Books on GIF #59 — 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?' by Philip K. Dick
|Books on GIF||Oct 22, 2017|
This Sunday's book is 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?' by Philip K. Dick.
So I saw 'Blade Runner 2049' with Heather this week, and it inspired me to deviate from my schedule and do a quick review of the sci-fi classic that inspired the original 'Blade Runner' and its sequel. Real fast about the movie: It was slowly paced, and it kinda didn't make any sense, but I didn't hate it. It was so well shot that I'd say it was beautiful. Particularly Ryan Gosling's coat. I mean, look at this thing:
Give that coat the Oscar right now! The original 'Blade Runner' is a beautiful movie, too, with its darkness, its Vangelis soundtrack and its overall weirdness. I first saw it when Ridley Scott's 'final cut' of the film was shown at the Ziegfeld Theater in Midtown a decade ago. I was completely blown away. I fell in love with this world:
And, of course, the film made me want to read the book it was based on. But when I picked up and read 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?' years later, I was like:
Philip K. Dick wrote many great sci-fi novels in his life, but this is not one of them. Not even close. And if you are like I was, hoping for 'Blade Runner' in book form, you're going to be disappointed. The film is loosely — and I mean looooooooosely — based on the book. So much so, they are best understood as being completely distinct and separate. Still, they do share Deckard:
And he's a bounty hunter/cop in San Francisco (not the movie's Los Angeles) who chases down rogue android people, called 'replicants,' and kills them. It's called 'retirement.' But his job title is not 'Blade Runner.' That term never appears in the book. (The story behind where that name came from is fascinating, and you can read all about it here.) He's a civil servant-type who hunts the replicants to earn enough money so he can buy his wife a real sheep, or something, because after some kind of nuclear war the world is wrecked, and there are few real animals around. Everyone has electric sheep, or another android creature, and real pets are an expensive status symbol. My memory might be faulty (a running motif in the 'Blade Runner' cinematic world), but I don't recall any of the 'is Deckard a replicant?' business in the book. Also missing is the philosophical weirdness of Roy Batty, though he's here, and there's none of the interesting love story with Rachael:
'Blade Runner' is one of the very rare instances where the movie is better than the book. And my guess is that because so many people liked the movie, the mediocre book was retroactively deemed a classic. And that, in turn, lifted other so-so works from the prolific Dick into the realm of film and TV. I was really surprised when I heard 'The Man in the High Castle' was being turned into a TV show because I thought the book was just OK. 'A Scanner Darkly' was fine, but did it deserve to be a film? 'A Maze of Death' is really good: Where's it's movie? 'Ubik,' which is my favorite Dick novel, is a real gem, too, and you should all read it. But I digress. Dick's books are always bleak and brim with righteous commentary about how we treat the planet and how governments work, while also tapping into essential questions about what it means to be human. I mean, all Roy and the replicants want to know is what human beings have searched the heavens for since forever: Who made us? Why? And how much time do we have left? What's more human than that? Scott understood this, made it the central conflict of the movie, and explored it with profundity and elegance. Dick gives these questions a lighter touch, which is a shame. His very real chance to offer readers deeper meaning just disappears, like tears in rain.
'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?' by Philip K. Dick was originally published in 1968. It was published by Gollancz in 2011. 193 pages.
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What's next? In the coming weeks Books on GIF will review 'The God of Small Things' by Arundhati Roy, 'The Power' by Naomi Alderman and 'The Shipping News' by Annie Proulx, among others.
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* Thanks especially to Donna for copy editing this review!