Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick

Title: Bladerunner (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
Author: Philip K Dick
Publisher: Books On Tape
Rating: WARTY!

This "Book on Tape" (which is actually on 8 CDs!) is read by Scott Brick, who I believe is the same guy who reads the 'Harry Dresden' novels in which I have zero interest, and I have to say up front that I do not like Brick's reading at all. His attitude is completely wrong for this novel, and the boring parts (mostly those concerning John Isidore) are boring to begin with, but are exacerbated dismally by Brick's delivery. He even makes Isidore's initial interaction with Priss (which is somewhat different from the movie version) uninteresting.

Of course when I say the novel differs from the movie, I really mean it the other way around. The novel came first, and never was published as Blade Runner until after the movie of the same name, and the novel is significantly different from the subsequent movie, as I shall highlight. For example, and this hits you right at the start, Rick Deckard is married to Iran, whereas he isn't married at all in the movie. Audio novels have the severe problem that there is no way to tell what spelling the writer is using, particularly for made-up words or for people's names, so I'm using the wikipedia spelling for his wife's name, although Brick's reading makes it sound like 'Irin' or 'Erin'.

The opening section was really amusing as Rick and Iran wake up and argue over what mood to dial in for each of them that day. Unlike in the movie, Rick has a pet electric sheep which he keeps up on the roof. Does his neighbor keep an electric horse? Nay! a real one which bore him a foal - apparently. Deckard is obsessed with animals in the novel which I found to be off-putting, and indeed pointless. You can argue that it;s relevant at the end of the novel, but Dick puts far too much tedium into this animal obsession to make the last portion worth any of it.

After two disks I had to conclude that if I'd read the novel first, I never would have been tempted to go see the movie! Note that when I reference the movie, it's to the original theatrical version, my personal favorite, with the Deckard narration overlaid, although according to wikipedia, there exist several varieties. The one I reviewed for my movie review is actually the director's cut, which I didn't like quite as well as I did the original.

I'm sorry to say that while the first half of disk one was great, the second half was really - and I mean really boring. It was very easy to see why they chose to skip this entire section for the movie. The story does pick up when Deckard gets to the Rosen building and interviews Elden Rosen's niece Rachael Rosen. This part is similar to the movie but there are some differences. The Rosens try to bribe Deckard with an owl they owned as part of a small zoo on the roof of the building (hence the appearance of an owl in the movie version). He is tempted by their offer because they prey on his thinking that his Voigt-Kampff test failed to tell that Rachael was human, but he calls her back for one more question, and he employs a trick which confirms for him that despite what Elden Rosen tells him, Rachael is indeed a Nexus 6 android.

This novel is set in a future where nuclear war has devastated both the planet and the population, The weather forecasts are really radiation forecasts. Most people who can have left for Mars. The ones remaining are largely, but not exclusively, infertile or have sub-par IQs. Why the androids are not employed to clean up this mess is left unexplained. I honestly could not buy into Dick's world. It made no sense to me and was not justified by the story or the plot.

Unlike in the movie, Rachael calls and offers to help Rick track down the Nexus 6's, but he doesn't wait for her, instead heading out to take down one and then pursue another who is, in the novel, not an exotic dancer, but an opera singer. This is where the novel starts penetrating deeply into the surreal! Luba Luft, the singer (not to be conflated with Judy Garland's daughter, Lorna Luft, who is also a singer!) calls a cop, who doesn't believe that Deckard is a bounty hunter. She is the same make and model android as Rachael Rosen

The cop arrests Deckard and takes him to the Hall of Law, but it's a different one from the one where Deckard works. The cops don't believe his story! It's during an interview with an inspector, that Deckard finds out that pretty much the entire operation at this Hall of Law is run by androids. He's a bit of a Mary Sue here. Many of these androids honestly believe they're human. Their bounty hunter, who owns a real pet squirrel and who may himself be an android, sides with Deckard and kills the android inspector. They both head over to the museum to take down Luft, but Deckard ends up buying her a coffee table book featuring Edward Munch, the artist who is on display. No one from Deckard's Hall of Law bothers to come looking for him!

The surreal part is actually related to the questions of why there is an operatic society, why there is a museum of art with original art, why there is a Hall of Law, why the Rosen corporation, plus a corporation in Russia, are situated on Earth in the pollution and radiation producing androids which cannot be used on Earth?! Why is there a fortune being spent on shipping people to Mars, when that same fortune could have been better spent on cleaning up Earth? Surreal indeed! Dick really isn't a very good writer. He's pedantic and tiresome, and his plot is meandering and uninviting. He is also uninventive when it comes to envisioning the future. Dick's future, for example, still has "onion-skin" carbon copies of typewritten documents. There is zero imagination involved in creating this future. Admittedly times and standards have changed since he published his novels and technology has progressed in unimagined ways, but having granted that, Dick doesn't even make an effort. He adds flying cars and laser guns and thinks he's done creating a future world. How much success would he have today trying to publish this same material? The truth is that he'd have less than he originally did, which was precious little.

The novel quickly reached a point where it had nothing at all in common with the movie which was supposedly taken from it! Blade Runner is decidedly not an adaptation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. It's a completely different story! The best you can say is that it was inspired by the novel. I found some of Dick's novel interesting, but it wasn't that interesting, and soon I was jumping sections of the disk because it was quite simply too boring to keep my attention. Some of it made absolutely zero sense.

One problem is not Dick's alone. He shares it with Star Trek for example. He has Deckard "dodge" a laser beam form a gun! There are multiple issues here. Since laser is light, Rick wouldn't be able to see it until it hit his eyes, in which case it would be too late to dodge it! Light travels at, well duhh, light speed! Actually it's fractionally when traveling through a medium such as air, but that's not relevant to my point. So even if you could somehow see it before it arrived, you still would have far too little time to dodge it! The only way you can see a laser beam is if there is, for example, dust or vapor in the room and you're looking at it from the side, in which case you wouldn't need to dodge it! But let's move on.

At one point, there's a discussion about having sex with androids. Given that the word 'android' literally means man-like, wouldn't a man's having a sexual relationship with one be technically a homosexual relationship?! But seriously, what bothers me is Dick's bringing up the point of sexual relations with androids being illegal, but then having androids being created to mimic human physiology - with primary and secondary sex organs! Why? Why would such an android even be legal if sex with them was illegal? Why would any android want sex if it felt nothing? And if they did want sex why would they want it with a human? The fact that Rachael at one point insists that Rick go to bed with her makes no sense in the context of this story, especially given her overall attitude.

In conclusion I have to rate this as a warty tale. It's not very good, it has really boring portions, and the story isn't interesting to me, but at least I learned what happened to Prim's goat...!

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