Book Review: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Although I managed to finish several short books in an epic one-day reading binge shortly before Thanksgiving, I seem to have gotten quite far behind in reviewing them.  The first book I managed to finish reading, but the last I’ve managed to review, was the November Sword & Laser book club choice –  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a story about bounty hunter Rick Deckard as he works to eliminate several illegal androids who have escaped to Earth.  Throughout the story one of Deckard’s main motivations is gaining the bounty so he can afford to buy a real animal, which are rare and expensive status symbols after the radioactive fallout has destroyed or mutated much of the life remaining on Earth.  Throughout the story there Deckard questions the distinction between androids and humans, with much of the emphasis placed on empathy as a singularly human emotion.

This novel served as the inspiration for the 80s classic Blade Runner.  While the premise and many of the characters are similar, there are quite a few distinctions between the film and the novel.  The movie is a bit more action packed, and sets Deckard up as more of a traditional hero.  In the novel, his morals are a bit more ambiguous.  The novel also explores more themes, such as faith, hope, and depression, in greater depth.  The film provides more closure at its conclusion, whereas the novel leaves things more open for the reader’s interpretation.  Although similar, I think the differences make each version well adapted to its format – the film left out details that would have been confusing to the viewer and slowed down the story, whereas they provide cultural context and interest in the book.

Overall I liked this book quite a bit.  I very much enjoyed the character of Isidore – a “chickenhead” who is too affected by the radiation to leave Earth.  Supposedly mentally damaged, he often provides the most clear and reasonable perspective of anyone in the story.  Although some of the details were a bit odd to read at times (especially some of the details of Mercerism – Earth’s new dominant religion), overall the details gave a very reasonable picture of what a possible post-apocalyptic Earth could be like.  The idea of Empathy Boxes is quite fascinating, and something that I could easily picture happening in the very near future, even without nuclear fallout.  Social media for emotions… really isn’t that far fetched.  The story was interesting and fast-paced, and contained some cool ideas about how futuristic societies will share human experiences.  The ending was perhaps a bit less straightforward than I had hoped it would be, and it certainly isn’t a very uplifting book, but the writing is quite good and the ideas are interesting to consider.  Although it would probably be appreciated more by a fan of the science fiction genre, it isn’t overly complex, technical, or lengthy.  An interesting and enjoyable read, and one that I would recommend to almost anyone looking for something interesting in the sci-fi genre.

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