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shell pebble

Fascinating nightmare

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

I first saw Blade Runner at my small town cinema's sci-fi festival at the age of 15 and I thought it was pretty awesome, but I thought the same about The Matrix around that time, and I've since modified my views...

Anyway, it took me seven years to get around to reading the book that film is based on. Even though it's a short book, you could easily make a three-part epic of it. Dick's stories are breathtakingly dense with ideas. I like his voice, which somehow maintains the mood of continual rain and gloom, yet grips the reader with a sense that something mysterious, vital and important is unfolding.

I recently read some excerpts from Kevin McNamara's essay 'Blade Runner's Post-Industrial Worldspace', which points out the deeply ingrained (not superficial or intentional) racism of Dick's fantasy and also points out its phallocentricity and reinforcing of gender roles. This put me off a bit and made me think more critically about it.

One of the fascinating aspects that is totally absent from the film is the strange religion dreamed up by Dick for this dystopian world. Its prophet, unsurprisingly an old white dude, is accessible via 'empathy box'. Piety is also expressed by caring for animals, which are extremely rare and expensive. Gratuitous, curiously isolated and even inauthentic (or at least suspect) emotion & emotional 'merging' with another is thus valued as transcendental and a goal in itself. While the book's protagonist, Deckard, is a devotee, he is unemotional, like the android 'replicants' he must kill. A seemingly unintelligent, but kind and empathic character, Isidore, is a counterpoint to Deckard, and is constructed, I feel, as lacking masculinity. From the point of view of Mercerism, he is an ideal worshipper. While Deckard is made to feel inadequate in this culture, Dick seems on his side. This strand of the book seems to work as a very creative and subtle denigration of emotion and empathy. However nuanced and open-ended, it's kind of distasteful.