A very different focus from the movie it inspired.
During a much needed two weeks ‘off grid’ on the French coast I found ample time to work through a number of books. The chance to spend a prolonged period lost in the pages of a novel rather than the odd half an hour here and there I tend to scrape together on my daily commute goes a long way towards replenishing the soul, add the sea air, great food and wine and I’m conjuring fantasies of not returning to the urban sprawl of London.
This wonderful environment and way of life comes in stark contrast to the world described by Philip K Dick in the classic science fiction novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, the novel that would become an equally classic movie from the legendary director Ridley Scott, Blade Runner. In fact it was a recent revisitation to the film that inspired the purchase of it’s source material, a long overdue purchase in reality.
Written in 1968 Philip K Dick exhibits incredible foresight in his vision of a future set twenty five years ahead of him at the time of completion, and though he may have set his post-war tale rather prematurely in terms of what is actually available, now, technologically, many of his predictions are in the early stages of becoming a reality. A constant stream of television, mood altering equipment and the term android, which we hear with regularity in reference to the phone operating system these days, but in his traditional use of the word meaning an artificial being.
A married man Rick Deckard exists in a dust covered world ravaged by World War Terminus where the only remaining people are the ‘specials’, the ‘chicken-heads’ or those like Deckard whose employment dictates that they do not move to one of the off world colonies. Deckard is a bounty hunter and his job is to retire ‘Andys’ that escape the colonies and head to Earth seeking a life away from servitude, their primary reason for existence.
It is perhaps unfair to compare the book to the film (if anything it should be the other way around) however it seems worth highlighting aspects where the two take a different focus. Dick drills far deeper into the personalities and relationships of his characters, way beyond those represented in the film where we find our protagonist, portrayed by Harrison Ford, as a very sombre and lonesome character. However his empathy towards his targets and especially his first encounter with the new Nexus 6 (brain unit) equipped model is similar. Many of he characters made their way from the pages to the screen though not necessarily with the same attributes.
I had hoped that any reference to the books title would be more subtle than I actually found it to be, an electric sheep being a very real part of the story rather than the whimsical meaning I had always imagined.
Having enjoyed Blade Runner many times over the years I had prepared myself to be let down by the source material. Not so. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? is deserving of it’s classic status. Philip K Dick presents an absorbing world with complicated relationships and dilemma throughout. Although many of the plot points are easy to anticipate they remain enjoyable and the differences between the, now very familiar, film adaptation and those in the pages of the book go a long way to making this a fantastic read.
A classic science fiction novel for good reason, one of the best.
It’s worth noting that Philip K Dick’s work has extended further onto the big screen in the form of Total Recall and Minority Report.