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Do AndroidsI recently read Ubik for at least the third time, and it has inspired me to read some of the books by Dick that I've never read before. First up was Do Android Dream of Electric Sheep?, which was of course adapted into one of my very favorite movies, Blade Runner. In fact the edition of the book I read was the Del Rey that uses the title Blade Runner and features stills from the movie on the front and back covers.

I already knew that the book was a lot different from the movie, and I even already knew some of the ways in which it was different, including the greater focus on animals and their simulacra (thus the electric sheep of the title), which is passingly alluded to in the movie with the owl in Tyrel's office, and the religion of Mercerism, which is completely absent from the movie. Both of these things are part of the book's theme of empathy, which is something that the androids are supposedly incapable of. As so often in his books, Dick seems ambivalent about what the lack of empathy in the androids means. Deckard, the bounty hunter who makes his living killing androids, suffers empathy almost like a sickness. "Mercer said it was wrong [to kill androids]," he tells his wife, "but I should do it anyhow. Really weird. Sometimes it's better to do something wrong than right."

Dick is constantly embracing contradictions like that, which can make his books feel like they are reeling from one position to another without rhyme or reason. It was hard for me to draw a bead on what this book was about, although the constant thread was the price Deckard paid for his empathy with the androids. The character of Rachael in the book is all over the place, constantly shifting her plans and her attitude toward Deckard. It's dizzying after a while. She's the key figure in Deckard's growing empathy for the androids, but he never falls in love with her. Instead, Rachael uses sex with him as a kind of weapon straight out of film noir: to create a bond between them that will make him incapable of killing any more androids. It doesn't work out quite that way -- pretty much the opposite, in fact -- but he pays a price for his transformation nonetheless, and that price ties into the animal theme. Indeed, in the end Deckard's dream of owning a real animal is itself transformed into an almost religious veneration of an electric one.

I dunno. I confess I had a hard time clearing the movie out of my head so that I could see the book as its own thing. While some of the character names and situations are the same or similar, the only language from the book that made it into the movie was in the scene where Deckard applies the Voight-Kampff test to Rachael and determines that she's an android. The questions and her answers are taken almost word-for-word from the book. What's also interesting, in comparing the book and film, is that there's another bounty hunter in the book who turns out to be an android who doesn't know it, which of course Ridley Scott has tried to retroactively make the case for Deckard himself in the movie. Nothing much is made of that character in the book, although he's vivid while he's on stage.

However, that episode of the book doesn't make a lot of sense in terms of narrative continuity. Suddenly we're introduced to a nest of androids pretending to be a police station. One of them then turns out to be one of the group that escaped from Mars with Roy Baty. So when did the police station get set up, and where did the other androids come from? How was there time for one of them to be implanted with false memories of being a human? The whole thing feels like a random idea that occurred to Dick as he was writing the novel and which he made a haphazard attempt to integrate into the narrative. That's probably one reason why the novel isn't considered a major work. The core of it is quite strong, with the human/android division mirrored in animals/electric animals and in Mercerism, which turns out to be a false (or artificial) religion that still gives spiritual solace for those those who do wrong. "Sometimes it's better to do something wrong than right." The finale in which Deckard in some sense becomes Mercer and discovers the toad in the wild is a powerful synthesis of the various loose thematic threads of the book.

Well, another reading is required to establish it as its own thing, separate from the movie, in my head.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 24th, 2014 04:37 am (UTC)
I had a hard time clearing the movie out of my head so that I could see the book as its own thing.

And people say it doesn't matter what the movie is like, because the book is still on the shelf. Hah.
Mar. 24th, 2014 04:44 am (UTC)
Ah, but just wait until I watch the movie again and have the book arguing with it! Particularly the way Rachael is portrayed, which is actually more complicated in the book. (Whereas I think the Roy Batty of the movie is more interesting than the Roy Baty of the book.)
Mar. 24th, 2014 10:57 pm (UTC)
Did you watch the film "Her"? I found one scene in the film an eery copy of a scene from Blade Runner
Mar. 24th, 2014 10:59 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I did see that, but I guess I didn't notice the scene in question. Which one?
Mar. 25th, 2014 11:13 am (UTC)
Joaquin Phoenix is in his LA apartment, its night and the girl computer program is playing the piano, he is understanding she is a program and he is falling for her....There is a similar scene in Deckard's LA apartment with Rachel playing the piano.
Mar. 25th, 2014 02:56 pm (UTC)
Oh yes, I do remember that scene, now that you mention it, and I think it's a deliberate reference to Blade Runner. An homage. Maybe too on-the-nose, I don't know.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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