I am almost certain that any sifi fan has heard of the famous movie Blade Runner directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford. It was the movie that really put Scott on the map and has been listed as one of the greatest movies of all time. Well what some may not know is that that movie was based on a novel called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick. Usually I try to always read the book first when there is a movie out there, but in this case I actually saw the movie first. What I was surprised by was how different the two were.
Philip K. Dick is one of the greatest sifi writers ever, period. Eleven of his novels and short stories have been made into movies, that fact alone is insane! What I found most fascinating is that despite his later success he spent most of his life in poverty. He has won numerous awards for his work including Hugo Awards, Nebula Awards, there is even an award named after him. If they name an award after you in your field you must have done something right. Despite his success I have not read many of his works, other than A Scanner Darkly, but I have seen a few of the movies based on his stories. Sadly Dick passed away in 1982 from a stroke, he was only 53. His works have gone on to influence many writers and many different adaptations based on his stories.
The story is set in a dystopian future after a nuclear war has devastated most of the planet. Nearly all animals have been killed due to the high radiation dust that is now floating around. Because of this to own a real live animal is a sign of power and wealth. Also, because of the war most people now have relocated to Mars where there is a colony set up. On this colony androids also live there to help humans with their needs. Oftentimes these androids kill their masters on Mars and escape back to Earth, which is highly illegal. On Earth there are bounty hunters that hunt down these android and “retire” them. Rick Deckard is one of these bounty hunters. The story follows him as he is responsible for tracking down and retiring a group of escaped androids as well as trying to find meaning in his life.
This is an extremely famous novel, and that is putting it lightly. If you are a sifi fan and have not read this then you cannot in all good consciousness call yourself a true fan. It is like one of the staples of sifi literature. With all that being said, I was not overly impressed with the book. Which is about how I felt about the movie. I know, I know I am a moron and a terrible person. There was just something about it that did not do it for me, I am by no means saying that it was bad in any way. Just that I am not sure about all the hype. I honestly wonder if that exact same novel was published today if it would get as much hype. That is something that is hard to replicate across generations. We have movies and such that explore exotic worlds and extreme ideas. When this book was published I am sure that there was next to nothing else out there like it. That is my theory at least.
As I mentioned above I actually saw the movie based on this book first, which honestly did not really make a difference. I have only read a hand full of books that were later turned into movies and saw the movie as well. This is one of the few that really did not stay that close to the book plot. That is one thing I thought was a little strange, but given the plot in the book, I do not think that it would have made the great movie that it did. The book focuses more on the idea of fake and or electric animals and the social aspect of owning them. While Deckard is still a cop that hunts down escaped androids, I felt the animal aspect was kind of like dual plot with this job. The movie barely touches on this aspect other than making a few passing comments about it. (Or at least that is what I remember, it has been a while since I have seen it.) I just found it interesting that the plots were so different, and both were still good.
I did like how easy the book was to read. I don’t know how Dick did it other than just being a badass writer, but the book is very easy to read while still exploring futuristic technology and ideas. Sometimes books like this are hard to read because of all the new tech that is discussed, the author has to come up with new words and explain or use context clues to let the reader know what is going on. Dick somehow uses very little of either and still is able to build a detailed future world and explain weird tech. Perhaps the book is easy to read because he does not make the tech a focal point of the story? I am not sure, regardless the book was a dream to read.
The world Dick builds is also very real. For me I think part of this is because I saw the movie first, but still the imagery he uses is very real. In doing so he does not bog down the reader with a ton of detail, which is great. Nothing drives me crazier than taking a page or more to describe in explicit detail what the dust in the air looks like.
Perhaps the most interesting points discussed in the book are the underlying philosophical ideals and the religion of the future called Mercerism, which I totally did not understand. There were plenty of times that I felt sorry for the androids. In the beginning of the story they did not seem to stir any emotion while Deckard did his job, but by the end of the book my sentiment had changed. It is also interesting to see how Deckard changes as the story goes on.
All in all this was a strange book and not at all what I expected. I thought it would follow more closely the movie, so I was not expecting the story the book offered. Despite the difference it was still a good read one that is very interesting. If you have not read this one you certainly should, then watch the movie as well.