Thursday, September 18, 2014

Fiction Review: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

 World War Terminus had left the Earth devastated. Through its ruins, bounty hunter Rick Deckard stalked, in search of the renegade replicants who were his prey. When he wasn't 'retiring' them with his laser weapon, he dreamed of owning a live animal -- the ultimate status symbol in a world all but bereft of animal life.

Then Rick got his chance: the assignment to kill six Nexus-6 targets, for a huge reward. But in Deckard's world things were never that simple, and his assignment quickly turned into a nightmare kaleidoscope of subterfuge and deceit -and the threat of death for the hunter rather than the hunted...

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Philip K. Dick (1968). [Genre: Sci-Fi]

Do Androids Deam of Electric Sheep? is the classic SciFi novel that was adapted as Blade Runner. It's been on my to-read pile since catching the later a few years ago. I'm so glad I finally got around to it, because I loved every second of it.

It has very little in common with the film, which is probably a good thing for me, because it meant I read the book as it stood alone rather than comparing. The story follows Rick Deckard, who works as a bounty hunter 'retiring' humanoid androids on a post-Nuclear war earth. The androids, who are biologically human but still considered machines (and have a life span of around 4 years due to not yet cracking the 'cell rejuvenation problem') escape to earth from off-planet colonies where they are sub-servant to human masters. Rick is assigned to 'retire' six androids from the new Nexus-6 range, the most humanoid yet. However as he comes into contact with them he starts to question his own motivations, the difference between android and human, and whether he is the hunter or the hunted.

It's a brilliant exploration of status and what it means to be human. Almost every aspect of the novel calls those things into question. I particularly LOVED the metaphor of the electric sheep - on this post-Nuclear earth most animal life is extinct and having a live animal as a pet is a powerful status symbol. Hyper-realistic electric animals take the place of the real thing for those that can't afford it. This lack of real animal life, the status symbol they have become, and human empathy towards animals are reoccurring themes throughout the novel.

This theme is linked to that of android 'lives' - they believe themselves to be as real as humans, and biologically they are  - but humanity doesn't see them as such and there are small differences (which I won't spoil). It's a fascinating and well-done exploration, and I found myself swinging from one view to the other as the novel continues and we explore the characters of both human and android characters. There are multiple twists to the plot that both help and don't!

Having read the novel I'm almost sad that it stands behind what has become a cult classic film. It stands in its own right, with a thematic message which is far more powerful than that of Blade Runner. (that being said, Blade Runner's setting is a beautiful realisation of what the book describes). Definitely worth reading.

5 stars

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep crosses another book of by 2014 TBR challenge list.

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