Philip K Dick’s name gained notoriety with a string of Hollywood films, but none of them have done justice to the dark and paranoid worlds created in his books.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (filmed as Blade Runner in 1982) is Dick at his best, combining so many of his favourite themes—post-nuclear war, religion, identity, technology and dis-utopia.
It is set in the near future, on an Earth that has suffered a nuclear war but at a high cost. This Earth is dying, everywhere is surrounded by “kibble” (rotting bomb debris), all the animals have died from radiation, people wear lead-lined underwear and anyone successful has emigrated to Mars or beyond.
In this world is Dekker, a bounty hunter who is hunting down “replicants” (more artificial copies of humans then robots) who have illegally returned to Earth.
Using the structure of a Private Investigator thriller, Dick asks an unsettling question: how do you cope in a world where you can’t tell the real humans from the copies?
Many of Dick’s novels have good premises but the plot often doesn’t follow it through, leaving the reader disappointed. With Do Androids… there is no disappointment, the plot lives up to all of the promise of its premise. It has a dark, twisting plot with a truly unsettling ending. The characters here are dark too; the people are worn down by their dying world, they are not the bright and glamorous people of so many science fiction films. When reading this novel, don’t think of the film Blade Runner, they have so little in common.
If you’ve never read any of Philip K Dick’s novels then this is an excellent entry into his dark and dis-utopian world; if you’ve encountered him before then this novel is where so many of his most unsettling themes come together.