Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
© 1968 Phillip K. Dick
In a world ruined by nuclear war, most animals are extinct and most humans who can have fled for the cold, distant colonies of Mars. Technical civilization has survived, creating artificial pets for people to cherish. It has also created lifelike androids for people to fear– such constructs are barred from Earth, but still prefer operating on a planet where nuclear fallout is included in weather reports to barren wastelands like Mars. Androids who escape the colonies to return to Earth are the business of ‘bounty hunters’ like Rick Deckard, who hunt them down and ‘retire’ them — permanently. In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Deckard takes on the challenge of finding six recent escapees, androids that so perfectly replicate humans that the conventional diagnostics might not even detect them. The case will, for him, blur the lines between living and dead, between reality and fiction. It is a thriller which, halfway through, features three characters sitting in a room with trained guns on another, two convinced of fiction and one knowing the truth. The one isn’t Deckard, nor is it the reader, and the sudden plot turn succeeds magnificently. The world of Dick’s imagination is fairly dismal: empty buildings, sparsely populated by lonely people who get their emotional life from plugging into a ‘mood organ’ that manipulates their brains. This is part of a new religion, Mercerism, which features heavily in the confusing ending, one in which the reader is left wondering what was real and what wasn’t. This was a definite success as a thriller, though one that left me missing the safe optimism of Asimov’s robots.