Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a science fiction novel by American writer Philip K. Dick. First published in 1968, the book served as the primary basis for the 1982 film Blade Runner. I haven’t seen Blade Runner, and have no earthly clue what it’s about, other than that it’s a science-fiction Holy Grail of sorts. Or so I’m led to believe. I also haven’t read any K. Dick, my only experiences with his work being the adaptations Minority Report and A Scanner Darkly, both of which I enjoyed immensely. But all in all, I’m coming to this work with a fairly virgin point-of-view. I’ve been reading sci-fi classics that I’ve missed out on, this was on my to-read list for that genre, and here we are. So this opening paragraph where I explain what I know and the biases that I bring to the novel prior to reading it is pretty short.
So, sadly, shall be my explanation of what the novel was about after it’s done: because I have no sweet clue what this hell this was about. And I don’t mean that in some lit-student high-brow way. I don’t mean “I understood the narrative, but what was it about?” I don’t mean About with a capital A, I mean literally I cannot tell you any events that transpired in the novel.
You ever read something (usually something you’re being forced to read) and then realize you didn’t process anything you read? That you spent pages and pages just looking at the words, without internalizing them? That was my experience reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.
It got to a point where I was starting to worry that there was something wrong with me. Like maybe I’d had some sort of mini-stroke and had lost my reading-comprehension capability or something. So I read a few chapters of Stephen King’s Christine just to be sure, and nope, I understood that just fine.
This is about… a man? Yeah. Rick Deckard — he wishes he owned a pet, but he’s can’t. All he can afford is an electric pet, and even then just a lame one like a sheep. He also has some sort of test he’s devised to tell if an android is an android or not, because apparently some androids escaped and need to be found. The test deals a lot with empathy, and poses the question of what is means to be human.
Or at least that’s what Wikipedia tells me, I really wouldn’t know. I recall some of those things, but they’re floating around in space between my ears unconnected. The narrative is disjointed and events don’t progress in a causal manner. There isn’t enough distinction between the six androids to make it clear when we’ve switched scenes, and the subtext of exploring humanity is so vague and mishandled that I’m not even convinced it’s there: like maybe it was something we (readers) have attached to it after-the-fact but that wasn’t actually present in the text. Like the way people insist that The Lord of the Rings is about World War II, even though Tolkien always insisted it isn’t.
I’m so perplexed by this.
“You ever read something and then realize you didn’t process anything you read? That was my experience reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.”