by Philip K. Dick
It’s been a while since I read something that felt a bit dated. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest came across that way, but for a very different reason; you could easily date Cuckoo’s Nest based on its writing style. A more fitting comparison to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is probably The Maltese Falcon. It’s so weird; everything feels so old in Electric Sheep, like we’re back in the ’60s, except that there’s hovercars, androids, and lasers. Deckard, the protagonist, even occasionally feels like Sam Spade, though a Sam Spade who administers empathy tests and happens to be obsessed with animals. But don’t let this scare you away from Electric Sheep; Dick crafted a nuanced story that doesn’t pull its punches, to invoke a cliché. (It at least hit me directly in the gut, knocking the wind out of me on a few occasions, where the story took a sharp turn to the unusual.)
The story starts off like a pretty typical detective book. We have our future Sam Spade hunting androids who illegally emigrated from Mars to earth. (Androids are given to anyone making the trip to Mars, effectively robotic servants. However, it’s illegal for androids to go to earth. Any making their way to earth can be “retired” by bounty hunters, such as Deckard, who earn $1,000 for each android they kill.) You start to get a feel for the world Dick created, what’s left of the world after a devastating nuclear war, and then something happens that makes you question the nature of reality. You eventually adjust for the change, and then the author sends some other curve ball your way, and you don’t know how to cope. But, where such a surprise effectively caught my attention, the concepts presented in the story convinced me that Electric Sheep is much more than it seems, superficially. Though the author doesn’t attempt to answer the questions he poses, pertaining to life, rights, and religion, he probably makes his story much more meaningful by making you actively consider the answers and by bringing them up in such a way to suggest that there are no simple answers.
As thoughtful as it’s weird, I’m glad I finally read the wonderful Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? There’s probably a good reason it inspired what I’m told is one of the best movies ever made.