Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is one of my favorite science fiction classics. It was first published in 1969 and later served as the inspiration for the 1982 movie Blade Runner.
The story begins a few years after World War Terminus (WW III?). Radiation from the war has made most animal species extinct or nearly extinct; privileged people have migrated to Mars; and the remaining people on Earth struggle with declining health and crumbling buildings.
Those left behind are comforted by artificial emotion machines, a collective-empathy religion known as Mercerism, and the joy of owning an expensive animal to show off to the neighbors. Those who can’t afford a real, live, high-priced animal sometimes try to pass off an electric, imitation animal instead.
Enter Rick Deckard, electric sheep owner and android bounty hunter. His day job is to “retire” (kill) six escaped Nexus-6 super androids because they threaten to take over the Earth with their superior intelligence and total lack of empathy. The trouble is Rick has complicated feelings for the sixth android on his termination list, a sexy woman named Pris.
I love that this novel examines what it means to be human. Is it just “empathy” that separates us from machines and most animals? Or are there even more important human qualities? Maybe John Isidore, another character in the book, almost finds out as he tries to aid the fugitive androids. I invite you to read the book and let me know what you think.
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