Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

posted Apr 29, 2012, 11:17 AM by Joshua M. Patton
This past semester, I was in Thora Brylowe's Enlightenment to Revolution class, which focuses on the literature of the eighteenth century. Outside of Twain and Edgar Allan Poe, I hadn't read and had little use for literature written prior to the twentieth century. However, after this course I have a new appreciation for the works Richardson, Johnson, Walpole, Austen, among others. After our final class, standing outside of the Cathedral of Learning (which had just experienced what may have been the final bomb threat in the deluge of bomb threats Pitt experienced this semester), Dr. Brylowe suggested that the work of Philip K. Dick dealt with much of the same themes as the work we had been reading in class.  On the strength of her recommendation, I read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

While this book was not exactly the work Dr. Brylowe was referring to, I have been meaning to read this book for some time.  Blade Runner has a special place in my heart. It was the first R-rated movie I ever saw (and the first pair of breasts I ever saw on-screen as well - the lovely Joanna Cassady).  Yet, the book is vastly different than the film.

The most interesting difference, I think, is the inclusion of the new religion Mercerism. Humans place their hands on an empathy box and are joined with the thoughts of others. When Deckard and his wife purchase a live goat, she wants to use the empathy box to share their joy with the others. Deckard doesn't want to do this because it would mean that they would lose the feeling of joy because the emotions of the others would influence them as well.  Still, he takes the handles and has a conversation with the image of Mercer (who is revealed to be an actor on a soundstage).  Later, Mercer appears to Deckard before he retires the final androids and after an android kills his goat, flees to the radioactive sand dunes in Oregon to act out Mercer's eternal climb up a mountain.  

Of course, Mercerism and the empathy boxes are technology, but since they are never explained they might as well be magic. Mercerism employs empathy, something the androids lack, and as much as it is a religion it is also an example of how the humans are different from the androids. Deckard, through empathy for the androids and the joining of his consciousness to the other Mercerites, is clearly a human in this story. Whereas Ridley Scott, the director of Blade Runner, has said that he imagined that Deckard was in fact an android. This changes the story considerably and frankly I think that Deckard as a human makes both stories much more resonant.  An excellent book overall.