1 September, 2013, Do Androids Dream Revelations

Blade Runner is one of those movies I liked when I was younger. I mean I used to watch it all the time when it was on cable, and it seemed to be on all the time. Don't know how that happened. It was just on, and I would watch it. Found it fascinating or something. And, it was the old voice-over narration version. It was pan-and-scan, too, but everything was pan-and-scan back in those days. Didn't matter. It was on, and I would watch it. Alternate versions didn't exist yet. In fact, the first time I ever saw Blade Runner in a movie theater was when the first alternate version did the rounds. I used to love this movie. Can't stand it now. Blade Runner is long and boring and pretentious as hell. Don't know what I used to see in it. Don't understand what happened. Age makes fools of us all or something.

Anyway, back in the day when I loved that movie, I hunted down the book, which was easy at the time. The publisher had conveniently produced an edition of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep that had the words Blade Runner emblazoned across the cover. The actual title of the book having been relegated to a tiny italic footnote, which I found vaguely interesting but otherwise didn't care. Never got past the first chapter. No, really, I tried to read it. I really did, but it was just so freaking different from the movie. And just to point this out to anybody who might be interested, it is not one of Philip K. Dick's better books.

I did finally get through it. Years later, I finally did, and it wasn't that old movie tie-in paperback with Harrison Ford and Sean Young and whoever else on the cover. It was a trade paperback of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Blade Runner was nowhere to be seen. Now, I'm trying to remember if this was about the time the first alternate edit of the movie had come out, but that's hardly important. I think I finally read Do Androids Dream before that, but doesn't really matter, as I said.

I found the book highly entertaining. Once I got past that first couple of chapters, anyway. The book really dives into mind-games as various androids try to convince our protagonist android hunting cop that they aren't really androids or that he's crazy or whatever particular tactic that android was desperately using to keep from being decommissioned in rather spectacularly violent ways. I would even tell people that Do Androids Dream was well worth reading if only you could survive the first couple of chapters. I knew more than one person who had crashed into the book exactly the same way I had. Nobody could get past the take a pill to make you enthusiastic to take a pill argument that more-or-less starts the book. It's been a few years since I last read it. I'm going on half-remembered memories here.

I've read a lot more PKD since then, and he really has turned out to be one of my favorite authors if not my favorite author. There's just a wildness to his writing as if he simply jotted down the first thing to come to mind and never gave a moments thought to polishing or editing, which I understand tended to be the case. Normally, this is a recipe for disaster, but PKD really made it work. There's just a wonderfully pulp glee to his writing that just works. I don't know how he made it work, but he did. Utterly fearless, I tell you. If I tried to ape his style, it would just be crass and terrible. Pale imitation of the worst kind of direct-to-video movie writing. Made for TV, as I've been known to describe various instances of bad writing.

None of which is my point, and believe it or not, I've actually got a point to make. This is—in fact—another one of my zeitgeist rants. I've got a few of these buried in my egotistically delusional innards, and I'm going to say my piece. The first one was the nobody understands Macbeth but me rant, which I posted first mainly because it seemed relevant since I had just published a novel that was kind-of sort-of based on the plot of Macbeth. Posting my Macbeth rant is kind-of what finally broke the camels back, as it were, and inspired me to finally stop stewing in my head and inflict my little egomaniacal delusions on the rest of an indifferent and unconcerned world.

I actually find it rather hard to listen to people talk about the movie Blade Runner or even the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep without wanting to scream. No, really, just mention of the underlying themes of the movie or book makes me want to go freaking Mister Hyde all over the landscape and make unreasonable demands of people such as to ask them if they've even bothered to actually read the book. The theme is just bloody obvious to me. Okay, I shouldn't be so mean. Philip K. Dick was not an overly focused author. He just kind-of splattered all over the landscape. You know the saying that most people give about trying to write? They get all psyched to start, and all of the ideas just pile up in their head kind of like a gigantic log-jam or spectacular eighty-some odd car crash. Tires and body parts flying. Yeah, see, one of the big secrets to writing is simply beating the horde into submission. It's not the only secret—sure—but it is a doozy. PKD, on the other hand, never had that problem. Ideas flew like wildfire whether they made sense or not so to talk about the theme or main theme of a Philip K. Dick book as if it was the point of the undertaking is rather insulting to the author. Having said all of that, Do Androids Dream is that rather special case where I'm convinced that most people just drift off into their own little world that has absolutely nothing to do with what may have been rampaging around in the poor author's sick deluded little mind.

Seriously, what do most people say about Blade Runner? Why it is all about where the soul ends and the machine begins. Can not a machine have thoughts and feelings and be treated better than an appliance? Professor Farnsworth on Futurama, after all, once taught the toaster to feel love. It's all about machines becoming real. Treating machines with dignity and respect. And who's to say what is what and who is who. All very trippy and mind-blowing. We've all had our dose of profoundity for the day.

And all I've got to add is You've never read the freaking book, have you?

It's not about machines someday becoming a real boy. That's completely missing the point, and you've got to start with that first couple of chapters that nobody can stand. That first little bit that causes far too many people to throw the book down as utter crap and never pick it up again. Or worse, skip the first couple of chapters to get to the good stuff. To understand Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, you have to start with the despairing existential angst that fires off the novel.

The fear that drives Do Androids Dream is that we're despoiling the environment and damaging the Earth so much with our filth and pollution that we will render the place uninhabitable. People are obsessed with nature in Do Androids Dream. They live in block houses. They spend their lives in giant shared apartment complexes without a shred of green growing things except for the tiny plots of garden they feel compelled to grow. Society has become so obsessed that people must tend animals. They must care for dogs or mice or horses or sheep. Something. Anything. The societal pressure is so strong and the shame so great that they will actually cheat. If their animals die from malnutrition or the radiation that is slowly poisoning the world, they get fake animals. They purchase androids so that the neighbors will never know they failed in their obligation to care for the world in its final dying days.

And, that's it. That's the underlying current driving the heart of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. The soul crushing idea that we have damaged and despoiled the Earth so badly that the only thing to survive will be the artificial. Machines will survive. Androids, in mockery of man, will inherit the Earth. People will become so alienated from each other and so desensitized to the world around them that they will become indistinguishable from the unfeeling and uncaring androids they created.

This is the one detail that Blade Runner almost got right. The book stated that Deckard was becoming desensitized to “retiring” androids to the point that other people couldn't tell if he was an androids himself. In fact, Deckard of Do Androids Dream became so concerned about it that he had a fellow cop help him self-administer the Voight-Kampff test. The movie, or the director of the movie anyway, flat out said that Deckard was an android.

Completely and utterly missing the point.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is not about machines gaining humanity. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is about humans becoming machines.

copyright © 2013 by keith d. jones – all rights reserved