The movie Blade Runner is one of my favourite movies. I liked it so much that I never re-watched it but the mood and the atmosphere and some of the pictures stayed with me. I always meant to read the book it was based on but always forgot about it. After reading Danielle’s review a while back (here) and Brian’s insightful commentary a few weeks ago (here) I thought I really need to do it now. I also did a much more daring thing, I re-watched the movie. Luckily my courage wasn’t punished. It’s still one of my favourite movies of all time. Maybe I even like it more than before.
Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is set in San Francisco, in a bleak post-war society. Only those who cannot afford to leave Earth and emigrate to Mars, stay on. These are people who have either been too damaged by the fallout, the so-called specials or chickenheads, or those who lack money. Plants and animals have been badly damaged and there are hardly any living animals on Earth anymore. It’s a sign of prosperity if you can buy yourself an animal, any animal, a toad, a sheep, a goat.
Rick Deckard is a cop, or rather a bounty hunter assigned to hunt and “retire” androids who have escaped and turned against humans, starting to kill them. A new generation of androids, the Nexus 6, look and act exactly like humans but they don’t feel like humans that’s why a test which measures the emotional response can detect whether someone is an android or not. What complicates matters is that some androids have received false memories and don’t know that they are androids.
Deckard’s salary isn’t high but he receives a bonus for every retired android. 6 of these Nexus androids have escaped and need to be hunted. Some of them are quite dangerous. He hopes retiring them will allow him to finally buy a real animal and not just an electric sheep.
I thought it was extremely interesting to read this book and I didn’t expect it to be the way it was. To some extent it’s an almost straightforward noir novel, of course with a sci-fi twist, but it still works like many other bounty hunter or PI novels. But that is only one part, the part that was kept for the movie. The other part is more philosophical and at times a bit confusing. The people in the novel can use an empathy box and also use mood altering devices. The empathy box lets them experience what Mercer, a god-like figure, experiences. Empathy is the key word in this novel. What differentiates the humans from the androids is empathy but even the humans lack it and need to be reconnected to the empathy box. At least that’s how I understood it. What makes a human human is another important question. While the humans call destroying androids “retiring”, the androids see it as getting killed. They feel a real horror of death. It is Deckard’s dilemma that he can no longer pretend that he feels as if they were just machines.
Ridley Scott used the noir elements and turned them into something that has been called cyberpunk. His movie is set in a LA that looks like Hong Kong in which it is constantly night and raining. It’s quite a melancholic movie. The hunter and the hunted are both losers, the characters are much more complex than in the book.
I didn’t expect book and movie to be alike but I didn’t expect them to be this different. I absolutely love the movie but I didn’t love the book. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it but it’s pale in comparison. I found it much colder, and it lacked the mood and atmosphere of the film. The androids in the movie seem more human while some of their acts in the book made me despise them.
Brian has written an in-depth analysis in which he focusses on the philosophical aspects of the novel. I’ve read the book for the first time and certainly didn’t get all of it. So if you’d like to know more about those aspects here is the reviw. And here another review from Anna.