Blurbarella: “I Now Present– My Good Friend and Ally– Trent Picksherry– Who Will Introduce Us to a Controversial Novel about Robo-Genocide– by Renowned Human Flesh-Bag Philip K. Dick.”
Trent: To encounter Philip K. Dick’s 1968 classic, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” with eyes fresh and critical, we first must consciously commit to disconnecting it from 1982’s “Blade Runner,” the exponentially more influential film by Ridley Scott. “Blade Runner” borrows inspiration from the novel’s overflowing fountain with a rather small ladle. A few things are retained: the novel is set in the future, (oh-so-distant 1992 gets pushed back to 2019); there are human officials who un-empathetically stamp out machines that allegedly lack empathy; and the alliterative names of Rachel, Rick, Royare kept. Much more is discarded. The “electric animals,” (the novel’s powerful, central metaphor) become a throwaway line on the film. The setting is shifted from the drab, nearly deserted discard of a planet than Dick envisioned to the neon, neo-noir city that still defines visions of the future (see “Ghost in the Shell”). Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” and Moebius and Jodorowsky’s “The Incal” are the true models. Everything else is pure Hollywood, including the two terms that have “stuck” with the public. “Bounty Hunters” became “Blade Runners,” a word borrowed by Scott from a script by William S. Burroughs that adapted a wholly unrelated sci-fi novel by Alan E. Nourse (where it made sense; the “blade runners” literally ran a black market of surgical blades!) Hunt if you want, but you will find no “replicants” in the book: there, you have androids, and they’re called “andys.”
In “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” the radioactive fallout from World War Terminus has forced most humans into retiring to Mars colonies, where andys serve their every whim (with some reluctance, we learn). The bottom human remainders live isolated in empty buildings, and typically keep animals on their rooftops for social display. Since most animals are extinct, owning a goat or a sheep grants more social status than owning the standard junked hovercar. Unfortunately, middle-class bounty hunter Rick Deckard has to make do with a fake, electric sheep, much to his shame- the neighbor seems to own a REAL horse! When he’s tasked with “retiring” six andys that have escaped from the Mars colony, Deckard jumps to the task: that sort of unprecedented bounty could pay for a real bleater! Of course, there are dangers involved.
The other half of the book’s plot involves John R. Isidore, a mentally challenged “chicken head” who happily embraces the anarchic andys, motivated both by his loneliness and by the empathic, Christian-like religion of Mercerism.
There are so many powerful ideas in “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” that we tend to forgive the fact that it’s one of Philip K. Dick’s less accomplished novels. The two halves of the plot (Deckard’s bounty hunting adventures and feeble-minded Isidore’s befriending of the escaped androids) fail to meld into one satisfactory alloy. The idea of Mercerism seems implanted from some unsold short story, and, as Ridley Scott demonstrated, could be surgically excised with little harm to the patient… and perhaps to some benefit. Concepts like the Penfield mood organ, Buster Friendly’s hypnotic TV Show, the forced migrations to Mars, the slavery of androids, the stratification of society according to intellectual quotients, or the ethics of animal ownership in a post-animal world, might each have provided tomes of themes to less frantic authors. PKD rarely waits to see his ideas flourish; like a mad gardener, he prankishly scatters his philosophical seeds and moves on, leaving it to the fans to nourish the garden into psychedelic blossoms. But what a garden he has left in his wake!
Hank: Agree, son!
Cousin Franz: I might have said the same thing. Quite a succinct synopsis.
Grandpa Felicius: Perhaps this marks a new developmental stage in young Trent’s approach to literature?
Tracey: “Huh,” indeed. So, brother, let me ask you a question: what is the difference between androids and humans?
Trent: Unfortunately, unlike us humans, androids are, as of model Nexus 6, unable to feel empathy, and therefore barred from feeling the joy of the all-powerful love that flows through the organic universe.
Tracey: Right right, the “all-powerful love.” Let me ask you another question: If you came home and found Pug McClure had bitten through the latest McSweeney’s, would you throw Pug out on the street to die of flea fever, or would you simply kick him a few times as punishment?
Trent: Trick question! What horror! As an empathic creature, I would never mistreat a poor uncomprehending dog like that, not over a mere collection of ink, text, pulp, and witty snobbery! No, no. I would gently push the Pug away from the quarterly, and explain to him, in kind and respectful terms, that this destructive behavior is not conducive to a happy home.
Tracey: HA! I KNEW IT! That’s no Trent, that’s an ANDY! It was a double trick question! Not only does Trent NOT have empathy, he a) wouldn’t bother PRETENDING he had empathy, and b) he would have no idea what McSweeney’s was!
Blurbarella: “OH– NO– The Plan– Ruined! The Ruse– Exposed!”
TO BE CONTINUED…
4 out of 6 Cherries