Science Fiction is often written off in the Literature world. This book, however, makes a strong case for its inclusion. Most people who know of this book know of it for its movie derivative: Blade Runner. The movie, as is so often true, does the book no justice.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (or DADES from here on) is a book heavy on philosophy. What is it that makes us human? What is the place of religion and philosophy? Philip K. Dick tries to answer these questions through a story intertwining them in the lives of the book’s characters.
The basic premise of the book is that a world war has ruined the earth, killing millions, and forced most of the survivors to relocate to Mars. In an effort to convince more people to migrate, androids built to individual specifications are offered to pilgrims. These androids are like humans in every conceivable way except that they lack empathy. This is then measured through empathic responses, specifically the time to make a response. Androids are unable to react immediately like humans and thus take longer to reproduce a similar, albeit artificial, reaction.
This lack of empathy is framed by the pseudo-philotheology of Mercerism. The gist of Mercerism is that by grasping the handles of an “Empathy Box”, the person is united into a collective conscious, a conscious Jungian collective unconscious as it were. Here they, and all people together, suffer the ascent of Mercer, a Christ-like figure who suffers for bringing the dead back to life. He is also reminiscent of Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus in that he repeats this ascent eternally, finding joy even in the state of suffering.
And that is just to give you a basic idea of the what is going on the book. Like I said, heavy on philosophy. DADES is aptly described as kafkaesque. There are peculiar moments that don’t seem to make sense. But I would contend that they simply need more examining.
Overall, I found the book to be arguing, that even if religion and philosophy aren’t real, that we should not dismiss them out of hand. They have a very real effect of making people more empathetic by communal suffering. It is a truly fascinating book, but one I could not disagree with more. That does not, however, mean I did not enjoy it. There are moments of awe-inspiring prose and wonder within. I highly recommend it.
I give it a 9.0/10.