Let me admit my own ignorance. I never wanted to watch Blade Runner because I thought it had something to do with vampires. I don’t do vampires. Nope it had to do with androids. Boy was my face red when my husband realized how mixed up I was. We watched the movie. It was good. Hey, it was a Harrison Ford movie made at the top of his career. Who doesn’t love that? However after my husband read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick (the base for the movie) he shoved it in my face and said “read.”
Let me do a break down of the book. The book diverges from the movie in many ways. It starts with the main character, Richard Deckard worrying about his sheep. In Dick’s dystopian view of the world, Earth is in a state that is almost uninhabitable. Most people have left to colonize else wear leaving those who are unfit behind on Earth. The people who were left have to undergo radiation checks every year to determine their health. Even though many humans survived animals didn’t fair as well. Those that did are highly prized to the point that failing to take care of them is considered a crime. Deckard has a sheep or should I say had a sheep. His current one is an android that he takes a lot of time to keep up the pretense that it is real since having a live animal is also seen as a status symbol. Most of what drives Deckard through out the story is his need to own a living animal.
This was my favorite part of the book. Dick’s world building in the story is amazing, but weaving in the importance of animals into almost every chapter showed us something else about the current state of humanity then a simple description of the physical world around them. It gave a glimpse into the values and priorities of this society which one would guess would be their state of health not what kind of animal they owned.
Slowly Dick introduces the meat of the story. Several Nexus-6 androids have escaped making their way to Earth. They have injured one bounty hunter which brings Deckard into play. His job is to track down the remaining androids and retire them. The problem is that the the Nexus-6 is such a sophisticated technology that they aren’t sure if the current tests used will be able to detect if they are human or robot. Leading into the question what defines humanity?
Dick left me pondering humanity. So many times sci-fi brings up the question where does technology end and humanity start? What makes something sentient? Yes, Dick tackles that question with the androids who were naturally fitting into to life on Earth that they became indistinguishable from humans.
As the story progresses Dick paints a bleak picture of humanity. Earth has deteriorated to a place that is so toxic it is slowly killing the people who live there. Most of the interactions between the people in the book seems to be strained with Deckard loathing his wife and viewing her as someone who just squanders money. Even the relationships between people and their pets seem strained. In one instance the owner of a real cat doesn’t want to get close to him in order to not get attached for when it eventually dies. This is in stark contrast to the androids, who in their own right exhibit their own void of empathy, but have bonded with one another and seem to feel actual emotions when one of them is hunted down and retired.
So what makes someone human? This isn’t a simple question. When humans use technology to choose the emotions they want to feel and are so controlled by the popular show Buster Friendly that they often have a hard time holding a view outside of Buster’s beliefs. The story is so masterfully crafted to that we are even lead to ponder Deckard’s humanity. Androids is a reflection of our own humanity. It is a mirror the reflects our own massive flaws and asks the question are we human or have we lost humanity?