Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 27, 2015

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? 3, by Philip K. Dick and illustrated by Tony Parker #BookReview

Do Androids Dream of Electric SheepWell, this is cheating… I have ticked off this book against the list of 1001 that I must read before going to The Great Library in the Sky, but I haven’t read the real book at all, this is just a graphic novel version of it, and only Part 3 of who-knows-how-many there are…

I was at the library, returning some knitting journals, and my eye spied this book and the title rang a bell.  (It is kind-of catchy, after all).  The cover referenced Blade Runner, a film I’ve of course never seen because I don’t do popular culture and especially not ‘action-packed’ films (which is Hollywood code for Lots of Killing with Lots of Big Guns).  I had no idea that there could be a connection between some murderous Hollywood movie and a book listed in 1001 and so I was intrigued…

Well, the book has enlightened me (and it mercifully only took half an hour to read because it is nearly all pictures).  If you’ve seen the film or read the book you know this already, but I didn’t.  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is about a post-apocalyptic Earth that has been populated by androids from Mars that are so convincing that people can’t tell the difference without doing tests on them.  Rick Deckard is a bounty-hunter whose job it is to search and destroy some of these (hence the appeal to Hollywood action movie producers).

The reason why the book rates an entry in my 1001 Books is because Philip Dick explores the issue of what it means to be human.  After all, if it looks like a human, and works like a human, and gets by running a police department for years and years or sings opera divinely, why does it matter?  Somewhat obscured in the graphic novel version is the answer that they don’t have empathy, which is that feeling that makes us understand other humans and be kind to animals.  (Owning animals is a status symbol in this post-apocalyptic world because they have mostly died due to radiation poisoning.)

Spookily, some androids have been programmed with such convincing false memories that they don’t even know that they are androids.  In the episode that I read the bounty hunter meets up with another bounty hunter who helps him deal with his quest to bump off Luba Luft who is a sexy opera singer but also an android.  But the central issue is one of identity: Deckard himself is arrested as a suspicious person and taken off for questioning to a police department that exists in a parallel San Francisco.  All the usual disconcerting things happen when he tries to prove his identity.  How does he prove who he is, and how can he tell who his interrogators are?  And what do you do if you think you might be an Andy with a false memory, eh?  Do you want to find out?  Is feeding your pet squirrel enough to demonstrate empathy, eh? And if you are human, should you feel empathy for an Andy that looks and acts like a human and seems to have feelings like a human?

Today when western nations are all struggling with the refugee issue and there is a lot of angst about the Otherness of the refugees, this question seems apt.  How much, if at all, do Others need to be like The Rest of Us (the ones with the secure homes and enough to eat) for us to feel empathy for them?

The book includes a long essay by someone who is a fan of Philip K. Dick but after the first page I skipped the rest of it. I think that with this ‘lite’ version I have absorbed the central idea of the title, and am vaguely tempted to one day read the real thing – which Goodreads tells me is under 300 pages and of course ‘much better’ than any graphic novel edition.  But I quite liked this book with its jazzy artwork, and I suspect it would be a hit in secondary classrooms and would generate some stimulating philosophical discussion about the nature of humanity.  It might even persuade some reluctant readers to read the original book…

(But then if they’ve already seen the movie, it would all be a bit ho-hum, perhaps….)

(And that’s why you need real literature, because words, beautifully put together, can make old stories and hackneyed ideas seem new again, forever).

Author: Philip K. Dick
Title: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Illustrated by Tony Parker; coloured in by Blond. (Who knew? You can paid to do colouring in!)
Publisher: Boom! Studios, 2010
ISBN: 9781608865772
Source: Kingston Library

Availability

Fishpond: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

 


Responses

  1. I’m a Phillip K Dick fan, and think it’s a shame he is mostly pigeonholed in SF. He wrote too much and is therefore of uneven quality, but his writing bursts with ideas and at his best he is one of the great postmodern writers. My favourite is A Scanner Darkly (great movie too!). But yes, our tastes differ though I definitely agree with you about not watching movies full of gratuitous killing.

    • LOL My tastes differ from those of most normal people! Hollywood movies are successful because nearly everyone watches them, right? But I like foreign film, because I was introduced to it at a young and impressionable age, and because the budgets of foreign film don’t allow for special effects and mega-stars, they have to be so much cleverer at holding audience interest. And also, they’re not so worried about what’s out there where no one can hear you scream, but more interested in what’s happening in the real world that we live in.
      My favourite films come from the Middle East, where you can see a world so utterly unlike the depressing one we see in the news all the time. If you get a chance, watch The Lemon Tree or The Band’s Visit. Brilliant!

  2. Another Philip K. Dick fan here – I don’t mind the SF category – but it is LITERARY sci-fi! – lol – and the movie Blade Runner is one of my all-time favorite movies even if it did mess up Do Androids Dream… – It’s stark raving gorgeous – beautiful filmography – and at the end the way they show one of the androids having feelings is that a tear dramatically falls from her eye. (sniff) – lol

    • I’m like Bekah and love the movie Bladerunner. Since I’m a big fan of mysteries, my favorite version is the original airing where Harrison Ford narrates a la those old film noir movies. Fred has a great post about the various versions at http://freds-ramblings.blogspot.com/2010/10/blade-runner-five-film-versions.html

      • Actually, I did notice when I took a look at IMDB for Blade Runner that Harrison *swoon* Ford was in it. This could be enough to tip the balance and make me add it to my Q at quickFlix…

        • Oh la la. Love just about all his movies. I saw one where he was the bad guy – but we didn’t know he was the bad guy until the end. At the big reveal, I was thinking, “Oh, Harrison, how could you!”

          • My favourite is Raiders of the Lost Ark. I took my son to see it, and loved it!

          • On the big screen Harrison Ford can even make an android get a tear. ;-)

            • Amen to that…

          • Yes, Raiders is a classic! I must have watched it close to half a dozen times over the years. I have the collection of four Indy movies.

    • *chuckle* O Bec, you sweet sentimental sistah!

  3. Oh Lisa, do read more PK Dick. He’s not the most polished writer but his work is brimming with ideas.

    One of my favourite stories (I can’t think of the title at the moment) was one where he imagined a society that allowed ‘abortion’ of children up to the age of 8, or thereabouts. It was interesting to see the ‘anti-abortion’ view put foward cleverly and in a unique way.

    • Ok, Jonathan, it’s a deal. But only if you remember the name of that one!


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