There are a variety of ways in which a books lingers with the reader after they’ve finished. Emotional impact, imagery, character empathy, the message, and a variety of other reasons have the opportunity to impress us to the point we may be unable to forget a book despite that plot details may fade with time. Philip K. Dick’s 1968 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? caused this kind of reaction in me. None of the aforementioned elements, however, are the reason his 37th novel hangs in mind after reading it. It is simply the questions he asks and the myriad implications that follow.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is the story of Rick Deckard, an android bounty hunter, who experiences a crisis of faith as the emotional proximity to those he is supposed to be “retiring” becomes clouded. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, man has begun inhabiting Mars to escape nuclear fall out on Earth. Most cannot afford to emigrate, however, and remain on earth. As a result, androids, artificially intelligent beings whose only discernable difference with real humans is their lack of empathy, are sent alongside emigrants to help in the colonization. However, some escape and return to Earth where they live on the run from bounty hunters. Seeking to fulfill a contract on a group of eight escapees, Deckard’s problems accumulate the farther he moves along the list, each android drawing the meaning of “retire” and “murder” closer and closer together.
Anything but polished or descriptive enough, Dick’s writing style is sparse, presenting only a bare minimum of details to paint the scenes and characters. And so while the bleak picture of Earth Deckard inhabits suits the story, it, along with the other backing elements, deserve to be fleshed out in a longer novel. That being said, however, the novel does not lack for much more, the plot moves at a good pace and is well structured. Fans of Blade Runner will undoubtedly find more than what the film offered in the way of background content and side-stories, all of which go a long way toward highlighting the theme Dick was aiming at.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is recommended for anyone who enjoys literature which poses profound questions about the nature of life and of being alive. Though simplistic on the surface, the direct manner in which Dick tells his story will give anyone a moment to ponder. For those who prefer more literary presentations, be warned that Dick is not a stylist. He is an ideas man, and that is what will have you thinking about the book long after.