“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”

Did you ever wonder what writers fifty years ago thought 2021 would be like?

The answer can be found in “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick. It was written in 1968, and opens on January 3, 2021. What is the world like? The “fictional” 2021 world is filled with both familiar and unfamiliar things. There are video phones, piped in music, video theology, air pollution and a general decay of city housing. There is monorail rapid transit, but the main mode of transport is a hovercar. Animals are treasured as pets, but “live” animals are rare, so most people possess “electric” robotic animals.  Of course, readers also find that in 2021, Androids are everywhere – not phones but humanoid robots.

“World War Terminus” contaminated the Earth, and the resulting pollution is gradually killing everything. Earth’s settlements on Mars converted “Synthetic Freedom Fighters” into Android “worker” robots. But back on Earth, these “alien non-beings” are allowed only when they do not attempt to pass themselves off as humans to steal jobs, thus wrecking the economy.

Law enforcement bounty hunters seek out and destroy androids posing as humans. That is Rick Deckard’s job. He “retires” Andys — androids that have escaped and are masquerading as humans. He is given a list of suspects, and he works on “commission,” paid only when he succeeds.   Readers follow him through his day of hunting, using standardized tests to verify the “status” (human or android) of those on the list, and retiring andys. He is motivated by money; he wants to buy a new REAL animal, and yet he is conflicted, troubled even, as he does his job.

“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” is a look at how people in the past anticipated “today” would be.  2021 looked stark in 1968, and yet, there are elements of today’s reality and hints at where things might go on from 2021. The book was the inspiration for the iconic film “Blade Runner.” I think the book is much better than the film, but read, watch, and then decide for yourself.