Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick

do androids dream...“Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end.” Spock

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Here we are back in our dystopian world of mid-20th century nightmares, when man has destroyed the planet in yet another global nuclear conflict. Most of the remaining humans have been persuaded to emigrate to other worlds, bribed with the promise of their own android if they go. Back on earth, the remaining population lives with the constant fear of infertility or worse, as a result of the radiation that covers the planet’s surface. Most animals have died and it has become a status symbol to keep a live pet. But these are hard to come by and expensive so some people keep electric pets instead – so well designed they are indistinguishable from the real thing without close examination. On these pets, real or fake, people pour out their feelings of empathy, feelings boosted by the Empathy Box – a machine that brings all humanity together to share in the suffering of their religious prophet, William Mercer.

Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter, hunting down androids who have escaped from the offworld colonies and returned to Earth. Rick owns his own electric sheep, his live one having died. He dreams of one day having another live animal to care for. As the book begins, he has been given the task of destroying a group of six of the latest model androids, so convincing it’s almost impossible to tell them apart from humans. In fact the only test that works is one that measures lack of empathy – thus making this the characteristic that most defines humanity. If Rick manages to ‘retire’ all six androids, the bounty money will let him buy a real animal to cherish.

Philip K Dick
Philip K Dick

I’ve read this book three times now and each time I come away with the same feeling. It’s very readable, has some interesting ideas and the characterisation of Rick is excellent. But fundamentally the book makes no sense. There are so many inconsistencies in it that I always come out of it wondering what message exactly Dick was trying to send. The thing is I know what he was trying to say, because he explained it in interviews – he was saying that no matter how humanoid the androids appeared, they were still soulless and heartless, but that the very task of hunting and destroying such human-like beings puts Rick’s own humanity at risk. Unfortunately that doesn’t come out as the message in the book. I can’t help sympathising with the androids. They are created as superior beings then sold to be slaves (and Dick makes explicit reference to pre-Civil War slavery) performing domestic and agricultural chores. When they rebel, they are hunted down and killed. Humans on the other hand rely on machines not just to give them empathy but to control their moods. Seems to me that there’s very little left of humanity in the humans at all.

Mostly what the book provokes in me is a series of unanswered questions:

Why do the androids return to Earth knowing they will be hunted – why not go elsewhere when they escape?

Why have humans given up all their existing religions and taken up Mercerism? And what is the point of Mercerism? As religions go, it’s a particularly depressing one.

Why have some people decided to stay on Earth? There’s little prospect of it recovering in the foreseeable future, and they will eventually get sick and die.

Why are the humans so freaked about the androids – they don’t seem to do much harm except when enslaved or attacked. One of them has actually become an opera star – well, OK, soprano opera singers are a pestilence, I admit, but even so…

And the most basic question of all…

If humans are freaked by androids that are so human-like they can’t be told apart from the real thing, then… why make them???

Harrison Ford in Blade Runner - the film of the book, more or less. This photo is especially for the benefit of BUS...
Harrison Ford in Blade Runner – the film of the book, more or less. This photo is especially for the benefit of BUS…

Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by all the subsequent brilliant exploration of what it means to be human via the world’s greatest android, (no, not Marvin!), Commander Data. But I suspect Data owes his existence more to Asimov’s robots than Dick’s androids, and personally I think Asimov’s robots were the superior creation.

So while the book is an enjoyable read, and one I’d recommend because of its status as a classic of the genre, it’s lack of internal logic always prevents me from thinking of it as a truly great one.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 48…

Episode 48

 

Oh, dear! The TBR has risen to its highest ever level of 138! And since nearly every book I’m reading at the moment is about a million pages long I seem to be getting through fewer than ever. Oh well – could be worse. The chocolate factories could have gone on strike…

Anyway, if I ever get through my current batch, here are a few upcoming delights to tantalize or appal you…

Factual

 

the innocents abroadSince I’m just about to read Huck Finn’s America, I thought I’d follow it up with his travelogue of “Abroad”. Will he convince me he’s an “Innocent” though?

The Blurb says ‘Who could read the programme for the excursion without longing to make one of the party?’

So Mark Twain acclaims his voyage from New York City to Europe and the Holy Land in June 1867. His adventures produced “The Innocents Abroad”, a book so funny and provocative it made him an international star for the rest of his life. He was making his first responses to the Old World – to Paris, Milan, Florence, Venice, Pompeii, Constantinople, Sebastopol, Balaklava, Damascus, Jerusalem, Nazareth, and Bethlehem. For the first time he was seeing the great paintings and sculptures of the ‘Old Masters’. He responded with wonder and amazement, but also with exasperation, irritation, disbelief. Above all he displayed the great energy of his humour, more explosive for us now than for his beguiled contemporaries.

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Fiction

 

the amazing adventures of kavalier and klayPart of the Great American Novel Quest. I loved the writing of Telegraph Avenue but wasn’t so sure about its depth. How will this one stack up…?

The Blurb says Joe Kavalier, a young Jewish artist who has also been trained in the art of Houdini-esque escape, has just smuggled himself out of Nazi-invaded Prague and landed in New York City. His Brooklyn cousin Sammy Clay is looking for a partner to create heroes, stories, and art for the latest novelty to hit America – the comic book. Drawing on their own fears and dreams, Kavalier and Clay create the Escapist, the Monitor, and Luna Moth, inspired by the beautiful Rosa Saks, who will become linked by powerful ties to both men. With exhilarating style and grace, Michael Chabon tells an unforgettable story about American romance and possibility.

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Crime

 

The Shut EyeCourtesy of NetGalley. Love Belinda Bauer, so every new one is a much anticipated treat…

The Blurb says Five footprints are the only sign that Daniel Buck was ever here.

And now they are all his mother has left.

Every day, Anna Buck guards the little prints in the cement. Polishing them to a shine. Keeping them safe. Spiralling towards insanity. When a psychic offers hope, Anna grasps it.

Who wouldn’t? Maybe he can tell her what happened to her son…

But is this man what he claims to be? Is he a visionary? A shut eye? Or a cruel fake, preying on the vulnerable?

Or is he something far, far worse?

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Sci-Fi Re-Read

 

do androids dream...In line with my resolution to read more sci-fi, I thought I’d ease into it with a re-read. My memories of this one are quite vague, but the blurb makes it sound much duller than I remember…

The Blurb says A final, apocalyptic, world war has killed millions, driving entire species into extinction and sending the majority of mankind off-planet. Those who remain venerate all remaining examples of life, and owning an animal of your own is both a symbol of status and a necessity. For those who can’t afford an authentic animal, companies build incredibly realistic simulacrae: horses, birds, cats, sheep . . . even humans.

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Audiobook

 

trigger warningCourtesy of Audible UK. Everyone says Neil Gaiman is great at narrating his own stuff, so we shall see. This collection includes some old stuff and some new – but most of it will be new to me…

The Blurb saysGlobal phenomenon and Sunday Times best-selling author Neil Gaiman returns to dazzle, captivate, haunt, and entertain with this third collection of short fiction, following Smoke and Mirrors and Fragile Things, which includes a never-before published American Gods story, “Black Dog”. In this new volume, Neil Gaiman pierces the veil of reality to reveal the enigmatic, shadowy world that lies beneath.”

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NB All blurbs taken from NetGalley or Goodreads.

So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

Transwarp Tuesday! The Early Science Fiction of Philip K Dick

Sci-fi from the Cold War era…

 

This collection includes 12 of Philip K Dick’s early stories, published between 1952 and 1954 in some of the many sci-fi magazines that were in their heyday in the ’50s. I’ve already reviewed one of the stories, The Variable Man, taken from the book, but now it’s time to look at the other eleven for this week’s…

TRANSWARP TUESDAY!

 

The Early Science Fiction of Philip K Dick

 

the early sci-fi of philip k dickPhilip K Dick was one of the biggest names in sci-fi in the second half of the twentieth century, and his stories have been the inspiration for some blockbuster movies – Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report among others. These early stories already show the imagination and story-telling skills that would mark his later work.

Certainly on the basis of these stories, Dick’s work couldn’t be classed as ‘hard’ sci-fi – the ‘science’ aspect is frequently so unscientific that even I can spot it. However, in general, there is an internal consistency to the made-up science that allows the stories to work. Perhaps the more interesting aspect is how many of the stories are clearly influenced by the Cold War which was well under way by the time of writing – there is a feeling of paranoia that runs through many of the stories. Most of the stories involve war in some form or another, often between people on Earth, but just as often between Earth and alien species. Nuclear holocaust is central in more than one, and there are mentions of terrorism and spies. None of these wars are glorious though and victory, if it comes at all, comes at a terrible price. As a collection, it is an intriguing and enlightening look at the fears of Dick’s contemporary society.

beyond lies the wub

Fortunately, amidst all this bleakness, there are a couple of lighter stories with some quirky and occasionally black humour. In Beyond Lies the Wub, we have a psychic Martian creature who wreaks a form of poetic justice on the Earthman who eats him; while Beyond the Door might easily be retitled as The Disagreeable Husband and the Revenge of the Cuckoo Clock! Dick also heads off into the field of (pseudo)psychology in Piper in the Woods, as men on an outpost on an asteroid suddenly start believing they have turned into plants. As with the war stories, this story seems to grow out of the stresses of Dick’s own times, and as a result probably resonated more with contemporary audiences than it perhaps does today.

Philip K Dick
Philip K Dick

Overall, the collection is both interesting and enjoyable. I’m not sure that I would recommend it as an introduction either to the genre or necessarily to Philip K Dick – the bleakness and narrow focus of the majority of the stories might give an unfairly grim impression of either to the new reader. However this would be an intriguing read for anyone who admires Dick’s later work, or who is interested in seeing how sci-fi writers used the greater freedom that the genre gave them to examine real-life contemporary concerns.

 

Little Green Men Rating: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Dover Publications.

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Transwarp Tuesday! The Variable Man by Philip K Dick

the early sci-fi of philip k dickCalculating the odds…

 

Another of the biggest names in sci-fi in the second half of the twentieth century, several of Philip K Dick’s books and stories have been used as the basis for blockbuster movies – Blade Runner, Total Recall, etc. The stories in this book are taken from the early part of his writing career, all first published in the various sci-fi magazines in the mid-1950s. I will as usual be reviewing the whole book later, but here’s one I’ve picked pretty much at random for this week’s…

TRANSWARP TUESDAY!

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The Variable Man by Philip K Dick

 

the variable man 2

The year is 2136, and Terra (Earth) is at war with the Centauran Empire. As each side continues to make advances in weaponry, the balance stays in favour of the Centaurans, whose territory surrounds Terra in an unbroken ring. As any changes are made, new information is fed into the SRB machines that calculate the odds, but each time they show Centaurus still in front. However things are about to change. Leading scientist Peter Sherikov has found details of a failed experiment to travel at faster than light speeds and reckons he can turn it into a massively destructive bomb. He has the original blueprints – now he just needs someone with the skills to do the intricate wiring. As this information is fed into the SRB machines, the ratio suddenly swings dramatically in favour of Terra. Security Commissioner Reinhart issues orders to start preparing an attack on Centaurus.

the variable man 1

Meantime, elsewhere on Terra, scientists are carrying out time-travelling experiments. Ordered by Reinhart to close the experiments down before the beginning of the battle, an accident means that they also bring a man, a general handyman, from the early 20th century. He escapes into the mountains, but not before proving he has unique skills at fixing things. On being told about the existence of this man, the SRB machines close down and no longer show a ratio at all. Reinhart believes the solution is to find him and kill him. But Sherikov still needs someone to fix his bomb…

the variable man 3

This is quite a long short story, perhaps novelette length. I’m no scientist, as you know, but I feel the science in this book is a long, long way from being founded on anything realistic. However it sounds pretty good nonetheless and is consistent within the story. The dependence of the future men on computers and technology is contrasted with the man from the past’s ability to work with his hands and his brain, with Dick being clearly in favour of the latter. The two warring sides at a standstill, desperately trying to gain a technological advantage, clearly mirror the real-world cold war and arms race which were just beginning to get seriously under way at the time of writing. There’s a lot – a lot! – of people chasing and shooting and bombing each other with massive destruction all over the place. And that’s just the Terrans! For much of the story the view of how man has developed over the next couple of centuries is pretty bleak, but the ending is much more hopeful – courtesy of the twentieth century visitor, of course.

Philip K Dick
Philip K Dick

For the most part this is a very well written story with an imaginative plot. The ending is signalled a bit if the reader is paying attention, but still works. It dips for me a bit when the blowing-things-up stuff goes a bit over the top – blowing up an entire mountain range to kill one man seems excessive even by 1950s standards. But it’s an enjoyable read overall with the right kind of mix that makes for good sci-fi – a strong speculative future used to look sideways at contemporary society. Even as early in his career as this, Philip K Dick is showing the imagination and storytelling skills that enabled him to become one of the greats of the genre.

Little Green Men Rating: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

(Now, as I said, this is quite a long story, but here’s a link to The Eyes Have It, a delightful little Philip K Dick story that won’t take you five minutes to read – funny, quirky and clever. Is it sci-fi? Well, it’s about aliens…sorta…)

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 33…

Episode 33

 

Now, before I tell you this week’s total I just want to make it clear that I will not tolerate any giggling, is that understood?

111. Yes, that’s right, one hundred and eleven. Or as Bilbo would say, eleventy-one! I’m beginning to understand why he vanished…

You three! What did I say about giggling? Yes, you three at the back – you know who you are! See me after class!

For the better behaved amongst you, here’s just a few of the soon-to-be-reads…

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Crime

 

the childCourtesy of Audible. Half narration, half dramatisation and a stellar castlist for this spooky new crime thriller by Sebastian Fitzek on audio. I’m already about halfway through this and it’s got me totally hooked…

The Blurb saysMy name is Simon. I’m 10 years old. I’m a serial killer. Robert Stern (Rupert Penry-Jones), a successful defense attorney, doesn’t know what lies in store for him when he agrees to meet a new client in a derelict estate on the outskirts of Berlin. Stern is more than surprised, when his old love interest and professional nurse Carina (Emilia Fox) presents him with a ten year old boy as his new client: Simon (Jack Boulter), a terminally ill child, who is convinced he has murdered many men in a previous life.

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Science fiction

 

the early sci-fi of philip k dickCourtesy of NetGalley, some early short stories of one of the great names of sci-fi, Philip K Dick – author of the classic Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep amongst many other things…

The Blurb saysThese gripping stories include “Second Variety”, which stars nasty little death-robots;  “The Crystal Crypt”, an account of a terrifying flight to Mars; “The Defenders”, featuring a self-aware weapon frightful enough to put an end to war; and “The Variable Man”, a tale of a handyman’s misadventures in the future. Additional selections include “Beyond the Door”, the story of the lonely bird inside a cuckoo clock; “Mr. Spaceship”, a fable concerning spacecraft controlled by the human brain; and “Beyond Lies the Wub”, in which intelligence lurks in an unlikely form.

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Factual

augustusAgain courtesy of NetGalley, the story of the ‘first and greatest’ Emperor of Rome…still never managed to conquer Scotland though…

The Blurb saysCaesar Augustus’ story, one of the most riveting in western history, is filled with drama and contradiction, risky gambles and unexpected success. He began as a teenage warlord, whose only claim to power was as the heir of the murdered Julius Caesar. Mark Antony dubbed him “a boy who owes everything to a name,” but in the years to come the youth outmaneuvered all the older and more experienced politicians and was the last man standing in 30 BC. Over the next half century he reinvented himself as a servant of the state who gave Rome peace and stability, and created a new system of government—the Principate or rule of an emperor.

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NB All blurbs taken from NetGalley or Goodreads.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?