Well? Do they?
On a post-nuclear war Earth, most of humanity has left to colonize other planets. In order to promote emmigration from Earth, people are offered Androids as personal assistants. Back on Earth, however, androids are illegal and owning a living animal means everything. Don’t have an animal? No problem: there are robotic simulations of animals.
Richard Deckard is a bounty hunter, who hates his electric sheep. When called upon to find and “retire” 6 escaped androids who have landed on Earth, he sees it as a chance to earn enough money for a real animal.
But what if androids dream of electric sheep?
This book was definitely an interesting read. The title alone brings up all kinds of questions.
But in reality, the title is asking the question that Deckard constantly asks himself: are androids human?
The plot makes the answer to this question more and more complicated as it moves forward. As Deckard tracks down each android, he finds out how diverse the android population is.
…and really, that’s all the plot really is in this book. A means to a philosophical question.
As for characters, there are three that you should know: Rick Deckard, Rachael Rossen, and John Isidore—who are bounty hunter, android and chickenhead respectively. The question is, which of them is human?
Deckard is a rather apathetic protagonist, whose main motivations are to earn enough money to replace his electric sheep with a real animal. He’s not terribly likable, but thats sort of the point. His emotions are so robotic, and over the course of the story he begins to grow a conscience.
Next is Rachael Rossen, a Nexus 6 android…the same model as the ones Deckard is hunting. Through her the reader comes to understand the android mindset, which seems to switch from objective to solemn depression.
John Isidore is a chickenhead, so named because he couldn’t pass an IQ test. Because of this he lives on his own in an abandoned apartment building, but his thoughts are pretty profound. Isidore is also a devout follower of Mercerism, a sort of pseudo-religion in which people all over the world undergo the empathic experience of Mercer, a man who is constantly tortured. He’s the more emotional and kind-hearted of the three, but he’s also the most vulnerable and in many ways, really pathetic.
Dick isn’t a realist, and so a lot of the technology isn’t properly explained. The pacing of the book is really strange too—the first two thirds of the story are moderate, until you reach the end when it seems like Dick got bored and decided, “Might as well end it now.” Because of this, it’s really hard to grasp what happened, even though the majority of my favourite quotes happen in that last third.
Still, Dick manages to get across this message that our definition of “humanity” needs some tweaking. Should it be decided by our emotions? Our ability to laugh? Our ability to reproduce (like in Tiptree’s Your Haploid Heart)? And this is what ultimately kept me reading the book.
The book doesn’t really give an answer though. It provides a range of possible criteria and asks the reader to choose what should be the standard.
Recommendation: Read. Especially if you are a fan of Blade Runner, robots, and similar defamiliarizations.
Featured image from the comic version of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?