Whenever you look up something like “Top 10 science fiction books of all time” or even “The 100 books you must read before you die”, it’s very likely that Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” will be on that list.
It’s one of those books that I’ve had on my TBR-list before I even had anything that looked like an actual list. A book that if you are anywhere near being any kind of fantasy/SF/supernatural nerd, you ought to have read. And yet it has taken me almost 15 years since I first heard of it to actually get around to diving into its diminutive 193 pages.
When a book is so famous and so hyped as “Do Androids…”, its almost scary to read it – you constantly look for signs of awesomeness or more likely the realisation that it doesn’t manage to live up to the hype. But for all my expectations, including memories of its famous film version “Blade Runner”, this book not only lived up to its hype, but actually superseded it.
The basic premise of the story concerns main character bounty hunter Rick Decker, who lives in a future version of Earth many years after a final World War has destroyed almost all of the world and covered it in radioactive dust.
Decker earns his money by hunting and “retiring” – meaning killing – humanoid androids that have escaped the human settlements on Mars and come to Earth to be free. The only way to tell humans and androids apart is by performing the so-called Voight-Kampf test – a test that measures your empathic reaction to a series of questions – because the one thing even the most advanced androids lack is that most human of traits: empathy.
I had expected a very staple SF book about an android bounty hunter in a bleak post-apocalyptic world and while that is all there, the actual story of “Do Androids…” is so much more. Within its few pages is an entire world and the history of that world told in such an off-handish way that you don’t realise how elaborate the telling actually is.
As the reader is dumped straight into the midst of short exchanges and seemingly random happenings, it all serves to create a world that is so well-constructed and thought-out that you easily manage to understand and empathize with why Decker and the people around him (human and androids alike) act and think like they do – almost as if you were part of that world yourself.
And most importantly, it’s not an action-dominated book about a bad-ass bounty hunter tracking down evil androids. Instead, it’s an almost philosophical story about what it means to be human – what makes us human and less than that? Is it our ability to reason and think or is it our ability to empathize and love? And can we really define our entire humanity on one trait?
If you’re a hard-core SF fan, then you’ve probably already read this – if not, then run as fast as you can and get your copy!
But if you’re someone who thinks that science fiction is all about machines and spaceships and technical and unrealistic mumbo-jumbo, then I dare say that this book will make you think differently. It’s an eternally relevant story about our relationship with each other, animals and the world we all share… So, you should run and get a copy too.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick; published in March 2010 by Gollancz (orginally published in 1968)