Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The Book

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is another science-fiction classic. It was written by Philip K. Dick, published in 1968, and inspired the 1982 movie, Blade RunnerDADOES is only 250 pages long, so it’s a quick read, but it’s also full of great ideas.

The book is set in a post-apocalyptic near future (in 2021), following World War Terminus. The nuclear war nearly destroyed life on Earth, with radiation poisoning wiping out most animal species. Because of how rare animals are, owning them is seen as a symbol of status and wealth. Most of the human race left Earth to emigrate to off-world colonies, but some humans have stayed behind to brave the radioactive dust and try to make lives for themselves in the ruined and decaying cities.

The story begins at the home of Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter who “retires” illegal androids in the San Francisco Bay Area. We’re immediately introduced to an interesting device Rick owns called a mood organ, which lets the user pick any one of hundreds of preset moods to replace the user’s current mood. Rick then goes to tend to his electric sheep, which he’s ashamed of because it isn’t a “real” animal, even though they’re almost identical.

Humanoid androids are also practically indistinguishable from humans and a polygraph-like empathy test (the Voight-Kampff) is used to tell them apart. The androids can even be implanted with memories, so they don’t necessarily know they aren’t human. Rick is sent to Seattle to test the Voight-Kampff empathy test on the latest series of androids, the Nexus-6. After confirming that the test still works, Rick is given orders to retire a group of Nexus-6s that escaped from Mars… but he soon learns that retiring these “andys” is going to be harder than he thought.

DADOES poses some interesting questions like: What makes human beings human? How do you know you’re human? Could androids be capable of empathy or is that a unique human trait? What about humans who seem to be without empathy (like Phil Resch)? Is there value in all life, even artificial life? How do you distinguish between what is alive and what is not? Will we ever be able to consider androids as alive? As human?

In Rick’s world, humans take great care to protect and preserve the life of animals — they’re even willing to care for “fake” electric animals. No one thinks twice about killing humanoid androids, though. In the end, Rick learns to appreciate all life, even artificial.

The Movie

The 1982 movie, Blade Runner, was based on DADOES. Although the two shared the same basic skeleton, they were quite different. Spoilers below!

Blade RunnerFirst of all, the movie took place in Los Angeles rather than San Francisco and it was more futuristic than the book made it seem. There were also a lot more people than I was expecting. I pictured Earth as a much more deserted place, since most people had left for the off-world colonies.

Some of the characters were renamed (e.g. Rosen -> Tyrell), left out (e.g. Rick’s wife, Iran), or changed (e.g. the J. R. Isidore character, called J. F. Sebastian in the movie, was entirely different). Also, androids were called “replicants” or “skin jobs” in Blade Runner.

The movie dropped the animal empathy stuff that I thought was a pretty interesting aspect of DADOES. I doubt that the few references to electric animals in Blade Runner would really be understood by someone who hadn’t read the book and I don’t think World War Terminus was even mentioned in the movie. The religious themes (Mercerism vs. Buster Friendly) were also left out.

There was a ridiculous scene (below) in Blade Runner in which Rick Deckard spent almost 3 minutes “enhancing” an image like 8 times. According to a quick internet search, this was the original scene from which the countless “zoom! enhance!” photo manipulation scenes have gotten their inspiration. Uff da.

In both the movie and the book, androids had a short lifespan. In DADOES it wasn’t really an issue, but in the movie, it was an important motivating force for the replicants. They (violently) sought out ways to ways to extend their lives, culminating with Roy Baty killing his “maker,” Dr. Eldon Tyrell.

The ending was probably the biggest difference between Blade Runner and DADOES. Roy Baty was made to be a much bigger antagonist in the movie than he was in the book. There was a long scene with Roy hunting down Rick that ended with Roy saving Rick’s life instead of killing him. The replicants in Blade Runner were “more human than human” and taught Roy compassion and love.

In DADOES, Roy had a much more minor role and Rick killed him relatively easily in Isidore’s apartment. In the end, the android Rachael kicked Roy’s prized, real goat off the roof, killing it. Rachael (android) hurt Roy and his wife (human) comforted him. In spite of this, Roy learned to have empathy for androids and electric animals; he saw the value in all life, even “paltry” artificial life.

Blade Runner was worth watching, but don’t expect it to follow the book. It has its own, unique interpretation that made it an interesting movie to see.