April 19, 2012

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

I blew through Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? in virtually one sitting.  This is the book on which the movie Blade Runner is loosely based.  I was surprised to see how different they were.  The main character's name is Rick Deckard.  He "retires" humanoid robots.  That's about where the similarities end.  They kept some of the characters' names the same in the movie, and Deckard does have a test that he administers to determine if someone is an android.  They aren't called replicants in the book, and they aren't on a quest to find their maker, like they are in the movie.  The term "blade runner" only exists in the film.  When Deckard goes after the androids, he is referred to as a bounty hunter.

Both book and film deal with the subject of what makes us human, but they do it in different ways.  The book really hits home the fact that humans have the ability to feel empathy, and androids do not.  Animals, real and artificial, play a large part in the novel.  Animals are a luxury because most of them died after the world war which made a large part of the earth uninhabitable and caused people to emigrate to off-world colonies.  Nonetheless, everyone feels they must have an animal to look after, even if it is an android animal.  It is mentioned that any time an android has tried to keep an animal as a pet, it has died, because the androids don't bother to care for them.  There is even a scene in which a human who is with three androids finds a spider and gets very excited about having this living thing around.  The androids take the spider and, wondering if it could still walk with fewer legs, proceed to cut the legs off of the spider with scissors.  The human gets very upset, but the androids don't understand what the problem is.  The androids don't even really care what happens to other androids, and yet Deckard comes to realize that he needs to find a new job when he starts developing empathy for his targets.

The androids don't come off very well in the book.  I felt more for Rutger Hauer's character at the end of Blade Runner than I did for any of the androids in the novel.  His Roy Baty is nothing like that of the book.  None of the androids in the book come close to any kind of "tears in the rain" speech, nor do they seem capable of it.  The replicants of the film are much more complex emotionally. 

The author Roger Zelazny wrote the introduction to the edition I have of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and I'd like to quote him here:

"His management of a story takes you from here to there in a God-knows-how, seemingly haphazard fashion, which, upon reflection, follows a logical line of development- but only on reflection.  While you are trapped within the spell of its telling, you are in no better position than one of its invariably overwhelmed characters when it comes to seeing what will happen next."

Zelazny ends the introduction with this:

"...that which is left of a Philip Dick story when the details have been forgotten is a thing which comes to me at odd times and offers me a feeling or a thought; therefore, a thing which leaves me richer for having known it."


  1. I love the story and the movie. Roy Batty was built to be this *thing*, and he became a person.

    "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time... like tears in rain... Time to die."

    I particularly like the framing in the sequence you included, where he does alternately look like a thing and a person. But then, I've been a Rutger Hauer fan since the first time I saw Ladyhawke.

    Also, tell me more about this Roger Zelazny you speak of. I'm not familiar with his works.

    1. I read somewhere that Rutger Hauer ad libbed the last bit of those lines at the end, but it could just be some of the vast amount of stuff found online that isn't true. If it is, I think that's brilliant. Zelazny, well, there's this blog on which someone reviews all of his work- you should check it out...

  2. Also, your post reminds me of a reply I saw on a geeky message board towards someone who had advanced some kind of ridiculously racist opinion.

    "I know what all these words mean individually, but putting them together to construct these sentences makes me think you're probably a

    Why aren't you helping the tortoise?"

    1. Nice! This sounds like something *you* would reply to someone with a ridiculously racist opinion on a geeky message board.


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