"Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" is a novel by Philip K. Dick which takes place on Earth after World War Terminus has caused the complete annihilation of several animal species and thinned out the Human Population. The rise of Androids as workers on the now colonized planet Mars, and the dangers they pose, have given rise to bounty hunters of Earth.
About the AuthorEdit
Philip K. Dick was born on December 16, 1928. His parents divorced when he was at an early age and he attended an elementary school in the Washington D.C. area. It wasn't long before Philip became interested in story telling and science fiction after he read his first Science Magazine. He went to college at the University of California, Berkeley, and took classes in military science, history, philosophy, and zoology before dropping out only two months later. His first short story he wrote and published in 1951, and finishing his first novel in 1955. During his time as a novel writer, he was acclaimed in the Science Fiction world, but as far as mainstream novels went he was greatly disregarded. He was diagnosed with Schizophrenia, which affected him having such a degrading lable, but some psychologists and psychiatrists had deemed him mentally sane. Dick died of a stroke on March 2, 1982, a little more than three months before the release of the film adaptation of his book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.
In 1992 (newer editions have changed the year to 2021 (p. 4, )), after World War Terminus (the war that caused many of Earth's creatures to become extinct), there exists a permanent fallout cloud above everyone, blocking out the sun. Rick Deckard , a bounty hunter, is given an assignment to retire (kill) 6 Nexus-6 Androids , and he attempts to replace his electric sheep with a real animal. Taking on the assignment, Rick Deckard feels no empathy towards androids.
Meanwhile, we are introduced to a man named J.R. Isidore, a low IQ man or "special," who works for an animal repair shop. He has a bad speech impediment, and fights to keep the Kipple (clutter, useless possessions) at bay. He befriends a girl named Pris, who we later discover is an android, who is living in the same apartment complex one floor below him.
Rick Deckard visits the Rosen Corporation, and the readers are introduced to Rachael Rosen, an android that believes it is human due to false memories it had implanted. Rick tests the Voigt Kampff test, an emotional test used to distinguish between humans and androids, and proves successful by revealing Rachael Rosen's true identity. After retiring the first two androids, he is taken into custody by a police department in San Fransisco. It is revealed that the detective who was to have him arrested is also an android, one which is on Rick's hit list. He joins another bounty hunter, Phil Resch, a man which Rick believes is also an android due to his lack of empathy despite his claims of loving his pet squirrel. It is revealed that Phil is a human which causes Rick to question what really is the difference between a human and an android. Rick collects the bounty on the first three androids and buys a black goat, which he brings home to show Iran. She is happy that he bought the goat and Rick departs to a hotel. Rachael comes to the hotel room in which Rick is staying. Rick believes this is because she wants to help him retire the remaining three androids. In reality, Rachael is trying to convince Rick to give up on hunting the remaining andy's, even saying that one of them will look exactly like her. Rick and Rachael end up sleeping together. Afterwards, Rick departs to retire the three remaining androids. He comes to the apartment complex which he got intel on and encounters J.R. Isidore, a chickenhead who is a truck driver for artificial animal repairs. He gives up the location of the remaining androids, Pris, Irmgard Baty, and Roy Baty. Rick goes up to the apartment and retires the final three and collects the bounty on them. He then flies back home to his wife Iran who reveals that Rachael had pushed the goat off of the top of their building. Rick then flies north to Oregon, where he lands his vehicle and begins walking up a desolate hill, where he gets a rock thrown at him. This is much like the man Wilbur Mercer, walking up a hill for no reason and having rocks thrown at him. Rick quickly gets back to his car, but finds a toad. Excited, he brings it home to Iran, who reveals its true electronic nature. Rick is disappointed but still accepts the toad, embracing artificial life and seeing its value.
Irmgard Baty is one of the Nexus-6 Rick is out to retire. She is married Roy Baty.
Roy Baty is one of the Nexus-6 Androids Rick Deckard retires. He is the leader of the group of androids.
Harry Bryant is Rick's boss at the police station.
Iran Deckard is Rick's wife. She is spiritual, philosophical, and self aware. She senses something is wrong with their world. Her relationship with Rick is often rocky, due to his tendency to underappreciate her, but she is consistently empathetic and often selfless. Iran is not complacent; she is smart and logical, as well as responsible.
Rick Deckard is the protagonist of the novel. He works as a bounty hunter for the police department where he "retires" androids that have been deemed dangerous. Throughout the novel we question whether or not Rick is an android with false memories. Humans are not supposed to feel any empathy towards androids, however Rick finds himself attracted to certain female androids and ends up sleeping with Rachel Rosen.
Buster Friendly is on a televison and radio show which broadcasts almost constantly. The show trys to convince the humans to immigrate and eventually tells everyone that mercerism is not real. We find out later in the book that Buster Friendly is actually an android from the Rosen Association
Garland is an inspector with the android police department. He tells Deckard that Resch is an adroid in an attempt to turn them against each other. He is killed by Phil Resch.
Dave Holden is a bounty hunter with the police department who is injured in his attempt to kill Polokov. When he is injured Rick Deckard takes his place to retire the rest of the Nexus-6 androids.
John R. Isidore is one of the other major characters in the novel. He is considered a "chickenhead" since he did not pass the intelligence test. Although he is considered lower in society because of his lacking intelligence, he shows a great deal of empathy throughout the novel and befriends the Android Pris.
Max Polokov is one of the Nexus-6 that Rick is attempting to retire. Polokov almost kills Rick by posing as a cop, but Rick figured out what was going on and kills him first.
Luba Luft is a famous opera singer for the San Francisco Opera. She gets away the first time Rick tries to test her, however he finds her later and Phil Resch kills her.
Wilbur Mercer is the figure of the religion Mercerism. In the religion humans fuse with Mercer to share his suffering as he struggles to climb the hill while having rocks thrown at him. In some ways when the humans fuse with mercer they are inhabiting a second life and Wilbur Mercer is their Avatar .
Isidore said, "Anyhow he was no longer sinking, he had begun to ascend, along with the others. Long ago he had lost sight of them. He found himself eventually climbing alone. But they were there. They still accompanied him; he felt them, strangely, inside him." Mercerism helps the humans to know that they are not alone, that they are together in their struggle.
Phil Resch is a bounty hunter who shows no empathy towards anything. Since he lacks empathy he questions whether or not he is human but after taking the empathy test we find that he is indeed human. Phil's lack of empathy causes rick to doubt everything he has always believed about human empathy.
Rachael Rosen is one of the main characters in the book. She is a Nexus-6 owned by the Rosen Association. She helps Rick Deckard to retire the rest of his androids and ends up sleeping with him. At the end of the book we find out that she has killed Rick's goat.
Pris Stratton is one of the androids that Rick is after. While she is trying to hide she befriends J.R. Isidore. She is identical to Rachael Rosen.
This is a scene from the movie Blade Runner that shows Rick Deckard meeting Rachel Rosen for the first time:
Throughout the novel, Rick Deckard explores his own meaning of life and toys with the idea that empathy shows that one is considered a human being versus an android or a special. However, these boundaries are often broken. For example, Phil Resch, who Rick believes is an android due to his lack of hesitation in killing Luba Luft turns out to be human. The chickenhead J.R. Isidore is in fact the most empathetic character despite his condition. Roy Baty experiences anguish when his 'wife', Irmgard, is shot and retired by Rick despite the fact that he is an android and theoretically cannot be empathetic towards another android.
Near the beginning of the novel, we are introduced to an unempathetic bounty hunter named Rick Deckard, the husband of Iran and the owner of an electric sheep which he despises. We don't really see much empathy come from Rick until midway through the novel when he is forced to watch android Luba Luft get retired in cold blood in an elevator. Up until this point we don't see much questioning of empathy from any characters (except Mercer). Upon seeing this sight, Rick questions the binary opposition between androids and humans, suggesting that he sees a breaking of barriers. When he gives himself the empathy test, and tells fellow bounty hunter Phil Resch to watch the results, we see that he is empathetic towards female form androids. The progression of his empathy is so much so that he loathes having to retiring an android who looks like Rachael Rosen, an android which he loves. After all the androids have been retired, Rick Deckard flies to remote Oregon, where there is supposedly no life left, and begins climbing a hill much like the one Wilbur Mercer was forced to climb. He finds a toad, which are supposed to be extinct, and brings it home to show his wife, who discovers it's indeed artificial. Rick is disappointed, but is not upset, realizing that there is value in artificial life as well.
Irony is one of the most prevalent themes in the novel. Irony is presented in a number of ways; one of the most prevalent examples of irony is the social structure: a consumerist society that is bounded by faux-empathy. Synthetic animals are created to fill a void in a society where nature has lost touch with itself. It even becomes to difficult to tell the difference between man and android, as the nexus-6 posses the same mental capacity as human beings. This irony is the basis for Rick Deckard's life explorations, as he can no longer distinguish between what is real.
Another binary opposition blatantly evident in the novel is the faceoff between Mercerism (empathy towards life and others) and Commercialism (the Buster Friendly Radio Show). In a post apocalyptic world destroyed by a lack of empathy between humans, an old man named Wilbur Mercer responds by creating a religion based on feeling what other people are feeling, whether it be joy or suffering. Near the beginning of the novel, we see that the only advocate for Mercerism is J.R. Isidore, a chickenhead on Earth who doesn't concern himself with useless possessions. We see a constant disapproval of Mercerism by Buster Friendly, a commercialist advocate, who reveals the false origins of Wilbur Mercer and his religion, but it still doesn't stop Rick Deckard from "becoming one with Mercer" at the end of the novel. It is implied that the only hope left for humanity is Mercerism, being able to feel what others feel. In this way, it's similar to a Web 2.0
Mercerism as a Second LifeEdit
The theme of Mercerism is prominent throughout the book. Dick wrote Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep in 1968, preceding the internet, or any forms of web based social networking. His created religion, Mercerism, is similar to the internet and other networking such as Xbox live, such that people from around the world (or in Dick's case, from multiple worlds) can connect instantly, sharing thoughts and emotions. This is much like Xbox, where people connect by speaking into their headsets and playing video games with each other through an internet connection.
Political Polarities & KippleEdit
Another abundant source of irony is portrayed by the Buster Friendly Radio Show's opposition with J.R. Isidore's Mercerism, two chicken heads represening opposite ends of the spectrum. Buster Friendly is the main proponent of consumerism, while J.R. Isidore expresses full empathy as a counterbalance. J.R. Isidore preaches Mercerism and the laws of "Kipple," whose first law states "Kipple drives out nonkipple." Kipple respresnts a combination of entropy and capitalism which suggests that the transfer of energy in the capitalist system is inherrently flawed; although, the system is so powerful that it deligitmizes any object that opposes it until accumulated wealth begins to degenerate...ironic, isn't it?
Real versus UnrealEdit
The novel focuses the distinction between what is real and what is not. Throughout the novel, the reader sees that the lines between real versus unreal are blurred. The dichotomy is best shown through looking at Mercerism and the empathy box. The reader and characters within the novel first see that Mercerism is something that one can experience only through the use of the empathy box. The empathy box mediates the users experiences through mind control and controlling the users actions. As the novel progresses, the characters begin to see signs of Mercerism in real life. Rick Deckard shows this towards the end when he ventures off to the hills and “sees” Mercer in front of him, even though he doesn’t exist.
There are several differences between Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and the Ridley Scott's 1982 film adaptation, Blade Runner. Many of Dick's themes like religion, mass media, Rick Deckard's marriage, and the duality of Rachel and Pris are not present in the film adaptation. Also, Rick Deckard's humanity doesn't come into question in the Theatrical cut of the film.
Rick Deckard, who is portrayed by Harrison Ford in the film is different compared to how he is portrayed in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Deckard's struggle with his own humanity is not as emphasized in the theatrical cut, however, implications of him being a replicant are evident in the directors cut (i.e Gaff leaving the origami unicorn at the end of the movie showing the audience that he knows what Rick Deckard was dreaming of).