The small beam of white light shone steadily into the left eye of Rachael Rosen, and against her cheek the wire-mesh disk adhered. She seemed calm.
We find ourselves a week into August and we haven’t run a Summer Review of a classic SF novel. So, if you’re heading out to do some sunlit reading and you’ve never scoped the novel that inspired Blade Runner (a movie set in 2019!), consider, between Pan-Galactic sips from a plastic cup, trying to answer Philip K. Dick’s lingering question, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Title: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Author: Philip K. Dick
First published in 1968.
In a depopulated, environmentally-ravaged earth and under thick clouds of toxic dust, a Bounty Hunter tracks down illegal androids, and buys his wife a goat.1
Meanwhile, a “chickenhead,” damaged by the lingering effects of World War Terminus and environmental disaster, takes in some curious new guests, while enthusiastically promoting Mercerism, a lifestyle/philosophy that emphasizes empathy.
The curious and complex handling of the androids and humanity takes a hardboiled SF detective story into thought-provoking territory. I would note, in particular, the revelations regarding Rachel’s character, and the incident with the runaway Nexus-6 androids and the spider.
The Mission Street Hall of Justice building, onto the roof of which the hovercar descended, jutted up in a series of baroque, ornamented spires; complicated and modern, the handsome structure struck Rick Deckard as attractive—except for one aspect. He had never seen it before.
A certain sidetrip to the Mission Street Hall of Justice feels like padding for the sake of an additional mind-bending twist. The novel quickly resumes its original plot.
Originality: 4/6 Dick uses several well-established SF and detective fiction conventions, but the novel contains some thoughtful new directions for its time, and some elements remain fresh, even fifty years later.
Imagery: 5/6 Dick writes with a deft style. Despite concepts which some readers may find challenging, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? proves a page-turner, one which I finished in two sittings.
Story: 5/6 I found the epilogue lingered a little, but it also stayed with me, so I cannot really fault the book for it. In a world where biomes collapse and die, do we only survive by becoming machines?
Characterization: 5/6 Deckard works as protagonist, but damaged, intellectually-challenged chickenhead John Isidore proves the most human and touching of the novel’s characters.
Emotional Response: 5/6 You know what our culture needs? More empathy. And less kipple.2
Overall: 6/6 Dick wrote a strangely haunting detective story, and one decidedly different from the movie it inspired. I recommend both to every SF fan. Despite dated elements, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? remains a classic of the genre.
In total, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? receives 35/42
1. The original novel took place in 1992. Later editions changed the date to 2021. It probably would have made sense to not include any dates at all.
2. Thanks for reminding me, Lex!