Philip K Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

January 22, 2014

41yFaUb7B1L._AA160_This is the Philip Dick novel that was filmed as Blade Runner. Set in a future dystopian USA where humans are encouraged to migrate to Mars where their living standards are allegedly enhanced by android servants, Dick nudges his reader to think about what exactly it means to be human: what are the differences between humans and androids? Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter, paid to ‘retire’ androids who have escaped Mars and infiltrated the deteriorating society back on Earth.

Is empathy with other people a specifically human quality, or would androids eventually be able to develop it? The sands keep shifting – or Dick keeps moving the goalposts, if you like – would you have sex with an android? Somehow, the developing cyberworld makes all these ideas more haunting, more immediate. Dick always had an amazing knack of making you uncomfortable: his future worlds are at once alien from our own, weird, and at the same time uncannily familiar in small ways: you can imagine yourself there without a great leap. I have always loved his concept of ‘kipple’, the mountains of meaningless crap that we accumulate and that can end up taking over our space and our world, collecting dust and mouldering away because we can’t get rid of them.

And the one thing that all humans in this nightmare world crave is a real living creature as a pet… empathy, or what?

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