Man or Machine? A review of “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”

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Are your memories your own or are they someone else’s? Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep deals with this very idea. The question of what makes a human comes up throughout the book. The year is 1992, in later editions set in 2021 to put the story in our future. The story takes place after World War Terminus. A war that left humanity’s numbers diminished and the lands of Earth radioactive. This is the world given to us by author Phillip Dick makes you ask “What is real and what is fake?” “What does it mean to be human?” His writings deal with his own life experiences. Dick’s life was filled with drug abuse, paranoia, and questioning existence. Which comes out a lot in his books.

In Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep, the story revolves around a bounty hunter named, Rick Deckard. His job is to hunt down androids and ‘retire’ them. Androids were human-like beings used on off-world colonies. They were used for labor and to further human colonies off-world. These androids could be imprinted with fake memories and come to Earth to escape bondage. Deckard is one of the men whose job it is to hunt them down and kill them. The task given to Deckard is one he takes up due to his position in life. In his universe, many organic animals are dead, making those that survived a symbol of wealth. Deckard has a synthetic sheep which makes him feel empty. He uses the funds from his bounty at the end to afford a goat. His battle to kill these androids leaves him at many times contemplating life and what life the androids have.

An aspect that I particularly love in this book is the concept of distinguishing an android from a human. For this task, they use emotional test. They ask the participant or the suspect varying questions. As technology got more and more complex, androids became harder and harder to distinguish from humans. Androids have all the organics of a human, but don’t have empathy. The test would watch their eyes as the test would ask them about different scenarios. The whole concept here is just astonishing. It shows how far we are willing to go to find those who are different from us. Androids being built not born makes them inherently different. The book uses this to really ask whether or not memories make a human a human. These androids have memories like us, but they aren’t theirs. But are they? Even if these androids gained the memories from living, do they still make living beings? Dick makes us question our own world and our recollection on our past.

Phillip Dick’s novels tend to deal a lot with memory and what makes a man. From Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep to Minority Report and to We Can Remember it for You Wholesale, these books are just a small sampling of Dick’s works that deal with mind altering or memory related works. All make you question what is human. In DADES, the people in this book use mood altering organs to relive the feelings of their world religion. This abuse to emotions leads Deckard to question those are are human. The concept of altering ones feelings with drugs is not foreign to us today, but to the extent the people in Deckard’s universe do seems excessive. Even to us, the though of having an implant that can change your mood would seem repulsive to many. “Rick Deckard and his wife Iran’s use of joint hallucinations to control their connectedness and the spiritual despair that follows it’s demystification is intense. You can feel the character’s longing for meaning in their lives.” The abuse of these drugs leaves Deckard with an emptiness that he feels can only be solved by owning an organic pet, which was explained early.

My recommendation to you, is to go to your local library. Read it. Then buy this book. Go to amazon and buy it. This book is too good to pass up. Phillip K. Dick’s embodiment of humanity’s willingness to kill that that is different is perfect. He paints such a dystopia that to not read it would be a sin. This book and his many others deserve to be read ad discussed. As do many science fiction novels. For they are commentary on our lives and visions of the future.Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep gets a 5 out of 5 in my opinion.

Works Cited:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/18/books/review/the-exegesis-of-philip-k-dick-edited-by-pamela-jackson-jonathan-lethem-and-erik-davis-book-review.html

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/apr/29/do-androids-dream-electric-dick-review

http://www.philipkdickfans.com/literary-criticism/reviews/review-by-jason-koornick-do-androids-dream-of-electric-sheep-1968/

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