You may know of this book because of its popular 1982 film adaptation, Blade Runner. However, if you're unfamiliar with it then you should know that Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is the most well-known and critically-acclaimed of Philip K. Dick's novels. It's a classic science fiction piece that was first published in 1968. Set in post-apocalyptic San Francisco, lifeforms on Earth have been severely impacted by a global nuclear conflict, dubbed "World War Terminus". Unfortunately, most animal species are either endangered or completely extinct due to ongoing radiation poisoning from the fallout of the war. Therefore, owning an animal has become a status symbol that indicates one's position in life as well as a signaling to others of one's empathy toward animals, which is highly revered by the remaining human population. Only the wealthy can afford real animals—the poor have to resort to purchasing artificial (yet realistic-looking) electric animals.
The main plot follows our protagonist Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter who is tasked with killing ("retiring") six androids who have escaped from Mars. These fugitive androids are the brand-new Nexus-6 model, which were recently made illegal on Earth because they went violently rogue while off-world. A subplot follows John Isidore, who possesses a low IQ and is therefore sentenced to live the rest of his lonely life on Earth while more intelligent people are allowed to emigrate to the off-world colonies. Isidore finds a much-needed sense of community with the androids and decides to help them evade their pending retirement. The novel explores the concept of what it is to be human, contrasting that experience with androids who are unable to feel empathy toward others.
The overall story is captivating and entertaining, the characters are fully-baked with believable personalities, and the overall atmosphere is tinged with just the right amount of darkness, paranoia, and confusion. Absent from this book—yet common in PKD's novels—is the use of psychoactive drugs. However, a device called the "Penfield mood organ" is capable of inducing any feeling or emotion in the user such as "a fresh attitude towards one's job", "the desire to watch television, no matter what is on" or "self-accusatory depression". This device is only mentioned in the beginning of the book, but it serves as a worthy replacement for the psychoactive drugs that normally accompany a PKD story.
This was my second reading of this book; I listened to the audiobook version this time around. And I also watched the film Blade Runner recently, so that was fresh in my mind during this reading. The first time I read this book (which was more than ten years ago), I was impressed but admittedly a bit lost and confused. Even though I didn't fully "get it" at the time, I knew that it was considered to be one of PKD's finest books so I ended up rating it with 4/5 stars at that time. However, having a better understanding of the plot this time, I feel that it is worth the full 5 stars. Not only that—I can tell that I'll be re-reading this book over and over again for the rest of my life. That's because even after this most recent reading, I know that I glossed over a fair amount of the story—leaving plenty more in store for when I return. I'd definitely recommend this book to science fiction fans and general fiction fans alike. If you're first getting into PKD, you can't go wrong with this book. And if you're looking for more after you finish this one, you should check out The Man in the High Castle, A Scanner Darkly, Ubik, and my personal favorite—The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Bon voyage, my friends.
5/5 stars. 244 pages.