Posted by: Ele Quigan | June 22, 2010

‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ Philip K. Dick

Sci-Fi. Geek genre since forever. From Dune to Hitchhikers guide, to 1984 to to many iterations of Star trek novellas, this section of any second hand bookshop is often the most interesting. Or at least attracts the most interesting characters. I’ve read a few sci-fi novels (yes I admit to Dune and it’s 6 prequels…) seen a few sci-fi movies, but up till now hadn’t read too many ‘classics’ of the genre.

I haven’t seen ‘Blade Runner’ either.

Our male protagonist (Deckard) is a bounty hunter, tasked with ‘retiring’ (killing) 6 escaped androids. With the primary test to see if the androids are human or not being a test of ’empathy’, the novel is an interesting take on what actually makes us human.

It’s set on Earth ravaged after nuclear war (written in the 1950’s this could have seemed like a future probability) and with this as the setting, the tone is bleak and dark. Due to radiation most of the population has been evacuated, with only few (some irreparably damaged) people and very few animals left. The american family home has become based around the desire for a live animal (as most are fake droids), mercerism (the religion that families interact with to feel empathy) which is broadcast several times a day in all absorbing television, and s the additional desire to leave it all for another planet.

I still can’t quite believe it was written when it was, from the above themes and ideals, with the underlying belief that we have the ability to destroy our own planet only to develop caricatures of ourselves that might be the only things left to survive.

I think the most disturbing factor for me, was Iran (Deckard’s wife) at home self-medicating for mood – including the ability to send herself into a mood for watching (and enjoying) television, as well forcing herself into depression. Almost an antithesis of Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave new world‘ soma usage to block out all negative feeling. I was left with such a strong sense of ‘Is this what our world will come to, when we have taken all the satisfaction from consuming, we are left to force ourselves into depression if only to feel something’.

I’m still unsure about the androids and what they represented to me within the novel. There are a few articles such as this one that suggests that the droids are a representation of apartheid in South Africa. I keep coming back to this as something that doesn’t sit right with me, as one of the marked differences within the androids behaviour to themselves is that they treat each other with the exact same non-empathetic approach. Shown when they pull apart a spider to see if it can run with fewer legs, in a world where every living creature left alive is treasured – particularly those discovered in the wild.

Overall thoughts? Not as dark as ‘The Road’, but still left me feeling pretty meh after reading it. (So that’s two slightly depressing reads I managed to finish on holiday…)

My final thought on it is that looking at the world today I’m not convinced that empathy is a trait that humans want to see in each other. We lie to cover up mistakes, we’re not as able to say ‘I want to know how you feel’. Stoicism and ‘Keep calm and carry on’ is more what we are suggested to do. Consumerism and damage to the environment seems to be coming first, when really we should be focussing on our fellow human beings and together finding solutions to global problems. Pulling troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq and reducing global conflict. Working together to reduce our impact on our environment, and ensuring we no longer rely on hydrocarbons. Focussing our research and development areas into renewable energy, clean water and healthcare for all, saving our species that are nearing extinction, creating sustainable food initiatives…

It’s a dream, but after feeling the emptiness of post-nuclear holocaust fiction, seeing how we much could lose our sense of selves with such a consumerist future, I’m more determined than ever to make this world a better place to live in, now.

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