The importance of Philip Kindred Dick may never be fully assessed or accepted by mainstream analysts of English literature. The reason is simply that Dick's chosen genre, science fiction, has little standing with academic critics. In addition, Dick's fiction can be incredibly difficult to grapple with. As Robert Scholes and Eric S. Rabkin noted in their Science Fiction: History, Science, Vision, "His work is not easy to discuss, since it does not fall neatly into a few books of exceptional achievement and a larger body of lesser works. All his books offer ideas, situations, and passages of considerable interest. None quite achieves that seamless perfection of form that constitutes one form of literary excellence." Nevertheless, Dick is widely regarded as a master of his chosen medium, and through more than one hundred short stories, some fifty novels (mostly science fiction), many essays, and lectures, he has created a cult following around the world. Most people know him as the writer behind the epoch setting 1982 film Blade Runner. Sadly, few outside the science fiction community have read the more complex original work that formed the basis for the film, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
In this novel, Dick furthers his exploration of his staple obsessions: What is reality? What does it mean to be human in a digital, mechanized world? Where, if anywhere, does one draw a line between the value of real and artificial life? Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? takes place on a post-nuclear apocalyptic Earth, where eight androids—artificially constructed humanoid robots—have recently arrived after killing their human masters on Mars. Androids are not allowed on Earth, and Mercer, the religious cult figure of the book, has declared that killers must be killed. The increasing difficulty of distinguishing androids from humans disturbs Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter called in to "retire" the fugitives. In a world where animal life is prized so highly that people buy artificial sheep to tend, why should androids be treated any differently? In examining these questions, the novel provides a brilliant pause for reflection on the meaning of human life and humanity's responsibility for the environment it is so determined to destroy.
Did this raise a question for you?