Apr 15, 2008

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

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

First off, let me say that Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies. Any cut of it is still head and shoulders above all the CGI-infested bullshit special FX scifi flicks rolling out of Hollywood these days. So, for years, this has been one of those "I can't believe I haven't read that yet" books. I finally picked it up at the Paperback Rack on Friday and tore through it that night. I won't say it was a better experience than the movie, but I will say that I am glad the two versions are so very different, so no comparison is really necessary.

The animals. The animals really got me. We're already split away from the rest of the animals as it is - to be down to just a few individuals of each species as we all go down the last drain together is a nightmare.

The story itself basically comes down to the question of what makes us human? Biology? Well, not in this case - the robots are made of nearly the same meat the rest of us are. The ability to create art? Not with one of the andys singing opera beautifully, and by choice rather than programming. For Dick, it came down to empathy. (It might be important, I think, to remember that he regularly took amphetamines, and I suspect the line between real person and bio android may have been a little slippery in his mind in reality at times.)

Honestly, that assessment - that empathy is what makes us "human" - lines up with some of my own beliefs. The more empathy people have, the less laws are needed to govern them. You do not have to prevent someone from beating their kids if they are capable of understanding and sharing the effects that beating will have, emotionally and physically. A cop without empathy is a bully. A president without empathy quickly becomes a dictator.

Mercerism - a religion of reinforced empathy - would be almost necessary in a world like that in Androids. Of course, when one group is highly empathetic and another group is not, the latter can rule and run roughshod over the former. Which is why you would have to draw the line at feeling empathy toward these "machines", these "andys" - mere servants, soulless. Not worthy of the feelings one puts toward a spider or toad. Deckard begins to lose himself as he grows in empathy toward his prey. And yet, those feelings are almost impossible to dodge. If he can care for an electric sheep, almost like a living being, there is no way he can fail to do the same for an opera singer who stirs his soul or a woman who takes him to bed.

It had a few holes - how can two independent police stations operate in the same town without any knowledge of one another, with both employing human bounty hunters? - but, generally speaking, this is how you do it.

final thoughts: It shouldn't have taken me until now to read this. Probably the only book and movie that I can not say one is better than the other.

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