Review of Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

by Dan Bender

The novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, by Philip K. Dick, contains almost all of the essential themes of postmodernism fiction. Because of differences between the novel and the later movie version, it does not have some of the themes originated in the movie version and became [subject unclear] the basis for much of cyberpunk fiction, which is postmodernism to the extreme. However, the novel definitely sets forth a tone from which those added themes naturally come [a little awkward]. The novel is set in a completely urbanized future, where much of reality has been pushed aside by the multinational capitalistic corporation’s use of the simulacrum. Almost all of nature, from the smallest bugs to the most sublime landscapes, has been usurped by technology. The reader is forced to question the protagonist’s identity as a human, and by the end of the novel the reader is not sure of the true definition of what humanity in general is.

The basic premise of the novel is simple, and the same in both movie and novel – several replicants have escaped from an off-world colony and immigrated to earth. A special police officer, Rick Deckard, works as an [a] bounty hunter who "retires" androids that illegally kill their owners and come to earth. He is assigned the job of retiring the six Nexus-6 type robots who recently arrived on Earth after one of them seriously injured his superior officer. The plot unfolds along the lines of his search for, capture of, and subsequent kill of each of the androids.

However, the true meat of the novel does not surround the detective work of finding his quarry. He has little, if any, difficulty finding the androids, and although there are some relatively narrow brushes with death, the reader is rarely in true suspense about either the detective’s survival or his successful completion of the mission. Instead, because of Deckard’s own ponderings, which are sparked by his experiences with the world around him, the audience is led to ask questions about the meaning of humanity, life, and a wide range of emotions. The setting and actions of each of the people Deckard encounters, from his wife to his boss, add to Rick’s confusion as he travels and changes throughout the book.

Deckard does change over the course of the twenty four to forty eight hours described in the plot. The contrast between the opening and the ending scenes of the novel display this as well as anything else, as Deckard and his wife change roles from one section of the book to the other. In the first scene, Deckard is frustrated with his wife, Iran, over her refusal to use the mood organ to make herself happy. He does not understand why she would be reluctant to do something as simple as dial a few numbers into a machine and become happy. After a small fight which ends in what appears to be a victory for Rick ( he later finds out she just pretended to do as he asked) they both dial an attitude into the machine and he goes off to work. The key aspect of the scene that sets the tone for the entire novel is Deckard’s struggle with emotion. Whether it is despair concerning the task ahead of him or empathy for the replicants, Deckard can not [one word] come to grips with the emotions he experiences. They confuse him completely and fill him with self doubt, causing him to doubt not only his ability to continue bounty hunting but his very humanity at one point. [good]

By the last scene, after he has had an experience with the god-like Mercer, Deckard no longer struggles with his emotions, simply accepting them as part of himself. The entirety of his experiences has taught him much about himself and made him realize that having the full range of complex emotions, which he could not grip at the start of the novel, is the thing that makes him human. He has always known that it was the empathy that androids lacked and humans possessed[,] which was the sole real difference between the two, but until he has gone through the ordeal of this particular assignment which the reader relates[diction], he can not [one word] fully recognize what it is that that difference means [awkward]. Thus at [in] the final scene, he rejects his wife’s offer to dial up a certain mood for him and goes to sleep in peace, accepting his emotions even if he does not like all of them.

The scenes not only sets up a pervasive theme of the novel; it contains almost all of the differences between the Hollywood movie and the original. In the novel, Deckard is married, Rachael is on the escaped androids [apostrophe] side, and the audience learns that the replicants have secretly established themselves in society to the highest levels. Even the amazingly influential television figure that everyone watches on their outdated televisions is secretly one of them. Although the movie also plays on the same themes of questioning humanity and the difference between the human and replicant, it does so more by [way of] the dialogue of both the androids and Deckard – especially during the climactic duel between Roy and Rick in the last scene. That last scene does not even exist in the novel, as Roy and his two fellow replicants are only half of the job he has to do and Roy is not the difficult one to retire. In place of the dialogue that gives the movie’s androids life, the book uses two things more than any others to raise the question of humanity: animals and the Rachel Rosen replicant figure.

The first of these three, the animals, is a far more prominent subject in the novel than in the movie. The books [apostrophe] second scene is Rick on the rooftop caring for his electronic sheep, which the audience is told is a replacement for the real one he had earlier possessed until its recent death. Deckard’s entire motivation to make the six kills and get the reward money for the near record job (no one had ever killed six Nexus-6 androids in one day) was to be able to buy a new animal. The quest for the animal appears on the surface to be one prompted by a need for status, but in reality Deckard is searching for something to care about in an entirely human manner. He has hunted the androids for so long that he has begun to feel empathy for them, and even wants to establish romantic connections with several of them, and is questioning his place [status?] as human because of these emotions. Androids cannot keep animals healthy – they fail to provide the warmth and care that the animal needs – so Deckard wants to prove his humanity by caring for an animal. [Good] However, he realizes by the end that this is unnecessary to prove himself as real, however [redundant], and thus exhibits little distress over the goat which he had bought only to have Racheal [sp] destroy it.

The Rachael Rosen android figure causes the most confusion for Deckard. She and her "father," the owner of the Nexus-6 android manufacturing Rosen corporation, almost fool Deckard into thinking she’s human. Mr. Rosen is in turn fooled by Rachael, as she and all other escaped androids have a network set up which places them on earth after their escape. They even go so far as to set up an android police unit, which uses bounty hunters to destroy other androids. Deckard eventually falls in love with the Rachael android, sleeps with her, and then discovers her ties to the replicants he now has to kill. Rachael has seduced nine other bounty hunters before Rick, and all but one of them was forced to retire after being with her, as they no longer looked at the replicants as machines but as living things.

Deckard’s encounter with Rachael, which he spends much of the book contemplating either overtly or in the abstract, does indeed change all of his views about what it is to be human and to live. After sleeping with her, he recognizes that killing the replicants is wrong and the same as killing other humans. It is for this reason that he almost gives up on the last three replicants, one of which is the exact double of Rachael – he is afraid he will be unable to kill her and thus will be killed. In the end, however, he realizes that he can still kill the other replicants, despite his change in attitude, and that[,] although the encounter with Rachael has changed him, it was not in the way she intended. He now recognizes the life in everything and has an amazing level of empathy for the entirety of his surroundings. This means he suffers when he kills the copy of Rachael, but not any more than he would by killing any other living creature as [since] he views them [unclear antecedent] as equals.

So[,] although he still does not have a complete definition of what it means to be human by the end of the novel, Deckard has accepted his emotions and gained a great deal of empathy for fellow life. He realizes he is human and knows that he can continue on and will eventally find his answers. His position has stayed the same or worsened by the end of the novel, but his attitude has changed dramatically.

[Final comments: Dan, this is a strong review; you give a very good sense of how the novel differs from the movie. My one wish is that you might have spent more time discussing the significance of the differences. You also never step back and give the book a proper thumbs up or down. Nonetheless, this paper is well written and engaging. Well done!]