Well finally, I got around to reading Phillip K. Dick’s famous novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ And isn’t it great that there’s a classic novel that’s all about being wonderfully weird that also features a question-mark in the title? Something about that tickles my fancy.
After the crushing disappointment that was A Dance With Dragons, I turned to something smaller, less cumbersome. A co-worker had lent me Dick’s novel, knowing full well that I am an enormous Blade Runner fan. So there it lay, on my bed-side table, waiting to be read. And it didn’t take very long. Two, three days at most. It’s a fairly pacey novel, after all, and all of 193 pages long.
By comparison to Martin’s opus-without-end, Dick’s novel was quite thin on plot, and equally so on character development. Of the main character, Rick Deckard, readers are given at least some details. Appearance. Vague estimation of height. Body type. Psychological make-up. Likewise, Deckard’s wife and Rachel, an android that Deckard becomes involved with, are given time-enough to feel like somewhat fleshed out characters. Everyone else that is introduced throughout the duration of the story makes me think that Dick was approaching this novel with the kind of technique popularised by Hemingway – namely: provide the vaguest of outlines of the characters, and what they vaguely look like, and let the readers fill in the blanks for themselves.
And oh boy is Rick Deckard one philosophical motherfucker. Consistently. Interspersed between all the travel between locations are thoughts on what life must be like as an andy (android), why it’s dangerous to be empathic towards androids, what it means to be a man who hunts androids, and so on. It’s amazing just how much he pontificates in the novel, which is a stark contrast from the movie character, who’s a consummate man of action and few words.
And then there’s the matter of the religious faith that’s brought up in the novel, called Mercerism, which seems to be a faith in which people, via electronic empathy machines, share their feelings with others. And it’s something the andy’s don’t quite seem to know what to do with. And there’s also the matter of strange mood-changing boxes, much like radio-stations, can alter one’s moods. And all of this makes a certain level of sense within the context of the novel, until the leader of Mercerism suddenly just shows up. I’m still not entirely clear on what happened there, as the novel suddenly dips into a somewhat psychedelic state, and focuses on the validity of a religious order. It’s very sudden, and very unexpected, and very certainly strange. Trademark Philip K. Dick, in that regard.
The themes of the book seem to interweave and relate nicely, and because the book doesn’t suffer from an excess amount of padding, it’s possible to see why readers accustomed to large tomes might think “but wait – tell us more, so we can better understand some of these things!”. But Dick wasn’t that kind of guy. One can only wonder what PKD’s fiction would have been like if published during the era when Big Fat Fantasy (BFF) started taking off, in the mid-90’s. Would he have given in to the curse of needing to show more, to world-build to even greater lengths than normal, and to then start pumping out sequels? One can only but wonder.