Theme: Artificial Intelligence

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? published 1968

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was the first Philip K. Dick book I read and a great introduction to his work. If you’ve seen Blade Runner then you are familiar with the plot: the bounty hunter Rick Deckard must retire the Nexus-6 androids (the most advanced models yet!) who have escaped from Mars and returned to Earth.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
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The most notable missing storyline in the movie adaptation has to do with the animals. Due to nuclear fallout after a world war living animals are incredibly rare. They are seen as status symbols and their cost is recorded in a constantly-referenced catalog called Sydney’s Animal & Fowl. This aspect of the book isn’t even really a subplot but more like the main plot line, since Deckard is hunting the androids for the bounty so he can buy a living animal to replace the electric sheep he has at the beginning of the story.

Otherwise Blade Runner is more or less faithful to the novel with some things necessarily streamlined. The terms “blade runner” and “replicant” are unique to the movie, and the ambiguity at the end about whether Deckard is human or not was invented by Ridley Scott and the screenwriters.

Dick declined to write a novelization of Blade Runner which would have netted him something like $400,000. Instead he got $12,500 for rereleasing Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? under the Blade Runner name and artwork while he completed The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. I imagine anyone expecting the grittiness of the movie probably didn’t know what to make of the Penfield Mood Organ in the first chapter, one of the funniest parts of the book.

Cast of characters

  • Rick Deckard – our protagonist
  • Iran Deckard – Rick’s wife
  • John Isidore – a “special” damaged by the nuclear fallout. Jack Isidore is the name of the protagonist in Confessions of a Crap Artist
  • Wilbur Mercer – figurehead of the Mercerism religion that preaches empathy
  • Buster Friendly – host of a tv and radio show called ‘Buster Friendly and His Friendly Friends’
  • Harry Bryant – SF police inspector
  • Eldon Rosen – head of the Rosen Association which manufactures the Nexus-6
  • Rachel Rosen – a Nexus-6 android
  • Max Polokov – a Nexus-6 posing as a Soviet cop
  • Pris Stratton – a Nexus-6 who is the same model as Rachel Rosen
  • Hannibal Sloat – Isidore’s employer at the ‘Van Ness Pet Hospital’ which actually repairs mechanical animals
  • Luba Luft – a Nexus-6 posing as an opera singer
  • Garland – a Nexus-6 posing as a police inspector
  • Phil Resch – a SF bounty hunter
  • Ray and Irmgard Baty – the last two Nexus-6 androids

Other things to know

  • Voigt-Kampff Scale – the empathy test designed to expose the androids

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Vulcan’s Hammer published 1960

This is a by-the-numbers potboiler about two supercomputers that plot to destroy each other and the humans, who have put too much faith in these machines, who get caught in the middle.

Vulcan's Hammer
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We have a couple of hints at a religious allegory. Managing Director Jason Dill, the only man allowed to communicate with Vulcan 3, resembles a single high priest who is granted permission to talk to God, and Marion Fields, Father Fields’ wise-beyond-her-years daughter, pipes up in class that the Libson Laws dethroned God. Beyond that, not too much to recommend with this one.

Cast of characters

  • William Barris – Unity’s North American director
  • Jason Dill – Unity’s Managing Director. The only human allowed to communicate directly with Vulcan 3
  • Father Fields – one of the founders of the Healers
  • Arthur Pitt – Unity employee who is killed by a mob in the first chapter
  • Rachel Pitt – Arthur Pitt’s widow
  • Marion Fields – nine-year-old daughter of Father Fields
  • Agnes Parker – Marion Fields’ schoolteacher

Other things to know

  • Unity – Earth’s “rational world order” that came into being after the end of the Atomic War in 1992. Eleven divisions, each with its own director
  • Vulcan 3 – a supercomputer built during the war following Vulcan 1 and Vulcan 2 built in the 1970s. Named for the glowing red power lines that reminded the computer’s creator of the Roman god’s forge
  • Libson Laws of 1993 – after the destruction of the war all the world’s nations agreed to give absolute power to the objective and impartial supercomputers. According to Dill: “To subordinate themselves in a realistic manner—not in the idealistic manner of the UN days—to a common supranational authority, for the good of all mankind”
  • The Healers – a vague mystical group in opposition to Unity

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