This, oddly, is one of those novels that I think I had to read in order to appreciate (and not hate) the film treatment*.
I’ve had an appreciation for Philip K Dick for a long time, not least for his amazing The Man in the High Castle (note to self: reread this). But given the number of books available for reading on this good green earth, I never got round to reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, something I’ve been meaning to read since I took that science fiction film and literature course at uni.
So I started off really enjoying the novel, devouring most of it within a night, and when I got to the last few chapters, that’s when things got really weird. I don’t do well with weird in fiction (the point of reading is to lose yourself in the story, not to be plagued with wondering what the hell it all means, IMHO), which is why I don’t read fantasy. If it was anyone less that Dick I’d probably leave it at weird and rate the novel lower than I did in the end, but since I’ve decided to drop in on a local book club in August (run by an acquaintance, I’m not just imposing my socially-discomfiting quietness at random) when they’re discussing this very novel, I was determined to puzzle it out — at least to my own satisfaction.
Basically, the question I’m going to want discussed is this: Is Rick Deckard any more human than Rachael Rosen, Luba Luft, the Batys, or Polokov? I’d argue not. The Nexus-6 are trying to survive. We are only told that they last about four years, we don’t actually read about one winding down and stopping (as opposed to the Roy Baty character in the film).
Rick and JR Isidore strike me as the androids who are programmed to believe they are human and are on earth to exterminate the last of the humans, or beat out other versions of androids. It’s all a new type of survival of the fittest. I was going to strike out that first sentence but I think it holds true. The Nexus-6 may stop working after four years or so but production can continue, and the novel indicates that they exist on the colony planets as servants. So how different is our version of existence? We’ve had other humans exist as indentured servants until they rebelled and fought for their freedom and this practice is (generally) no longer acceptable. Why not androids fighting for freedom? What makes humans think they are better?
I think this comes up a lot in science fiction. That’s probably what I like best about the genre — it asks questions of morality and holier-than-thouness: Is our ‘breed’ superior? How arrogant are we to think that we’re better than others because of our intelligence or morality, that we should want to dominate for reasons other than that of Darwinism?
Biologically the Nexus-6 are no different, so an android Rick is much more likely to hallucinate Wilbur Mercer, as is JR (an inferior type of android but with the same controller). The others simply, if they believe in Mercerism, use their ’empathy boxes’ because there is no need for the designer / controller, aka Mercer, to appear to them in the story to help them along. They commune with Mercer to empathise with other humans — WTF is up with that? It only makes sense if they’re all androids (hello, the Borg)!
I’m sure if I looked up essays and fora on Do Androids Dream… I’ll be told I’m totally wrong, but I’d like to hang on to this opinion for a little while.
* Although I’ll have to watch the DVD again to confirm this.