Androids dream of electric sheep?.
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? at Worlds Without End
Criticism
  • Benesch, Klaus (1999). "Technology, Art, and the Cybernetic Body: The Cyborg As Cultural Other in Fritz Lang's Metropolis and Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep". Amerikastudien/American Studies 44 (3): 379–392. JSTOR 41157479. 
  • Butler, Andrew M. (1991). "Reality versus Transience: An Examination of Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Ridley Scott's Blade Runner". In Merrifield, Jeff. Philip K. Dick: A Celebration (Programme Book). Epping Forest College, Loughton: Connections. 
  • Gallo, Domenico (2002). "Avvampando gli angeli caddero: Blade Runner, Philip K. Dick e il cyberpunk". In Bertetti; Scolari. Lo sguardo degli angeli: Intorno e oltre Blade Runner (in Italian). Torino: Testo & Immagine. pp. 206–218. ISBN 88-8382-075-4. 
  • Galvan, Jill (1997). "Entering the Posthuman Collective in Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?". Science-Fiction Studies 24 (3): 413–429. JSTOR 4240644. 
  • Niv, Tal (2014). "The Return of a Terrifying and Wonderful Creation On Our Future and Our Present". Haaretz.  (Hebrew) Critical analysis of the 2014 edition of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

External links[edit]