Review: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - Philip K. Dick, Robert Zelazny

This is my first time reading anything by Philip K. Dick, a classic Science Fiction author.  Being an observant person, I deduced from the title that the book would probably be about androids.  However, aside from that, I didn’t have any idea what to expect.  I know the movie Blade Runner is based on this book, but I’ve never seen it.


I was pleasantly surprised, at least in terms of the story’s entertainment value.  It’s a post-apocalyptic story set on Earth.  The main character, Rick Deckard, is a bounty hunter whose job is to destroy rogue androids who have escaped and possibly killed their owners.  The androids look and act very much like humans and are difficult to detect.  Learning who was and wasn't an android was one of the more interesting aspects of the story, and I also liked the parts that discussed how to prove an android was really an android and what made them different from humans.


The story held my attention well and there was a section around the middle where I was especially riveted.  The story got a little twisty and I wasn’t really sure what was what for a while.  Where it fell apart for me was toward the end.  It got a little weird, with strange occurrences that were really just left up to the reader to try to interpret and make sense out of, and I felt like some things weren’t satisfactorily explained by the end.  At only 250 pages, this book could have used several more pages to fully explore and flesh out the many ideas and plot elements it introduced. 


I usually know what rating I’m going to give a book from the moment I finish it, if not sooner.  With this book, I had a lot more trouble deciding.  I enjoyed most of it at a four-star level, with a brief rise to the five-star level around the middle.  The ending, however, was three-star at the best.  An ending carries a lot of weight with me because it retroactively affects how I see the rest of the book, as well as how I remember it.  I think I’m going to give this book 3.5 stars, but round up to 4 stars on Goodreads.


I have a bunch of additional comments that would spoil the story for anybody who isn’t familiar with it, so the rest of what I have to say will be in spoiler tags.  It’s a bit long, sorry.  This is one of those cases where I thought I only had a couple things to say and then I ended up writing a book.



The main thing I disliked about the ending was all the Mercer stuff.  It just didn’t seem to have any logical explanation.  We learn, not surprisingly, that Mercer was a fraud.  Then, shortly after that, we have two very different characters at separate times and places believe they’re having a personal experience with Mercer.  Given that we know he’s a fraud, I find it unlikely that these were real experiences.  I find it more believable that these characters, given what they had recently been through, each had a mental breakdown and imagined what they experienced.  On the other hand, two people having a similar type of breakdown with a similar type of experience within such a short time span?  That doesn’t seem realistic.  Maybe the author was trying to say that people’s belief in Mercer gave the religion a life of its own, which kind of fits with the way people would get wounded by imaginary rocks when using the empathy machine.  That still seems kind of "out there", though.


It seemed like there was something going on with Dave Holden, Deckard’s fellow bounty-holder.  Deckard never did manage to talk to him, always getting the brush-off when he tried but without any solid explanations.  I can think of several speculative explanations, but I wanted a real answer or at least some sort of closure.  The author kept bringing it up, after all. 


I wanted to know more about what life was really like for the people who had emigrated.  There were hints that all wasn’t as it seemed, but it was difficult to trust any of the people who gave us glimpses into life on the other planets because everybody had their own agenda and the reports were contradictory.


I expected the androids to be the sympathetic characters in this story, as has often been my experience with stories featuring androids.  I didn’t find that to be much the case here.  Admittedly the humans weren’t very sympathetic characters either, but that doesn’t make the androids any less awful. Sometimes they acted in sympathetic ways but then, as the story progressed, we’d see that they had actually just been manipulating the humans they were interacting with the whole time.  Pris was horrible to Isidore, calling him names and treating him like a mindless servant.  The scene where she cut off the spider’s legs one-by-one was just disturbing.  Heck, I think the spider (and the cat!) were the most sympathetic “characters” in the whole book. 


Rachael was full of contradictions.  After Deckard tests her, he’s told she didn’t know she was an android.  Later on in the story, however, it becomes clear that she probably did know because she refers to events that only would have made sense if she knew she was an android, that had to have taken place prior to her meeting Deckard.  I guess it’s possible her memory had been wiped and then was restored immediately after Deckard exposed her, but it would had to have happened fast because I think it was less than a full day between the two times he met her.  Also, why did she kill Deckard’s goat?  If she were a human, we could easily explain it away as revenge, but we’re repeatedly told and shown the androids don’t have empathy, not even for their fellow androids.  What did it accomplish?  There had to have been a specific objective, especially if the company she works for really values living animals as they claim.  On the other hand, the animals at their offices might all have been fake like the owl, so who knows if they really did care about real animals or not.  Maybe she was trying to break him to ensure he would give up bounty hunting, since having sex with him didn't seem to work out the way she'd hoped.


There were just so, so many minor plot threads left up in the air.  They were interesting threads too, which is why I wish they’d been developed better.  On the one hand, I enjoy a book that makes me think.  I don’t necessarily need every little thing spelled out for me throughout the story, but I do like to feel like it all comes together into a pretty clear picture by the time I get to the end.  It felt like the book needed to be twice as long to sufficiently develop all the plot threads the author wanted to include.

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