Thursday, 3 April 2014

Do Androids Dream of Eletric Sheep? (review)

by Philip K. Dick

A merry little surge of electricity piped by automatic alarm from the mood organ beside his bed awakened Rick Deckard. Surprised — it always surprised him to find himself awake without prior notice — he rose from the bed, stood up in his multicolored pajamas, and stretched. Now, in her bed, his wife Iran opened her gray, unmerry eyes, blinked, then groaned and shut her eyes again.

Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter, that is a police officer whose job is to find androids arrived illegally on Earth and "retire" them, which is an euphemism for killing them.
We're in San Francisco, in a world devastated by World War III, still threatened by radioactive dust in the air, an hostile and almost uninhabited world. With the "special" (human beings seriously damaged by dust) who is not allowed to emigrate, stands still a handful of normal human beings who refuses to leave for the Martian colonies, despite the attractive government incentives.
And then there are the androids, who even knowing they'll face certain death, they flee to Earth, to pursue what has always been their only dream: being human.

As you can guess from the high vote, I liked the book a lot! I had a little of fear, to be honest, because sometimes it happens that when I really loved the film (and I adore Blade Runner!) reading the original paper version is the exception that proves the rule "the book is always better". Instead, this time book draw movie, I must say, with perhaps a slightly leaning more towards liking the book (but maybe after I rewatch the movie I will change my mind again!). But now let's concentrate on the book.

The novel is set in a post apocalyptic future, where the third world war devastated the planet, but where this is still a superior technology, with flying cars, laser guns, and of course androids. As always, it made me feel strange discovering that Dick imagined this dystopian world in 1992! :)
For the duration of the book (which covers a span of about 24 hours) we follow Rick Deckard in his work as a bounty hunter, discovering little by little, this sci-fi world that is everyday life for him.
Among the many technologic devilments, we encounter the first one that struck me a lot: the mood organ. It's an object at once horrifying and fascinatin: it is a gadget that gives the person who uses it a particular mood, chosen by selecting a code number. For example Deckard uses it to wake up, setting it to be happy to get out of bed. Or you can choose the code 888 and get the "desire to watch TV, no matter what's on it." On the one hand it really gives the idea to solve a lot of problems (I will definitely set the shortcut for "to want to study"!), but ... it's a scary thing the thought of an artificial mood!
But this is a minor detail, but presented to us so early gives us some idea of how is structured this world, even in the artificiality of his feelings, the difficulty of resisting a planet that man has destroyed, and now it is in turn driving him away. And shortly after we meet the second "technologic devilment" which, while not essential to the plot, it nevertheless constitutes an important aspect: the electric animals. The radioactive cloud has killed almost all animals, many species are extinct, and a true cat, or sheep, or squirrel are rarities aimed by anyone, a status symbol. Our Deckard has, poor thing, only one electric sheep, but he cure it as was true to prevent the neighbors from discovering the truth: it's really depressing not having even a real animal!

We continue following Deckard's day; he goes to work and the boss gives him an important case: 6 andys to be retired, moreover of a new model, the Nexus-6: this means more intelligent, more similar to humans and, most of all, not yet submitted to typically tests that bounty hunters use to identify the androids. To try to overcome this problem and be more ready than his wounded colleague, Deckard is sent to the base of Rosen factory, where they build the androids. Here he meets Rachel.

But the character I found most interesting was Phil Resch.
The reason this character struck me so much is that I empathize with him immediately,
In fact more than the same character I found interesting the way it has affected my imagination, the strange way he moved my empathy.

Speaking of empathy, it seems this is precisely the main feature that distinguishes humans from androids more evolved: andys have none. They can pretend, but not well enough to pass the test of bounty hunters. And they are not able to use the empathy box: an object through which people can go in the mind of Wilbur Mercier and share his mystical experience, with everyone else on the planet connected at that time. In short, it is a kind of virtual prayer! Mercier is opposed to the most watched television program by all humanity, the Buster Friendly Show, which airs on TV and radio, 23 hours a day, a comedy program that is not ashamed every now and again to make a fool even of mercerism. Why?, J.R. Isidore (a special who works for a fake Animal Clinic that actually makes repairs to electrical animals) asks himself. And, despite he's a chickenhead, he can give a very insightful response: Wilbur Mercier and Buster Friendly are in competition. But for what?
Our minds, Isidore decided. They're fighting for control of our psychic selves; the empathy box on one hand, Buster's guffaws and off-the-cuff jibes on the other.

And among all this, everywhere, ready to get the upper hand, there is the kipple.
No one can win against kipple, except temporarily and maybe in one spot, like in my apartment I've sort of created a stasis between the pressure of kipple and nonkipple, for the time being. But eventually I'll die or go away, and then the kipple will again take over. It's a universal principle operating throughout the universe; the entire universe is moving toward a final state of total, absolute kippleization.
When I studied it at school I remember was called entropy ;), but it's something like that! What a very successful image! I can't help but think about it every time I look at my desk! The kipple will flood us all, eventually it will win!
And once again, into Isidore's reflection we can feel the weight of the inevitable, the impossibility of succeeding, of getting something that's good and lasting.

Once I closed the book I went back again and again looking back, reflecting on the behavior of humans and androids, confusing them with each other, identifying myself. Eventually I have to admit that I've almost always sided with the androids: the theme of humanized robot (or even animalized, in this case) has always been one of my favorite in science fiction!
But the two characters with whom I identified most are Rick Deckard and J.R. Isidore. Both humans. Both in contact with electric beings (anthropomorphous the first, animal the second). Both, whether they like it or not, developed some empathy for these "objects", and that's the reason why I in my turn empathize a lot with them.
In short, this book seems really made for me, the story fits perfectly with my emotions, taking them by the hand, seeing by changes in perspective, managing to give each time the best result for me!

Book Info

Title: Do Androids Dream of Eletric Sheep?
Author: Philip Kindred Dick (official site)
Italian title: Ma gli androidi sognano pecore elettriche?
First publication date: 1968
Publisher: Fanucci
Italian translation: Riccardo Duranti
Pages: 264

I decided to read this book after I heard about it HERE (well, of course also watching Blade Runner).
Bookmarks: I used the right one during the reading; it was made by me: I chose it because androids made me think about Cylons of Battlestar Galactica; the bookmark in the top left, dedicated to the book, it's mine too! :)


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