Friday, October 27, 2006

Book Thoughts: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

I promised a book review or two, and while I'm in a thoughtful mood, here's one.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

I've wanted to read this since seeing Bladerunner and finally got round to it a few weeks ago. It's a quick read, only took me an evening, although I'll go back and re-read it more slowly when I get to studying it next year. Like most things where I've seen the film version before reading the book, it's hard to get the visual images out of your head, especially when they're as stunning as Bladerunner. Putting that aside, and attempting to take the book on its own, the things that struck me were the way in which Dick draws you into his world. The first chapter or so is mostly exposition of who and what this world is about, but it doesn't feel like it. The description of Rick and his wife Iran and Rick's need to have a real animal, feel real and human. There's a certain amount of noir-ish detective work, but also, unexpectedly, opera and art. The other strand that surprised me was Mercerism, a sort of religious mysticism based on empathy with a real or simulated man walking up a hill. It's a recurring theme, the real versus the simulated. How do we know who's human and who's an android? What about the 'specials', humans so affected by the lead-polluted earth that they can no longer reproduce and are considered sub-human?

It's an odd book which ends with many things left unexplained. It's a day in the life of Rick Decker as much as anything. I've not read much sci-fi, so I don't have much of a feel for how it fits or doesn't fit the genre. The stereotypical conventions are there - advanced technologies, other worlds, mind-altering machines. (Query, why so many mind/mood altering machines in sci-fi? The only example that springs to mind immediately is Brave New World, but I'm sure there are more. I expect someone's written a paper or two or on 'Mind and Machine in Technological Dystopias'). It wasn't a bad way to spend an evening and it's always very satisfying to read a novel in one sitting, but I couldn't help finishing it with a feeling of dissatisfaction at the things left unsaid. Plenty to discuss when I come to write an essay on it, I suppose.


Catez said...

I enjoyed reading this Bekki. I haven't read the book but you've whetted my apetite now. Sci Fi does often leave things unsaid - sometimes it's like a puzzle I find. The theme of needing something real is an interesting one. I linked this in my Surf'n'Turf.

TulipGirl said...

You might enjoy the early 90s Christian rock opera "Under Midnight," which samples from Bladerunner extensively. Especially considering some of the tech developments that have become normalized since that time.