My writing group has decided to do a book club this year since so many of us have big goals for our Goodreads Challenge. We figured picking a book to read together each month meant we’d at least read 12 books each. Our March book was the science fiction classic Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, which surprisingly, none of us had previously read.
For those who don’t know, this book was the inspiration for the movie Blade Runner. The emphasis there is on “inspiration”–the movie is NOT a direct adaptation at all. The only real correlations are that the main character hunts rogue androids, the world having been decimated by radioactive dust causing those remaining on earth to place high value on animals is the same setting–though in the book it is a much more sparsely populated world–and some of the names are the same. Most of the plot is VERY different between the book and the movie. Honestly, I feel like I would not be missing out if I had gone my whole life without seeing the movie. I know, it’s a classic of the 80s. I know, it’s Harrison Ford. And I love sci-fi movies in almost all forms. This just didn’t do anything for me. And Daryl Hannah’s death scene was ridiculous. Couldn’t take the rest of the movie seriously. But I digress… back to the book.
This was one of those books which I felt I needed to read because it has influenced so many other writers, but honestly, probably wouldn’t have read if not for the peer pressure of having it as a book club assignment. My feelings are very mixed. On the one hand, I appreciated the underlying theme about empathy. I was a bit fascinated by the concept of a dying earth causing people to elevate all life forms to such an extreme, making any form of harm to animals a very serious crime. And empathy is what separates humans from the very realistic androids the main character hunts. He justifies “retiring” the androids (a euphemism for killing them) because they do not have empathy and therefore are not equal to humans.
The way that the belief system–Mercerism–is depicted was confusing at best. People connect to one another, experiencing firsthand the physical trials of a man named Mercer. As he climbs a mountain, slipping on rocks, being attacked by others who throw rocks at them, those attached to their Empathy Boxes experience the same things, even receiving the same physical wounds. They feel the joys and sorrows of all the others who are participating in Empathy at the same time. It’s an interesting concept, but which is kind of left off to the side and which clouds the plot, particularly the ending.
There are so many loose ends and dropped stories in this that it was hard for me to appreciate the story. The character whose name I chose for my post inspiration is a “chickenhead”–someone with low intelligence, affected adversely by the radioactive dust and ineligible for transfer off-world. He is probably the most sympathetic character in the book, but primarily serves just as a POV character so that we know what the big bad androids are doing while the main character is hunting for them.
In short, I’m still glad I read this, because it did make me think about questions of empathy and the value we place on life, I definitely won’t be rereading it. I’m giving it a middle-of-the road rating and moving on with my life. I may visit other books by the author–his writing style wasn’t really the problem here–but I’ll give myself a break first.
Do you have a favorite science fiction novel? Any “classics” that disappointed you? Share with me in the comments!