Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep Summary

Philip K. Dick

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep Summary

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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) by Philip K. Dick is the novel on which the Blade Runner film of 1982 is originally based. The novel takes place in a post-apocalyptic future (originally 1992, changed to 2021 in later editions) brought on by “World War Terminus.” Nuclear fallout has caused radioactive dust to descend over Earth’s atmosphere, and many humans have been relocated to colonies on other planets at the active encouragement of the government. The government compensates these colonists with free personal androids, which look identical to humans, but are meant to behave as servants. Due to radioactivity, many species on earth have died out, and animal life in particular becomes an extremely valuable commodity and status symbol. Only the upper classes can afford real animals, but the cultural significance of “empathy” toward life means that even poorer people participate by keeping realistic-looking electronic animals.

The novel’s protagonist is a bounty hunter by the name of Rick Deckard who takes a job working with the San Francisco police department in order to “retire” six rogue androids who escaped from Mars to Earth. His primary motivation in taking the job is to earn enough money in order to afford a real animal, instead of the electronic black sheep he and his wife currently have. Deckard suggests that by owning a real animal, humans are able to express empathy, which is the one emotion which cannot be replicated by androids.

In order to learn about the type of androids he is seeking, he visits the facility where they are produced, the Rosen Association. There he meets Rachel Rosen, and administers the Voigt-Kampff test which is designed to separate humans from androids with a series of questions designed to evoke empathetic responses. Rachel does not pass the test, but her “uncle” Eldon assures Rick that she is really human. Rick tests her again, and again she does not pass and it is clear that Rachel is indeed an android. Though Rachel and Eldon attempt to bride Rick with expensive animals he leaves the facility, knowing that the test will work to help him find the rogue androids and stop him from killing a human by mistake.

Rick finds and retires the first android, but is arrested when he confronts the second android, posing as opera singer Luba Luft. He knows nothing of the police department that has taken him in, but soon deduces the arresting officer to be an android. Deckard realizes that the whole organization in an android police department that exists to track human activity. With the help of fellow bounty hunter Phil Resch, Rick kills the android officer and the two leave to track down Luft. However, when they find her Resch kills her in cold blood, leading Rick to doubt his humanity and administer the test. The result is that Resch is human, but that he has no empathy for androids which deeply disturbs Rick.

Parallel to these events is the story of John Isidore, a “chickenhead,” or mentally disabled person fit only for menial labor on Earth. He meets and befriends a young woman, Pris, who has moved into his apartment building, insisting on helping her clean and cooking her dinner. It is revealed that Pris is an android and when two of her friends (also androids) come to John’s to visit they collectively decide it may be safest for Pris to live with John.

Meanwhile, Rick buys a goat with his earnings, but also retires from hunting androids before finishing the job because of his feelings of empathy toward them. Following this Rick has a religious experience by “fusing” with Mercer, the main figure in a new religion designed to elicit empathy by having practitioners virtually accompany the man to his death. Mercer insists that Rick must continue to hunt the androids even though it is wrong. Just then Rick receives a call that the last three androids have been located and he must retire them tonight. He contacts Rachel Rosen for help and has sex with her in a hotel where she reveals that one of the androids looks exactly like her and that the whole experience has been engineered by Rosen Association so he would respond with empathy toward the androids and be unable to kill them.

When Deckard arrives at John’s apartment it is as Rachel described and there is an android that looks just like her, but Rick realizes they plan to use his empathetic response toward them in order to kill him. He retires all three. His wife, Iran, meets him as he is leaving the scene and tells him their goat is dead, having been thrown out of a window by Rachel Rosen as revenge. Feeling defeated, Rick flies to California where he begins climbing a hill while being pelted by falling rocks. He realizes this experience mirrors Mercer’s and experiences a true fusion with him, and learns the true meaning of empathy without selfish motivations. When leaving Deckard stumbles across a toad and believing it to be a real animal brings it home to Iran. They discover that the toad is in fact mechanical, but decide to care for it as if it is real anyway.