Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. This has quickly become one of my favourite science fiction novels of all time. It is another book that has been made into a film, but one which I believe is far more striking and poetic on the page than on the screen. The title of the book introduces the idea of consciousness and humanity, and seems to ask not only what androids dream about, but whether or not they dream at all. The narrative deals very consciously with the question of what makes a human being ‘human’, and offers its own theories and perceptions on the principles of empathy and emotion.
The question and definition of humanity is obsessed over by the central character, Rick Deckard, a rogue android bounty hunter living on a post-apocalyptic, highly radioactive Earth. Most of Earth’s inhabitants have left for colonies on other planets after World War Terminus left the world almost uninhabitable, and some who are reluctant to leave are lured with the promise of an android slave. Some of these androids escape servitude to return to earth and freedom, and Decker is paid to hunt them down, perform the empathy, or the Voigt-Kampff test and, if they fail, ‘retire’ them. When he’s not working, he spends his time agonising over his status among his neighbours – a status that is defined in large part by the ability to keep one of earth’s surviving animals alive. Deckard cares for his pet sheep and schedules his mood on his Penfield mood organ, but can’t escape the feeling that something is not quite right in the way that he chooses to live.
The novel takes you into the mind of Deckard and asks you to question how human you really are. A brilliant, thought-provoking read that will undoubtedly stay with you for months after you’ve finished.
Here’s an extract to ensnare your curiosity:
At that moment, when I had the TV sound off, I was in a 382 mood; I had just dialed it. So although I heard the emptiness intellectually, I didn’t feel it. My first reaction consisted of being grateful that we could afford a Penfield mood organ. But then I realized how unhealthy it was, sensing the absence of life, not just in this building but everywhere, and not reacting—do you see? I guess you don’t. But that used to be considered a sign of mental illness; they called it ‘absence of appropriate affect.’ So I left the TV sound off and I sat down at my mood organ and I experimented. And I finally found a setting for despair. So I put it on my schedule for twice a month; I think that’s a reasonable amount of time to feel hopeless about everything, about staying here on Earth after everybody who’s smart has emigrated, don’t you think?