Thursday, 31 December 2009

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick

One of the most powerful books I’ve read this year, Dick’s science fiction classic is a thought provoking observation on empathy and what it means to be human.

In a future world devastated by nuclear war, Rick Deckard is a licensed bounty hunter employed by the state to ‘retire’ renegade androids; exact breathing replicas almost indistinguishable from human beings, created as slaves for the off-world colonies.

Deckard’s ultimate goal is to own a real animal, now incredibly rare after the World War Terminus, and his mission to kill off half a dozen Nexus-6 androids is inextricably bound to his desire to replace the electric sheep on his rooftop with a living, breathing goat.

With most items now synthesised or modified, even comestibles we currently take for granted are incredibly rare or impossible to obtain. Alcohol features only twice in the book, but the poignancy of a glass of Chablis or bottle of bourbon made before the WWT and the subsequent radioactive dust is almost crushing.

Deckard’s mission almost comes unstuck when he starts to empathise with his quarry and even believes it possible to fall in love with an android. The beautiful Rachel Rosen flies down from Seattle to San Francisco to meet him in a hotel room, bringing a special gift in a paper bag:

She held out the paper bag. “I bought a bottle. Bourbon... It’s worth a fortune, you realize. It’s not synthetic; it’s from before the war, made from genuine mash.”

The effect on Deckard is intoxicating:

He sipped the bourbon; the power of it, the authoritative strong taste and scent, had become almost unfamiliar to him and he had trouble swallowing. Rachel, in contrast, had no difficulty with hers.

But that’s because Rachel, being an android, can feel nothing...

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