do androids dream of electric sheep? | a book review

“Empathy, he once had decided, must be limited to herbivores or anyhow omnivores who could depart from a meat diet. Because, ultimately, the empathic gift blurred the boundaries between hunter and victim, between the successful and the defeated.”

a few days ago i finished philip k. dick’s do androids dream of electric sheep? and enjoyed it immensely. prior to this book, the only work of PKD’s that i’d read was his essay “how to build a universe that doesn’t fall apart two days later,” which i liked a lot but was more philosophical in nature. i don’t read that much science fiction – i think the last time i loved a sci-fi novel as much as this one was ender’s game, which i read years ago – but i wanted to go more into the genre since a few of my friends are taking a science fiction class at school this year.

and this book was so good. i think part of my enjoyment comes from the timing alone. my schedule last week was chaos, and i needed something that i could dip into and out of easily during any breaks i had between classes, at the bus stop, during lunch, and so on. do androids dream of electric sheep? was a perfect choice. the story’s incredibly action-packed and fast-paced. even though i don’t usually like sci-fi, i couldn’t stop reading; it was like watching a film and i loved it.*

PKD is no salman rushdie or donna tartt, but his writing is super readable and easy to understand. also, while do androids dream of electric sheep? is traditional science fiction, we do get extensive introspection from the main character, rick deckard. that was my favorite part of the story: deckard’s thought processes. the entire narrative takes place in a single day. in the morning deckard’s a bounty hunter – a cop with crude cop’s hands, as his wife iran puts it, whose job is to destroy rogue androids. by the end of the novel he literally becomes the epitome of empathy. he continually questions himself as he takes on his assignment of six nexus-6 androids, the latest model that’s more human-like than ever before.

what is the line between humans and androids? it was empathy, but even that is blurred when deckard meets rachael rosen, who turns out to be an android as well. there’s a terrifying, reality-shattering moment when he goes to an opera house to retire luba luft, an alleged nexus-6. she successfully avoids taking the voight-kampff test (the only reliable empathy test people on earth have to identify androids) and calls the police on deckard after accusing him of perversion. he’s then arrested and taken to a police station that he – a veteran bounty hunter – has never, ever seen before. here i had to pause and wonder if that was the twist – that deckard himself was actually an android with false memories. (he isn’t, but the twist following his arrest is pretty great.)

there were definitely a few issues with this book. the story flies by so quickly that i felt like PKD told us, rather than showed us, his characters. we are told that dave holden was the best bounty hunter in his department before he was shot by the third nexus-6. we are told that iran loves shopping too much to save money for a real animal. we are told that deckard falls in love with rachael rosen in the span of two pages. i found this last part particularly unnecessary; given the foci of the novel on post-war life on earth, the role of media in society, and moral issues concerning humans and androids, the romance between deckard and rachael feels contrived. i could easily see deckard learning to empathize with androids after watching luba luft perform. his change in perspective didn’t have to be because of rachael.

at first i didn’t understand why animals were such a prominent status symbol. couldn’t they use clones instead of electric replicas? then it was revealed that androids only had a life span of about four years since scientists hadn’t figured out cell replication, so the fixation on real animals made a lot more sense. also, how did the empathy box work? setting mercer aside, how were people able to physically share each other’s emotions and sustain wounds from their collective climb? i had to reread the part where deckard fuses with mercer before i understood what was happening. i couldn’t bring myself to believe buster friendly, either, since he could’ve been propagating fake news (haha, get it?) in order to ruin mercer, who was technically his rival.

ultimately, however, the problems i had with do androids dream of electric sheep? didn’t hamper my reading experience. i’m honestly still shocked by how much i loved this book. it’s a short read with crisp language, a fascinating plot, and a surprisingly satisfying ending.

4/5 stars – besides the timing, the title of this book alone boosts my rating by half a star.

have you read this book? what are your thoughts? also, do you have any science fiction recommendations?

 

*i don’t think i’ll ever watch blade runner, though. apparently there’s more emphasis on visuals than on the characters, and the plot of the movie deviates wildly from that of the book.

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5 Comments

  1. great review. Loved this book! Though the empathy box thing confused me too haha

    Reply
  2. This sounds treaty good!
    Have you read Ready Player One? It’s a little sci-fi .. kind of. But way good!

    Reply

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