Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Saturday, October 23, 2010

"Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" by Philip K. Dick

As any true fan knows, this book was the basis for the 1982 movie Blade Runner. I am probably not a true fan, though I have seen the movie, but my husband falls in that category (as do lots of other boys, from what I gather). I've been meaning to read this book ever since Hud told me about it.

This is one of those situations where the movie adaptation is just barely related to the book.  Here's what is the same: in a dystopian future, bounty hunter Rick Deckard "retires" androids. (Actually, they're not even called androids in the movie; they're "replicants.") Here's what is different: everything claims that neither director Ridley Scott nor screenwriter David Webb Peoples actually read this novel. Judging by the resulting film, I am not surprised.

The title of the book doesn't even make sense if you're only familiar with the movie. In fact, for a long time Hud thought the book was called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep? which would seem much more logical based on Blade Runner. However, there's a very good reason that the book's title refers to "sheep" rather than "sleep," due to one of two huge and inter-related themes that (to my recollection) are not even hinted at in the movie.

First, most animal populations in the world have been decimated and many species are extinct. The remaining animals are highly prized and very expensive, but owning at least one animal is a necessity due to the second main theme: an empathy-based religion called Mercerism, in which the apathetic androids can't participate. These aspects add a whole new dimension to the story laid out in the movie.

Don't buy this version!
I first got this copy of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and was kind of disappointed in the meager, shallow writing. It was so simple and lacking in detail that it was almost like a children's story. After about three chapters I took a good look at the book and realized it was indeed a re-write for kids. *headdesk* Take this as another public service announcement: don't order that copy of this book.

When I got the real version of the book I was blown away by how much better it was. I mean, I knew it would be an improvement, but I hadn't guessed how amazing the difference would be. What I had at first mistaken for a flat and featureless story was suddenly so enriched. Not to the extent of Olga Grushin's vivid descriptions in my previous read, but the story's world was so much more fully realized. And, like Grushin and Kafka before her, this book gives a good and welcome dose of weird.

I read this book on my Kindle (a fun toy that I've enjoyed so far, except that I can only manage to get my hands on it when my middle child is either at school or asleep; she tends to commandeer it the rest of the time). However, this book did give me one complaint about the Kindle. I understand why there are no page numbers (since you can change the font size, which would alter the pagination), but the end of this book jumped out at me before I was ready for it. The gauge at the bottom of the "page" showed that 2% of the book remained to be read, and then BAM, the end. In a conventional book, I would have been more aware of how close I was to the last page.

I found the following paragraph on imdb and thought it was interesting:
Philip K. Dick first came up with the idea for his novel 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?' in 1962, when researching 'The Man in the High Castle' which deals with the Nazis conquering the planet in the 1940s. Dick had been granted access to archived World War II Gestapo documents in the University of California at Berkley, and had come across diaries written by S.S. men stationed in Poland, which he found almost unreadable in their casual cruelty and lack of human empathy. One sentence in particular troubled him: "We are kept awake at night by the cries of starving children." Dick was so horrified by this sentence that he reasoned there was obviously something wrong with the man who wrote it. This led him to hypothesize that Nazism in general was a defective group mind, a mind so emotionally flawed that the word human could not be applied to them; their lack of empathy was so pronounced that Dick reasoned they couldn't be referred to as human beings, even though their outward appearance seemed to indicate that they were human. The novel sprang from this.
In my ridiculous stack of TBR is another novel by Dick that I'd never heard of before entitled Voices from the Street, which I am looking forward to reading. Which other books of his do you recommend?


Rachel said...

LOL at you reading a re-write for kids. Sounds like something I would do ;)

I love this book. I didn't like the movie (which I saw after reading it) ... but movies are never as good. (Excpet Fight Club, the movie was better. ONLY EXCEPTION).

I am glad you liked it :) The only other Phillip K. Dick book I have read was "Flow, my tears, the policeman said".. it was good but not great. I plan on reading more Dick though. it's on the TBR list.

Great review!

Kathy said...

I have heard that same thing about Fight Club. I was told that there is nothing in the book that isn't in the movie, which is kind of unusual since normally if you read a book after seeing its movie adaptation you come across all kinds of interesting little tidbits. I've had Fight Club on my TBR for a while, but now that there are two of you telling me it's a disappointment, I'm starting to doubt the need to keep it there.

Do you have any particular Dick in mind for your TBR? (I feel so naughty asking that question . . .)

Lyd-ee-ah said...

I loved Fight Club!! Just sayin.

Glad that you finally got to read your android book. lol I remember you telling us about it.

anothercookiecrumbles said...

I read this book last year, and enjoyed it. To be honest, the title was part of the reason as to why I read it - sounded fantastic!

Glad you enjoyed it as well - have you read much else of Philip K Dick? I have two of his books on my shelf at the moment, and am looking forward to those.

Kathy said...

Lydia--did you read the book and watch the movie? I've only seen the movie. But I really liked it. Just don't tell my mom. ;)

Cookie--I haven't read anything else by him (yet). Which two do you have?

Chris said...

Thats a really good review Kathy :o)

I am a HUGE fan of Blade Runner, it's one of my favourite films.

Personally I didn't enjoy the book anywhere near as much as the film. I found the book lacks the dark brooding atmosphere and the character development of the film. Ridley Scott did make significant changes to the story but I feel it was one of those rare occasions where it was the right thing to do.

Kathy said...

My favorite part was Harrison Ford. ;)

Lesa said...

I saw the movie in 85 and liked it but don't remember much about it other than the android turning flips. I'm a sci-fi person so I will plan to read this. that is very interesting how the author came up with the idea-- I know I've wondered similar things before about sociopaths ect.

Kathy said...

How the heck do you remember that you saw it in 1985? :) You'll have to let me know what you think of the book. And I will have to re-watch the movie while the book is still fresh in my mind. I'm sure this will do more towards highlighting differences rather than similarities, but I'm curious anyway.

Lesa said...

hahah-- I'm only an occasional amnesiac!

I remember because of the circumstances-- Jim and I met in the winter of 85 at a health club doing jane fonda workouts-- so very 80s. Anyway, he would lure me away from exercise with outings to eat eggrolls or watch movies. There was a theatre that showed new movies and also cult films-- guess Bladerunner already had a cult following in 85. I vividly remember sitting in the theatre but not much of the story-- that is kinda odd, I guess.

Kathy said...

I am cracking up about the Jane Fonda workouts. Was Jim on the prowl, or what! Guess it worked out pretty well for him, didn't it. ;)

Anonymous said...


Kathy said...

Anonymous--I remember when I first saw your comment and wondered if you had just typed a random nonsense word. :) Thanks for the recommendation, though I haven't gotten around to reading it yet!