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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (retrospectively titled Blade Runner: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? in some later printings) is a 1968 dystopian science fiction novel by American writer Philip K. Dick. It is set in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco, where Earth's life has been greatly damaged by a nuclear global war, leaving most animal species endangered or extinct. The main plot follows Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter who has to "retire" (i.e. kill) six escaped Nexus-6 model androids, while a secondary plot follows John Isidore, a man of sub-par IQ who aids the fugitive androids.

The book served as the basis for the 1982 film Blade Runner and, even though some aspects of the novel were changed, many elements and themes from it were used in the film's 2017 sequel Blade Runner 2049.


Background and setting

Following a devastating global war in what was then the near future the Earth's radioactively polluted atmosphere leads the United Nations to encourage mass emigrations to off-world colonies to preserve humanity's genetic integrity. Moving away from Earth comes with the incentive of free personal androids: robot servants identical to humans. The Rosen Association manufactures the androids on a colony on Mars, but some androids rebel and escape to Earth, where they hope to remain undetected. American and Soviet police departments remain vigilant and keep android bounty-hunting officers on duty.

On Earth, owning real live animals has become a fashionable status symbol, both because mass extinctions have made authentic animals rare and because of the accompanying cultural push for greater empathy. Poor people can only afford realistic-looking robot imitations of live animals. Rick Deckard, the novel's protagonist, for example, owns an electric black-faced sheep. The trend of increased empathy has coincidentally motivated a new technology-based religion called Mercerism, which uses "empathy boxes" to link users simultaneously to a virtual reality of collective suffering, centered on a martyr-like character, Wilbur Mercer, who eternally climbs up a hill while being hit with crashing stones. Acquiring high-status animal pets and linking in to empathy boxes appear to be the only two ways characters in the story strive for existential fulfilment.

Plot summary

Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter for the San Francisco Police Department, is assigned to "retire" (kill) six androids of the new Nexus-6 model which have recently escaped from Mars and traveled to Earth. These androids are made of organic matter so similar to a human's that only a "bone marrow analysis" can prove the difference, making them almost impossible to distinguish from real people. The analysis is painful and lengthy, and is in most cases posthumous. Deckard hopes this mission will earn him enough money to buy a live animal to replace his lone electric sheep to comfort his depressed wife Iran. Deckard visits the Rosen Association's headquarters in Seattle to confirm the accuracy of the latest empathy test meant to identify incognito androids. Deckard suspects the test may not be capable of distinguishing the Nexus-6 models from genuine human beings, and it appears to give a false positive on his host in Seattle, Rachael Rosen, meaning the police have potentially been executing human beings. The Rosen Association attempts to blackmail Deckard to get him to drop the case, but Deckard retests Rachael and determines that Rachael is, indeed, an android, which she ultimately admits.

Deckard meets a Soviet police contact who turns out to be one of the Nexus-6 renegades in disguise. Deckard kills the android, then flies off to kill his next target, an android living in disguise as an opera singer. Meeting her backstage, Deckard attempts to administer the empathy test, but she calls the police. Failing to recognize Deckard as a bounty hunter, the cops arrest and detain him at a police station he has never heard of, filled with officers whom he is surprised to have never met. An official named Garland accuses Deckard of being an android with implanted memories. Garland, pointing a gun at Deckard, reveals that the entire station is a sham, claiming that both he and Phil Resch, the station's resident bounty hunter, are androids. Resch shoots Garland in the head, escaping with Deckard back to the opera singer, whom Resch kills in cold blood when she implies that he may be an android. Desperate to know the truth, Resch asks Deckard to administer the empathy test on him, which confirms that he is human. Deckard then tests himself, confirming that he is human but has a sense of empathy for certain androids.

Deckard is now able to buy his wife Iran an authentic Nubian goat with his commission. Later, his supervisor insists that he visit an abandoned apartment building where the three remaining android fugitives are assumed to be hiding. Experiencing a vision of the prophet-like Mercer telling him to proceed, despite the immorality of the mission, Deckard calls on Rachael again since her knowledge of android psychology may aid his investigation. Rachael declines to help, but reluctantly agrees to meet Deckard at a hotel in exchange for him abandoning the case. At the hotel, she reveals that one of the fugitive androids is the same model as her, meaning that he will have to kill an android that looks like her. Despite having initial doubts by Rachael, she and Deckard end up having sex, after which they confess their love for one another. Rachael reveals she has slept with many bounty hunters, having been programmed to do so in order to dissuade them from their missions. Deckard threatens to kill her but ultimately holds back and leaves for the abandoned apartment building.

The three remaining android fugitives plan to outwit Deckard. The building's only other inhabitant, John R. Isidore, a radioactively damaged and intellectually below-average human, attempts to befriend them. He is shocked when they callously torture and mutilate a rare spider he discovers. They all watch a television program which presents definitive evidence that the entire theology of Mercerism is a hoax. Deckard enters the building, experiencing strange, supernatural premonitions of Mercer notifying him of an ambush. When the androids attack him first, Deckard is legally justified as he kills all three without testing them beforehand. Isidore is devastated and Deckard is rewarded for a record number of Nexus-6 kills in a day. Returning home, Deckard finds Iran grieving because, while he was away, Rachael stopped by and killed their goat.

Deckard travels to an uninhabited, obliterated region of Oregon to reflect. He climbs a hill and is hit by falling rocks, realizing this is an experience eerily similar to Mercer's martyrdom. He stumbles upon what he thinks is a real toad (an animal thought to be extinct) but, when he returns home with it, he is crestfallen when Iran discovers it merely is a robot. As he goes to sleep, she prepares to care for the electric toad anyway.

Influence and inspiration

Dick intentionally imitates noir fiction styles of scene delivery, a hard-boiled investigator dealing coldly with a brutal world full of corruption and stupidity.[1] Another influence on Dick was author Theodore Sturgeon, writer of More Than Human, a surrealistic story of humanity broken into different tiers, one controlling another through telepathic means. A few years after the publication of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the author spoke about man's animate creations in a famous 1972 speech: "The Android and the Human":

Our environment – and I mean our man-made world of machines, artificial constructs, computers, electronic systems, interlinking homeostatic components – all of this is in fact beginning more and more to possess what the earnest psychologists fear the primitive sees in his environment: animation. In a very real sense our environment is becoming alive, or at least quasi-alive, and in ways specifically and fundamentally analogous to ourselves... Rather than learning about ourselves by studying our constructs, perhaps we should make the attempt to comprehend what our constructs are up to by looking into what we ourselves are up to[2]

In the novel, the android antagonists are indeed more human than the human protagonist, intentionally. They are a mirror held up to human action, contrasted with a culture losing its own humanity.[3]


Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? influenced generations of science fiction writers, becoming a founding document of the new wave science fiction movement as well as a basic model for its cyberpunk heirs. It influenced other genres such as scifi-based metal from artists including Rob Zombie and Powerman 5000.



Hampton Fancher and David Peoples wrote a loose cinematic adaptation that became the film Blade Runner, released in 1982, featuring several of the novel's characters. It was directed by Ridley Scott. Following the international success of the film, the title Blade Runner was adopted for some later editions of the novel, although the term itself was not used in the original.[4] This movie led to a sequel in 2017 entitled Blade Runner 2049 which retains many themes of the novel.


As part of their Dangerous Visions dystopia series in 2014, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a two-part adaptation of the novel. It was produced and directed by Sasha Yevtushenko from an adaption by Jonathan Holloway. It stars James Purefoy as Rick Deckard and Jessica Raine as Rachael Rosen.[5] The episodes were originally broadcast on Sunday 15 June and 22 June 2014.


The novel has been released in audiobook form at least twice. A version was released in 1994 that featured Matthew Modine and Calista Flockhart.

A new audiobook version was released in 2007 by Random House Audio to coincide with the release of Blade Runner: The Final Cut. This version, read by Scott Brick, is unabridged and runs approximately 9.5 hours over eight CDs. This version is a tie-in, using the Blade Runner: The Final Cut film poster and Blade Runner title.[6]


A stage adaptation of the book, written by Edward Einhorn, ran from November 18 to December 10, 2010, at the 3LD Art & Technology Center in New York[7] and made its West Coast Premiere on September 13, 2013, playing until October 10 at the Sacred Fools Theater Company in Los Angeles.[8]

Comic books

BOOM! Studios published a 24-issue comic book limited series based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? containing the full text of the novel and illustrated by artist Tony Parker.[9] The comic garnered a nomination for "Best New Series" from the 2010 Eisner Awards.[10] In May 2010, BOOM! Studios began serializing an eight-issue prequel subtitled Dust To Dust, written by Chris Roberson and drawn by Robert Adler.[11] The story takes place in the days immediately after World War Terminus.[12]


Three novels intended as sequels to both Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Blade Runner have been published:

These official and authorized sequels were written by Dick's friend K. W. Jeter.[13] They continue the story of Rick Deckard and attempt to reconcile many of the differences between the novel and the 1982 film.

Critical reception

Critical reception of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? has been overshadowed by the popularity of its 1982 film adaptation, Blade Runner. Of those critics who focus on the novel, several nest it predominantly in the history of Philip K. Dick's body of work. In particular, Dick's 1972 speech "The Human and the Android" is cited in this connection. Jill Galvan[14] calls attention to the correspondence between Dick's portrayal of the narrative's dystopian, polluted, man-made setting and the description Dick gives in his speech of the increasingly artificial and potentially sentient or "quasi-alive" environment of his present. Summarizing the essential point of Dick's speech, Galvan argues, "[o]nly by recognizing how [technology] has encroached upon our understanding of 'life' can we come to full terms with the technologies we have produced" (414). As a "bildungsroman of the cybernetic age", Galvan maintains, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? follows one person's gradual acceptance of the new reality. Christopher Palmer[15] emphasizes Dick's speech to bring to attention the increasingly dangerous risk of humans becoming "mechanical".[16] "Androids threaten reduction of what makes life valuable, yet promise expansion or redefinition of it, and so do aliens and gods".[16] Gregg Rickman[17] cites another, earlier, and lesser-known Dick novel that also deals with androids, We Can Build You, asserting that Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? can be read as a sequel.

In a departure from the tendency among most critics to examine the novel in relation to Dick's other texts, Klaus Benesch[18] examined Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? primarily in connection with Jacques Lacan's essay on the mirror stage. There, Lacan claims that the formation and reassurance of the self depends on the construction of an Other through imagery, beginning with a double as seen in the mirror. The androids, Benesch argues, perform a doubling function similar to the mirror image of the self, but they do this on a social, not individual, scale. Therefore, human anxiety about androids expresses uncertainty about human identity and society. Benesch draws on Kathleen Woodward's[19] emphasis on the body to illustrate the shape of human anxiety about an android Other. Woodward asserts that the debate over distinctions between human and machine usually fails to acknowledge the presence of the body. "If machines are invariably contrived as technological prostheses that are designed to amplify the physical faculties of the body, they are also built, according to this logic, to outdo, to surpass the human in the sphere of physicality altogether".[20]

Sherryl Vint emphasizes the importance of animals for the novel's exploration of the alienation of humans from their authentic being. In wrestling with his role as a bounty hunter who is supposedly defending society from those who lack empathy, Deckard comes to realize the artificiality of the distinctions that have been used in American culture to exclude animals and "animalized" humans from ethical consideration. "The central role of animals in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and the issues of species being that they raise show the need to struggle for a different way of being in the world. This way resists commodification in our relations with one another and with nature to produce a better future, one in which humans might be fully human once again by repairing our social relations with animals and nature."[21]

Awards and honors

See also

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  1. "Blade Runner's source material says more about modern politics than the movie does". 5 October 2017.
  2. "The Android and the Human".
  3. "Entering the Posthuman Collective in Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?".
  4. Sammon, Paul M (1996). Future Noir: the Making of Blade Runner. London: Orion Media. pp. 318–329. ISBN 0-06-105314-7.
  5. "BBC Radio 4 - Dangerous Visions, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Episode 2". BBC Radio 4. 28 Jun 2014. Retrieved 11 May 2015.
  6. Blade Runner (Movie-Tie-In Edition) by Philip K. Dick - Unabridged Compact Disc Random House, November 27, 2007, Template:ISBN (0-7393-4275-4).
  7. "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?". Untitled Theater Company #61. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
  8. "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?". Sacred Fools Theater Company. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
  9. Philip K. Dick Press Release - BOOM! ANNOUNCES DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? Template:Webarchive
  10. Heller, Jason (April 9, 2010). "Eisner Award nominees announced". The A.V. Club. Retrieved July 24, 2013.
  11. Langshaw, Mark (29 April 2010). "BOOM! expands on 'Blade Runner' universe". Digital Spy.
  12. "BOOM! Studios publishes 'Electric Sheep' prequel". 22 October 2010. Retrieved July 24, 2013.
  13. Jeter, K. W. "Summary Bibliography: K. W. Jeter".
  14. Galvan, Jill (1997). "Entering the Postman Collective: Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?". Science Fiction Studies. 24 (3): 413–429.
  15. Palmer, Christopher (2003). Philip K. Dick: Exhilaration and Terror of the Postmodern. Liverpool: University of Liverpool Press. p. 259.
  16. a b Palmer, Christopher (2003). Philip K. Dick: Exhilaration and Terror of the Postmodern. Liverpool: University of Liverpool Press. p. 225.
  17. Rickman, Gregg (1995). "What Is This Sickness?": "Schizophrenia" and We Can Build You. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. pp. 143–157.
  18. Benesch, Klaus (1999). "Technology, Art, and the Cybernetic Body: The Cyborg as Cultural Other in Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" and Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"". Amerikastudien. 44 (3): 379–392. JSTOR 41157479.
  19. Woodward, Kathleen (1997). "Prosthetic Emotions". In Hoffman, Gerhard (ed.). Emotions in the Postmodern. Heidelberg: Alfred Hornung. pp. 75–107.
  20. Woodward, Kathleen (1997). "Prosthetic Emotions". In Hoffman, Gerhard (ed.). Emotions in the Postmodern. Heidelberg: Alfred Hornung. p. 391.
  21. Vint, Sherryl (2007). "Speciesism and Species Being in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?". Mosaic: An Interdisciplinary Critical Journal. 40 (1): 125.
  22. "1968 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-09-27.

Further reading

  • Benesch, Klaus (1999). "Technology, Art, and the Cybernetic Body: The Cyborg As Cultural Other in Fritz Lang's Metropolis and Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep". Amerikastudien. 44 (3): 379–392. JSTOR 41157479.
  • Butler, Andrew M. (1991). "Reality versus Transience: An Examination of Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Ridley Scott's Blade Runner". In Merrifield, Jeff (ed.). Philip K. Dick: A Celebration (Programme Book). Epping Forest College, Loughton: Connections.
  • Gallo, Domenico (2002). "Avvampando gli angeli caddero: Blade Runner, Philip K. Dick e il cyberpunk". In Bertetti; Scolari (eds.). Lo sguardo degli angeli: Intorno e oltre Blade Runner (in italiano). Torino: Testo & Immagine. pp. 206–218. ISBN 88-8382-075-4.
  • Galvan, Jill (1997). "Entering the Posthuman Collective in Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?". Science-Fiction Studies. 24 (3): 413–429. JSTOR 4240644.
  • McCarthy, Patrick A. (1999–2000). "Do Androids Dream of Magic Flutes?". Paradoxa. 5 (13–14): 344–352.
  • Niv, Tal (2014). "The Return of a Terrifying and Wonderful Creation On Our Future and Our Present". Haaretz. (Hebrew) Critical analysis of the 2014 edition of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
  • Street, Joe (2020). "Do Androids Dream of Black Sheep?: Reading Race into Philip K. Dick". Foundation. 49 (3): 44–61.
  • Vint, Sherryl (2007). "Speciesism and Species Being in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?". Mosaic. 40 (1): 111–26.

External links

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